Monica Seles, Australian Open 1991

Australian Open 1991: Monica Seles defeats Jana Novotna

From Monica Seles’ autobiography, Getting a grip:

Within the first hour of landing in Melbourne I knew it would be my home away from home. Fantastic people, beautiful weather, and the laid-back energy of the culture calmed my nerves.

I lost only twelve games in the first five rounds and faced a tough battle against Mary Joe Fernandez in the semi. The last two times we’d met on the court I’d beaten her in two sets, but she wasn’t going down easily this time. In the second set my game fell apart and she took it 6-0. Our third set went back nad forth like a seesaw and we played until 9-7.
I was exhausted but I was on my way to the final. Years later Mary Joe would become one of my best friends and I’d dread playing against her. If we’d been friends back then, I don’t know whether I would have been able to summon the gritty focus it takes to win a set that close.

Jana Novotna, a gifted doubles player from the Czech Republic, was waiting to play me in the final. She was five years and had beaten me in two sets at an indoor tournament during my first time as a pro, but I had an advantage now. This was her first Grand Slam singles final and I’d already won in Paris. In a monumental event like a Grand Slam final, if you don’t have confidence, you don’t have anything. I’d already been on the court in a final and prevailed. I knew I could do it.

I was furious with myself when she took the first set 7-5. My mind started to slide down the canyon of negative thoughts, but I stopped it before it was too late. Just play each point – my dad’s words came back to me at full volume. I won the next set 6-3 and, with the momentum on my side, took control of the rhythm and didn’t let up until I won the third set 6-1. I’d done it. I won my second Grand Slam title under the unforgiving Australian sun.

In front of the boisterously supportive local fans and playing on 130-degree hard courts, I proved that I was more than just a clay specialist. I was more than a one-hit wonder, and with that win I was within striking distance of being number one, a position Steffi Graf had held for the past three and a half years. Two months after Australia the points were tallied and I became the top-ranked female player in the world.

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