Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova, 1991 US Open final

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

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.
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Monica Seles, Australian Open 1991

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.