The roots of a legend: when Monica Seles played for TK Novi Sad - UBITENNIS
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The roots of a legend: when Monica Seles played for TK Novi Sad

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TENNIS – Monica Seles stepped on court again, in an exhibition against Gabriela Sabatini. For the occasion, Ubitennis went to see where the career of the talented two-handed player, that shocked women’s tennis at the beginning of the ‘90s, started. It was 1985, when the European under 12 tennis champion joined the TK Novi Sad tennis club… By Ilvio Vidovich, translated by Lorenzo Dicandia

 

Monica Seles is back on court: she played in the Madison Square Garden, in an exhibition against her great friend and former rival Gabriela Sabatini.

On the occasion of the New York match, Ubitennis went to see where the career of the champion born in former Yugoslavia started, paying homage to an outstanding player that would have probably rewritten women’s tennis history, if fate hadn’t decided otherwise.

The exhibition in New York is a rematch of the one played between the two players 25 years ago in the same city: the WTA Championship final of 1990 that Seles won in 5 sets (6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2). It was the first women’s final that lasted five sets since the 1901 US Open final (that at the time were called US Championships) won by home player Elisabeth Moore. But to fans, especially to Monica’s fans, what comes back to mind in this period of the year, even more than that match played in NY, is what happened in the January of some years later. The January of 1996, when in Melbourne it looked like the magic of her game had suddenly came back.

Untouched. As if nothing ever happened.

Monica Seles had just won her ninth Slam, only few months later having got back to competitions, after the aggression suffered in the spring of ’93 in Hamburg and the forced stop of more than two years. (from April 1993 to August 1995). She had already came close to her ninth Grand Slam title in the final of the US Open played some months earlier and lost in the decisive set against Steffi Graf.

But it was just an illusion.

The magic of her game, with her extraordinary sense of anticipation with both fundamentals played with two hands, that magic that allowed her to win – still a teenager – eight Grand Slam titles from 1990 to 1993 and to get to the top of the rankings, had disappeared.

The blade of Gunther Parche’s knife, in that spring of 1993, had made it disappear, breaking the equilibrium of Monica’s life. An equilibrium that, after other events like the illness and death of her father, she managed to regain only after a long and tormented path, as she wrote in her 2009 autobiography “Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self” and that has recently wanted to share again, in an attempt to motivate people that suffer the same illness she was suffering in that period.

After the aggression “Little Mo” (the nickname given to her when she was a kid in Yugoslavia, in honor of the nickname of another great tennis player, Maureen Connolly, that as a teenager revolutionized women’s tennis of the first half of the ‘50s. It was not only the nickname that linked the fate of the two ”Little Mos” of women’s tennis: also Connoly had to stop her career – but in her case for good- at the age of 19, and both have won 9 Grand Slam titles) won only that last Slam. Apart from the 1995 final, she reached two other finals of a Major (in 1996 in New York again defeated by Steffi Graf, and two years later in Paris defeated by Arantxa Sanchez – that before the aggression had lost in all the three matches of a major played against Seles: Roland Garros final of 1991, AO semifinal of 1992 and US Open final of 1992), won 21 WTA tournaments (she had won 31 between 1990 and 1993, not including her first tournament won in 1989 in Houston, when, at the age of 15, she defeated the great Chris Evert), and conquered three Fed Cups and an Olympic bronze under the American flag (she became American in 1994). But her game never matched again the incredible intensity of the first years of her career.

The magic was not there anymore.

Ubitennis went to see where that magic, later developed in the Hogwarts of tennis, the Academy of Albus Dumbledore Bollettieri, had born.

Legend says that the magic had born in Novi Sad’s Balzakova Ulica, and exactly in the parking lot of the street, located in the Liman neighborhood, where Karolj Seles drew tennis court’s lines and began teaching tennis to his 5 year-old daughter Monica. Karolj Seles – a pretty famous cartoonist and caricaturist in his home country – was not the typical father that acts as a tennis coach knowing nothing of the different ways and techniques of training. Being himself a good athlete, twice triple-jump national champion, he attended Physical and Sport Education at Beograd University, and was PE teacher for some years, becoming also a triple-jump coach (under his guide Radoslav Jocic became the first Yugoslavian athlete to jump longer than 15 meters).

To know something more about that period, Ubitennis contacted the Teniski Klub Novi Sad, the main tennis club of Seles hometown, where the player of Hungarian roots trained – at the age of eleven- during 1985, before moving to Florida at the court of the American guru, that has last year been welcomed in the Hall of Fame of tennis.

Monica had just began creating some noise, winning in the summer of 1984 the under 12 European championships. This is what a Yugoslavian sports newspaper wrote at the time:

Tennis fans and experts are enthusiastic about the game of our player and the majority already sees her as the one that will take the place of Martina Navratilova. She remains almost indifferent to all these compliments, but she’s not lacking ambitions: “My duty is to study at school and to train, just like my dad Karoly and my brother Zoltan say. Dad worries about finding out all the new training techniques of tennis, my brother shows them to me and helps me applying them. Judging from the constancy of my wins, I would say that all three of us are doing a good job” says the little Monika, almost unconscious of the dimension of her successes.”

The sign-up of Monica for the club of the Serbian city, capital of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, dates back to the February of 1985, after the Orange Bowl win in Miami (where she was spotted by Nick Bollettieri, that since then began to get interested in having the amazing kid signing for his Academy in Bradenton).

Monica Seles's membership form for the TK Novi Sad tennis club

Monica Seles’s membership form for the TK Novi Sad tennis club

TK Novi Sad has published the sign-in form on the homepage of its website (notice the different spelling of both her name, Monika instead of Monica, and of family name, the more Hungarian Szeles instead of Seles, and the patronymic Karolja, daughter of Karolj).

We don’t know a lot about that period. Monika played at our club for a short span of time, from the beginning of 1985 to the fall of the same year, when she moved with her family to the United States.” says Peter Zvekic, secretary of the club.

Regardless of the quantity, the quality of those few things they know lets us understand that there was something special going on.

From what the members that were already here at the time say, Monica was very shy and humble, but well conscious and responsible when it came to training, considering her age. She trained two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, always super focused, something that the other children her age couldn’t do.”

Fun fact: the writer of this article, between 1984 and 1985 was in Novi Sad, and went to TK Novi Sad to try to see some training sessions of the young rising star everybody talked about. Unfortunately without any success, otherwise this article would have been enriched with yet another memory of Seles during her time at the club…

The club also sent a picture of the time when Monica trained on its courts

11 year-old Monica Seles on court at the TK Novisad Tennis Club

11 year-old Monica Seles on court at the TK Novisad Tennis Club

The technical staff of the club never followed the eleven year-old kid that was exclusively coached by her relatives.

Monika was coached by her father and her brother. The latter, Zoltan, was also a talented tennis player, but he gave up his career in order to coach his sister.”

It is necessary to point out, however, that the tennis growth of Seles was not only managed by her relatives. For a short period of time, between the home-made court in the parking lot of Balzakova Ulica and the clay courts of TK Novi Sad, she was coached by Jelena Gengic, the famous Yugoslavian coach that in those years followed also Goran Ivanisevic and that later was the mentor and first coach of the current number one player in the world, Novak Djokovic.

In an interview released in 2011, Gengic, died in 2013, remembered her years with Seles and her father:

When they were young I trained Monica Seles and Goran Ivanisevic. I followed them in junior tournaments for four years. I taught Monica almost everything you need to know to have success in tennis. Her father Karoly has really sacrificed a lot for her career. He was constant and was there at almost all her training sessions. He never interfered and was always collaborative.”

TK Novi Sad – equipped with 9 outdoor courts, 6 clay courts and 3 synthetic, 7 of which lighted – although has in Monica Seles its flagship, has also helped other good players, many of whom have become national champions both individually and with the team. Two names are to be remembered among women: Tatjana Jecemonica, current Serbian Fed Cup captain and former number 86 of WTA ranking (6 ITF titles won in her career), and Sandra Nacuk, former n 81 in the world (4 ITF titles won, and a third round reached in 2000 at Wimbledon, when she lost in 3 sets against Arantxa Sanchez, then defeated by Seles in the following round.)

TK Novisad Today

TK Novisad Today

The club organizes every year an ITF under 18 tennis tournament, got to its 17th edition now, and won in 2011 by Borna Coric, fifteen at the time and now n. 60 ATP and future star of men’s tennis.

The tournament has every year many participants coming from Italy, and they always have good results” (Last year Federico Bonacia got to the final in the boys singles draw, and Ludmila Samsonova in the semifinal among girls) “we have always good memories of them, both of the players and of the coaches. We share a really similar mindset and we are always ready to have fun together,” said the secretary of the club.

As already said, Monica played on TK Novi Sad courts till the end of 1985. She moved in the Stated in the spring of 1986, when her father managed to sell his Balzakova Ulica house and Seles’ family left to be close to their daughter that had began training at Bollettieri’s Academy. In an exclusive interview given to ubitennis.en, Nick remembered Monica in this way:

Imagine a skinny girl, that at the age of 12 hits with two hands from both sides and stays always on the baseline, moving fast. This is what I saw watching Monica play at the Orange Bowl many years ago. What did I do? I offered her and her family a scholarship, and I never changed anything in her game, no matter what people told me to do. Monica is one of the greatest of all times and she couldn’t be a better person off court.”

Monica came back to Novi Sad in 1990 to play an exhibition against Arantxa Sanchez. Since that time she periodically comes back to her hometown.

As if Monica has never forgotten Novi Sad, also Novi Sad has never forgotten its “Little Mo.” Indeed, apart from the pictures at the club, there’s also something else that remembers her in the city.

In the May of 2012 on the shores of Danube, the river that flows through Novi Sad, a new sport complex has been inaugurated, with two tennis courts. One of them, with the approval of Monica, has been named after her and has her signature at the end of the court.

The court dedicated to Monica Seles

The court dedicated to Monica Seles

But the most peculiar memory can be found at Balzakova Ulica 26, where Seles used to live. In the October of 2013 on the façade of the house, that Monica as a kid used as a training wall, there is now a mural of her with a trophy in one hand and a teddy bear in the other – like the picture at the beginning of this article – and on the side there are her name in the original Hungarian spelling and the phrase: “It all began here” written in Serbian.

Remembering where the magic started.

The mural for Monica Seles at Balzakova Ulica, Novi Sad

The mural for Monica Seles at Balzakova Ulica, Novi Sad

By Ilvio Vidovich, translated by Lorenzo Dicandia

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WIMBLEDON: Simona Halep Impresses After Troublesome Physical, Mental Battle

2022 has been far from straightforward for the Romanian but she is seeing light at the end of the tunnel at The All England Club.

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image via twitter.com/wimbledon

For Simona Halep reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon is an achievement in itself after her recent misfortunes. 

 

It all began at the Italian Open last year where she sustained a calf injury that would force her to miss two major events, as well as the Tokyo Olympic Games. Recovering from the setback was far from simple for the former world No.1 who soon found herself struggling mentally to the extent that she considered walking away from the sport altogether.

However, she managed to regain her desire and passion for tennis with the help of Patrick Mouratoglou who has officially been her coach since April. Halep continues to work her way back to top shape and her form at Wimbledon proves perseverance pays off. 

Playing her fourth round match against fourth seed Paula Badosa, Halep stormed to an emphatic 6-1, 6-2, win in just over an hour. She dropped only two points behind her first serve and hit 17 winners against just nine unforced errors. It is the third time this year she has beaten a top 10 player after previously beating Badosa on another occasion, as well as Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

“It means a lot that I’m back in the quarterfinals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” said Halep.
“I’m working hard every day. I feel like if I do that, I will get better. I’m really happy with the way I’m playing. I’m really confident. It’s a pleasure to be on the court.”
“I think this helps me a lot to be able to do my best tennis. And everything comes together. I feel strong physically. I feel very good mentally.”

Speaking openly about her previous struggles, injury and confidence are two very different issues to deal with. But which one of those was the most difficult?

“It started with the injury, so I was not able to play for three, four months. Then I also lost the confidence, the belief that I can be good again, at the top. And I struggled for a long period,” she continued.
“But now it’s past. I’m here. I’m playing well. I’m feeling good on the court. So this is the most important thing, and I just want to focus on that.”

It is by no means a coincidence that Halep is thriving at Wimbledon considering her previous record. It was in 2019 when she produced a stunning display against Serena Williams to capture the title. Becoming the first and only player from her country to claim the women’s singles title. She has also reached the quarter-finals on three other occasions prior to this year.

“Grass is not an easy surface and you have to really connect with it. You have to get used to it.” Said Halep.
“I like it because it’s fast. I feel it. I feel stable on my feet. My legs are pretty strong for this surface. I feel my game fits it.”

As the only former Grand Slam champion left in the draw, Halep’s next test will be against Amanda Anisimova who defeated Harmony Tan 6-2, 6-3, in her fourth round match.

“I’m here to play as I did today, to focus on myself,” she states.
“I’m sure that I can play good tennis again. But it’s going to be a big challenge. It’s the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward to it.”


Halep recently crushed Anisimova 6-2, 6-1, at the Bad Homburg Open in Germany. 

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‘She Got lucky’ – Jelena Ostapenko Has Dig At Opponent After Wimbledon Exit

The top 20 star was also not happy with the umpire following her latest loss.

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Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) - Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Former Grand Slam champion Jelena Ostapenko believes her exit from Wimbledon was nothing but a stroke of bad luck after criticizing her match umpire.

 

Ostapenko, who was the 12th seed in the tournament, fell 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, to Germany’s Tatjana Maria. The clash was a frustrating encounter for the Latvian who had an array of chances to establish a strong lead. After winning the opener, she boasted a break advantage in each of the next two sets before losing them. Then at 5-4 in the third, she failed to convert two match points before losing the final two games of the match.

“I thought it was like my match. I had to win it and she got just so lucky in some moments so she could come back. I felt I was the player who had to win this match today,” said Ostapenko.

Claiming that she felt she was playing at a better level than Maria,  Ostapenko has taken a swipe at the match official for making in her view ‘a huge mistake.’   She is not the first player to criticize the court officials with Nick Kyrgios expressing his frustration about them multiple times at the tournament.

“She got lucky, she framed it, put the ball on the line,” she commented on how her match ended. “Then the chair umpire made a huge mistake on 5-All in the third set when it was breakpoint on my serve and I had no challenges left. People who watched the match texted me that it was quite big out.”
“All those small things together, they come and you can lose such a match. Of course, I’m really disappointed because if I lost against an amazing player who just beat me in a great match, but I just lost my match.”

A win would have elevated Ostapenko into the last eight of a major for the first time since Wimbledon 2018. The 25-year-old is currently ranked 17th in the world but has been as high as fifth before.

It was visible how annoyed she was with the match immediately afterward when she threw her water bottle onto her chair out of anger, knocking it out. Prompting an inevitable reaction of boos from the crowd.

“I’m an emotional player. I hate losing because I’m such a competitive person,” said Ostapenko.
“So I think it’s normal. Of course, maybe I shouldn’t have done this, but it’s easy to say from the outside when you are not in my place, it’s easy to judge.”

As for Maria, she will play compatriot Jule Niemeier in the quarter-finals. 

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Who Is Marie Bouzková? Six Things To Know About The Wimbledon Quarter-Finalist

After previously never going beyond the second round of a major, the Czech is making a name for herself at The All England Club.

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Image via https://twitter.com/WTA_insider

Czech Republic’s Maria Bouzkova has broken new ground at Wimbledon by reaching the quarter-finals on Sunday. 

 

Coming into the tournament, the 23-year-old has failed to win back-to-back matches in 12 Grand Slam appearances. However, the past week has seen her breakthrough with a surprise run to the quarter-finals. She secured a place in the last eight with a 7-5, 6-2, win over France’s Caroline Garcia. The player who defeated Emma Raducanu in the second round.

In her latest match, Bouzkova was by far the most consistent player on the court as she produced just four unforced errors against 13 winners. In comparison, Garcia’s tally was 25 against 24. She broke the Frenchwoman four times in the match en route to victory. 

“I don’t know how I got here,” said Bouzkova.
“Now we will celebrate with strawberries and cream. It’s one of our 100 routines at Wimbledon.”

Bouzkova’s run at Wimbledon has brought the Czech into the limelight for the first time. Although some may not be too familiar with the right-hander who plays with a two-handed backhand. Here are five things to know about the underdog. 

  1. As a junior, she won the 2014 US Open title and reached the final of the Wimbledon doubles event that same year. 
  2. Wimbledon is where Bouzkova won her first Grand Slam main draw match back in 2019 after defeating Mona Barthel in the first round. 
  3. Prior to Garcia, she defeated Danielle Collins, Ann Li and Alison Riske-Amritraj this week. Collins was the sixth top 20 player she has defeated and second this year after Karolina Pliskova.
  4. She was ranked as low as 97th in the world earlier this season but is currently up to 66. Her career-best is 46. 
  5. Has reached three WTA finals in as many years in Guadalajara (2022), Melbourne 250 (2021) and Monterey (2020).
  6. She has a win-loss record of 18-9 so far this season. Although prior to Wimbledon, she has not won any matches on the grass after losing in the first round of Eastbourne to Shelby Rogers. 

Bouzkova will play either second seed Ons Jabeur or Elise Mertens in the quarter-finals.

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