Finally, Seles can answer questions, chase doubts

July 29, 1995|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- One question, perhaps more than any other, is waiting for an answer as Monica Seles returns to professional tennis today.

How will she play?

She has not played a professional match since being stabbed April 30, 1993. And over the last 28 months she changed from a 19-year-old teen-ager into a 21-year-old woman. She has grown two inches to 5 feet 11 and has trimmed off the baby fat.

"You can practice a lot, which I have," Seles said. "But you can't prepare for the pressure of a real match. I'm going to be more nervous. I'm going to be doing something I haven't done in 2 1/2 years. I'm just going to try to take it step by step and try to go back to normality."

There will be nothing very normal about today. Seles will make her return to the pro game at 2 p.m. in a made-for-television exhibition match against Martina Navratilova, who last week described herself as "a 38-year-old has-been."

The match will be played on a fairly fast Supreme Court surface in the Atlantic City Convention Center before a crowd of about 11,000 who will have paid anywhere from $25 to $800 for eight box seats.

Chris Evert, the retired tennis Hall of Famer, said recently she believes Seles "could make it back the whole way" to being No. 1.

"I would like to speculate that coming back she still will be one of the top two or three in the world," Evert said. "I think she has been practicing hard, and I think the game is there. But I think she just has to get back to playing pressure points, playing in front of a crowd. I think that's going to be the tough thing for her."

Already there is a debate over how she will and should play today -- and in a couple more tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open Aug. 28.

Seles said she hopes her added height will improve her service game, and added that her volleys are better.

"I'd like to be a serve-and-volleyer," said Seles, "because I have the height and the reach now. So I see no reason not to do that -- and it's fun; it's a challenge. It's not like staying back and doing the same old thing, day in, day out. So I'd like to. I've got nothing to lose, so why not go for it."

Navratilova, who has helped Seles work on her serve-and-volley game, believes Seles has a wicked "lefty slice" that she can use to win a lot of points quickly.

"I think what she can do better than any baseliner out there is mix it up," said Navratilova. "She can serve and volley once or twice a game and then to come in on some short balls and put the volley away. She can do that very well. For her, it's just a matter of confidence."

Veteran player Pam Shriver, however, believes Seles will be better off in her early tournaments to do what she does best.

"I think physically she should be stronger and fitter," Shriver said. She's had time off and she's worked with track coach Bob Kersee. . . . so we'll see.

"But I don't see any reason why she shouldn't stick with what brought her her biggest successes. She basically stayed back and pounded the ball to the corners. She struck the ball early and aggressively off both wings. The tennis court is too big to cover all of it the same and usually when you try to do that, it's at the expense of what you do best."

Today, tennis fans will see which way Seles is leaning. And if her pre-match analysis is any indication, it simply will come down to what feels best at the moment.

"I am hoping my serve-and-volley game is improving, and I'm hoping to have the confidence to use them in a pressure situation," Seles said. "But I still think I'll stay back a lot because that's where I'm comfortable. . . . Maybe I'll just get in there and be like a goalkeeper."

MATCH FACTS

What: Monica Seles vs. Martina Navratilova, exhibition match.

When: Today, 2 p.m.

Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center.

TV: Channels 13, 9

Tickets: Still available by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 736-1420.

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