I have never worshiped at the Church of Seles. I have not been allowed to. In the world of Selesianity, anyone who loved Steffi Graf was branded a non-Selesian and therefore not permitted to worship. (Although, to be fair, I have never been able to see any tennis player living or dead as anything other than an imperfect human being and therefore unworthy of my worship. But I digress).
I also do not believe that Monica Seles is the “greatest tennis player of all time” as argued in the Selesian Doctrine. I’ve mentioned before that for many reasons I have a difficult time pinning this label on any tennis player. I think that this whole notion of the ‘greatest ever’ is a typically American obsession, evidence of our unique cultural narcissism. Other peoples of the world settle for perceiving themselves as the greatest. It is our unique penchant that we must add the word “ever” after it.
But Monica Seles being by citizenship an American, is automatically qualified for consideration as the ‘greatest ever’. And for those who endorse the Doctrine of Selesianty, her greatness was proven by her comeback from the stabbing. Like Jesus Christ himself, Monica was born, she died (well, she could have), and she rose again. Her first autobiography ["Monica -- From fear to victory"] was considered the Selesian Bible. I suppose her latest autobiography would be considered their new testament.
And right about now, Selesians must be celebrating like it’s Christmas. You see, yesterday, Monica Seles got inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. This honor is very much deserved. Seles has won 53 singles titles and six doubles titles. She held the # 1 ranking for a total of 178 weeks and in both 1991 and 1992, she was the # 1 player in the world. She has won nine Grand Slams (only Wimbledon eluded her). And she was the original screamer. You could hear her playing a mile away. Some tennis players used to complain about the ruckus Seles made when hitting the ball. Steffi Graf was never among the complainers. She once reportedly told Seles, “You play your game and I’ll play mine”. I’ve never understood why I have to choose between these two great women.
Monica Seles was a commanding lefty who struck the ball powerfully from both sides, using both hands. She was a contemporary of Jan-Michael Gambill (remember him?) who also hit the ball from both sides with both hands. But Seles accomplished what he only dreamed of, and then some.
I am among those who believe that Monica Seles would have accomplished a whole lot more had she not been stabbed in the back (literally) by a crazed German fan named Günter Parche. Although Monica recovered within weeks from her physical injuries, the psychological trauma haunted her for years and led to a derailment of her career. Seles was openly critical of the German legal system that recognized Parche’s impaired mental health and subjected him to more treatment than punishment.
The legacy of this ugly incident was supposed to be better security for tennis players. We saw how well that was working at Roland Garros this year when a fan in a red cape tried to show Federer some love. For a moment, time stood still as we all experienced collective flashbacks of a painful lesson of history.
I did not enjoy watching the ceremony yesterday. I have a really hard time listening to any kind of pontification. Only for Seles did I resist the impulse to switch the channel to Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Only for Seles did I endure watching these self-important people pontificating under the hot Newport sun.
But there was a low moment in all this for me yesterday. And it had to do with the fact that the only Black man being honored this year had already died. Dr. Robert Johnson was being honored posthumously as the “founder and director of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program, who worked tirelessly for decades assisting in the development of young African-American tennis players while helping to break the barriers of racial segregation.” This is important stuff. Was there no way to tell this man thanks before he died? Well at least we got the chance to honor Monica before she did.
Update: Monica: a retrospective