2000 Sony Ericsson Open: Monica Seles worst loss ever

From Monica Seles autobiography, Getting a grip:

Key Biscayne, Florida. A tropical island paradise of stunning beaches and the longtime venue for the annual Miami Masters. A prestigious and glamorous event, it is often referred to as the “Fifth Grand Slam” and is a mandatory stop on the WTA schedule. In 2000 it was renamed the Ericsson Open but for years it had been called the Lipton Championships and it had always held a special place in my heart. When I was a gangly sixteen-year-old with stick legs and an incurable case of the giggles, I won my first Tier I title on that hard court. But that was a decade ago and it felt like I’d live a lifetime since then. A month had passed since my Oklahoma revelation and I’d been a “good girl” in my eating and working-out habits – meticulously recording every bite of food and form of exercise in my journal – and I had high hopes for a solid performance in the tournament.

The first few matches went by quickly. I faced Anna Kournikova in the fourth round and she pushed me to three sets. I’d lost to her at the same tournament in 1998 and didn’t want to do it again. […]
Anna wasn’t just a good tennis player, she was also smart. she had blasted open the financially lucrative door by making tennis sexy, and dozen of girls followed in hot pursuit. Suddenly players were showing up for matches with flawlessly applied makeup and carefully coordinated outfits that flashed as much skin as possible. While I’d been away from tennis in the mid-1990s, it had turned into a speed game and I was still trying to catch up to it. There was no way I had the time or energy to bother with applying lip gloss and smudge- proof liquid eyeliner before a match. The tour was going in a completely new direction and i was firmly entrenched in the old school. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to walk onto center court for a hitting session feeling confident in a skimpy outfit and smiling flirtatiously at the guys in the crowd, but my head and body were in no condition to do so. That tracksuit was staying on during my warmups, thank you very much.[…]

Anna, whose reputation as an “overrated” player is unfair – she’s beaten Hingis, Graf, and Davenport, was a strong top-ten player for years, and dominated the doubles world – had beaten me in Miami two years earlier, so I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I took the first set 6-1 but stuggled in the second. It was the first set I’d lost at that tournament. I shook it off and was relieved to take the third 6-0. In the quarterfinals I beat Amy Frazier, a flat-hitter who excelled on hard courts, but the victory carried a hefty price. During the second set I lunged to reach the ball and sprained my ankle. The pain shot up my leg and I immediately knew what I’d done. Pushing far out of my comfort zone, I ignored the pain to close the match. The moment I got to the locker room I wrapped my ankle and began to mentally prepare myself for playing Martina Hingis in the semis the following day. It wouldn’t be pretty. Even on my best days, Hingis could beat me – she’d done it just two weeks earlier at Indian Wells – and I certainly wasn’t feeling at the top of my game when I woke up the next morning with my ankle throbbing. I shouldn’t have been playing, but I didn’t want to pull out. Sponsors were depending on me, fans were excited about the match-up, and major money is lost when a televised match is canceled at the last moment. My people-pleasing personality and my donkeylike stubborness kicked into overdrive. It was a mistake.

Right away I knew I was in trouble. My lateral movement was practically nonexistent and I couldn’t reach balls that should have been easily in my range. Frustated, I started to take stupid chances and hit risky angles I had no business trying to pull off. I felt suffocated in the humid air – normally it never bothers me one bit – and the wond never let up. The fist set was over in a flash, 6-0. I tried to make adjustments in the second buy my feet felt like lead and I couldn’t make anything work. The match was a lost cause and my game was in shambles. When I reached deuce at the end of the matchn a few of the ten thousand spectators tried to rally me, but I quickly silenced them when I double-faulted. You can’t get much worse than that. Hingis served me a humiliating double bagel, 6-0 6-0. A total shutout. It was the worst defeat of my career and the quickest: a meastly thirty-nine minutes. I was mortified. The fighter in me had refused to default even though it would have been the smarter choice. As the crowd threw raucous catcalls, boos and whistles at me, I could feel my face flushing with embaassment and I hobbled off the court as quickly as my ankle would let me. For the first time in my career I had failed to win even one game. Not one.

The last time I’d lost that badly was at Wimbledon in 1989. I was only fifteen and Steffi had seriously schooled me in how to play a Grand Slam, but at least the match lasted fifty-five minutes. At least I’d taken one game. And I got to play in front of Princess Diana, so it wasn’t a total waste. Miami, on the other hand, was a complete waste. But when I was questioned by the reporters who were referring to me as “woefully out of shape,” I insisted that the loss was no big deal. A combination of denial and wishful thinking made me want to pretend it had never happened. But it was a big deal, and when a reporter asked me whether I still had passion for the game, I stumbled over my words. I said that it was a tough question and I wanted to keep the answer for myself. It doesn’t take a genius to read between those lines, and the media jumped on it. Rumors of my retirement picked up speed, and in between preparations for the Italian Open I had to work overtime to quell them.

At twenty-six I was still considered young for most professions, but not in tennis. Tennis is like gymnastics or swimming for women: it is a warped aging universe where you hit your prime around sixteen and have your best years before you can order a drink in a bar. After that, you are old news, both from a performance standpoint and from a marketing one. People want you to step aside for the “new meat” on tour, and with the transformation of tennis into a sexpot sport, the pressure was beginning to reach a fever pitch. Meanwhile I was rapidly being left behind in the race to the top of the conditioning mountain. I was still hanging on to my top-ten ranking – number nine after Miami – but I knew that if I was ever going to see another Grand Slam final, I had to do one thing and one thing only: get rid of the weight. Tennis was too fast and athletic now. Having the strongest ground strokes on tour wasn’t enough. The bigger I got, the faster I could see my career slipping away. To be back at the top, I had to lose my ass.

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