Mysterious injury forces top seed Seles out of Wimbledon Officials scramble to rearrange draw

June 22, 1991|By Bill Glauber

There will be no shrieking at Wimbledon this year. There also will be no attempt to claim a tennis Grand Slam.

Monica Seles, whose trademark shouts accompany her fierce two-fisted ground strokes, withdrew from the Wimbledon championships, which starts next week, after a minor accident yesterday. The unprecedented withdrawal of the top seed and reigning Australian and French Open champion set off a scramble by tournament officials to rearrange the women's draw.

"It's a complete mystery," Wimbledon referee Alan Mills said. "It came as a great surprise to me."

Wimbledon officials sought more information about the accident from Seles' agent, but were told the 17-year-old Yugoslav who lives in Florida was not prepared to give any details.

"I am very disappointed to miss Wimbledon this year but look forward to returning in 1992," Seles said in a statement released by Wimbledon officials. The statement said injury caused by the accident prevented Seles from playing next week but that she is expected to be back on the tour "in a few weeks."

Seles won the French Open two weeks ago and the Australian Open in January, giving her half of the Grand Slam. She broke Graf's record 186-week stay at No. 1, becoming the youngest player ever -- at 17 years, 3 months, 9 days -- to assume the top ranking. Seles is by no means considered the world's dominant grass-court player, failing to get past the Wimbledon quarterfinals in two previous appearances.

Wimbledon officials revised the seeds. Two-time Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf was moved into the No. 1 spot, Argentine Gabriela Sabatini advances to become the second seed, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain moves into the fourth spot.

Defending champion Martina Navratilova received the greatest boost. She is now the No. 3 seed and can avoid meeting Graf until the final.

"I think that Graf is the greatest danger to my chances of winning the title for a 10th time," Navratilova had said Thursday before Seles' withdrawal.

To simplify the draw, only five changes were made in the first-round matches. Navratilova remains in her same slot in the draw, and Sanchez takes Sabatini's place. Bulgarian Katerina Maleeva, the No. 8 seed, replaces the spot formerly occupied by Sanchez.

Judith Weisner of Austria, coming in as the 16th seed, moves into Maleeva's slot with lucky loser Jill Hetherington of Canada taking the Austrian's place in the draw.

On paper, the reshuffle creates the potential of these semifinal pairings: Graf vs. Sanchez; Navratilova vs. Sabatini.

British bookmakers immediately revised their women's singles odds, making Graf a 6-4 favorite with Sabatini 7-4, Navratilova 7-2, Zina Garrison and Sanchez both 20-1.

Seles complained of shin problems after winning the French Open. She also was recently at the center of a dispute over the Olympic Games.

An International Tennis Federation ruling that mandated players must appear in next month's Federation Cup to gain spots for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, rankled Seles. Initially, she balked at playing for Yugoslavia in the team event that begins July 22 in Nottingham, England. But after the ruling was released, she changed her mind and announced plans to play.

Despite the recent problems, Seles was expected to continue her bid to claim the Grand Slam.

"I am just very shocked after the way she played the French," former Wimbledon champion Chris Evert said in an interview with the Associated Press from her home in Boca Raton, Fla. "I guess something happened in the interim that caused the injury and think everyone would be very curious what it is."

"When I found out, I actually called her agent," Evert said. "The official reason is it was caused by a minor accident and she wouldn't go any further than that. I think Monica is going to have to come up with, not a better reason, but a specific explanation, because Wimbledon just happens to be the biggest tournament in the world."

Earlier this year, Seles talked of the pressure of trying to maintain the No. 1 ranking and win a Grand Slam.

"You know, sometimes it's pretty hard," she said. "You win a Grand Slam, you get so much more attention, people follow you wherever you go, people want to see you. You come off a big win, you're huge. And you still have to go home and do your homework."

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