Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova, 1991 US Open final

Monica Seles first US Open title

From Monica Seles’ autobiography, Getting a grip:

I love the US Open. The New York fans can’t be beat and no other Grand Slam gets as rowdy. At Wimbledon there is total silence, but at the US Open fans will scream your name in the middle of a serve. I thrive on that kind of energy. The flow of tennis was back in my life and I jumped out of bed every morning with a newfound motivation. Tennis was what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I wanted to do.

I got to the semi without any problem, where I met Jennifer for another long, drawn-out three-set match? They were becoming our trademark. We were both power players and we shared the same hatred of losing. It was just a matter of who hated it more on any given match day. Back and forth we went, both of us hugging the baseline, each of us putting her entire body into pushing the ball’s power to another level. Just when I thought she couldn’t hit it any harder, she did. And I’d answer her right back. Some of the points seemed endless, and I could tell from the astonished gasps from the spectators that this wasn’t like most matches. We were playing a new kind of tennis and the crowd loved it.

We each took a set 6-3 and each went into the third determined to come out as the victor. The fans were on the edge of their seats and yelling for Jennifer, America’s tennis sweetheart, as loudly as they could. But I was in the zone. Don’t let this get away from you. Stay in control. Jennifer served for the match two times but couldn’t capitalize on it. I was ready to pounce. I won the next two games and we were tied 6-6 in the third set of a US Open semifinal. The pressure was cranked up. It was time for a tiebreaker and the race to reach the lucky number seven was on. THe match could have gone either way. It went mine. I held my serve and raced to reach seven points. The crowd went crazy and Jennifer looked crushed. It had been an intense battle of wills and we were both used up. I don’t know that I could’ve played another point. It was time to go back to the hotel and rest for my final against Martina.

I chose a pink and white Fila ensemble for the big day – tame by US Open standards. It is the most lenient of the Grand Slams when it comes to the players’ outfits. Some of Andre Agassi’s craziest getups were debuted there. My hair was growing at a torturously slow pace, so I piled on the hairspray, hoping it wouldn’t double in size once I started running and sweating all over the court. I was focused on tennis, but I was still a girl and I didn’t want to look ugly out there.

The first set felt like a continuation of my last set against Jennifer. We traded points back and forth until we were tied 6-6. I had to stop myself from obsessing on being the first to get to seven. Instead I played my dad’s voice in my head: Play every point as it comes. It was just what I needed to hear: I won the tiebreaker 7-1. My quick tiebreaking victory did a number on Martina‘s confidence, even though we’d been tied at 6-6, and I took the second set 6-1.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how you can fall apart the moment you lose one game: if you don’t have games on your side, you don’t have momentum. If you don’t have momentum on your side, you’ve got to dig deep to come up with some confidence. If you can’t find the confidence, fake it. If you can’t fake it, it’s over.

My victory in New York gave me my fourth Grand Slam, my third that year. I was so thrilled after the last point that I forgot about looking cool and I pranced around the court like a pony.

Also read:
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in women’s tennis
Australian Open 1991: Monica Seles defeats Jana Novotna
Optima Open 2015: Seles, Clijsters, McEnroe and Bahrami

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