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Seles called to Hall of Fame

Nick Bollettieri is among those in the tennis world who is not at all surprised that Monica Seles will become the newest member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

When Seles was barely 13, Bolletteri took her and Andre Agassi to the Casey Key winter home of Louis Marx Jr. and announced that both players would one day become No. 1 in the world.

“Mr. Marx looked at this skinny girl and started to laugh,” Bollettieri said about the member of the toy-making family who had become an investor in the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. “He told me, he could see Andre had potential, but Monica? I said, ‘Mr. Marx, she is going to be No. 1.’ ”

Seles did become No. 1 in the world, and Thursday it was announced that the Sarasota resident has been selected for induction into the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2009.

She will be officially inducted on July 11 in Newport, R.I., during the finals weekend at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, along with Spain’s Andres Gimeno, Donald Dell and Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson.

“It took me a long time to get into the Tennis Hall of Fame, and what an honor it is,” Seles said by telephone Thursday. “As a little kid when you start playing tennis, when you pick up a racket, you never imagine where that racket is going to take you.”

It took Seles from what was then strife-torn Yugoslavia to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, and eventually around the world as one of the most dominant — and intriguing — players in women’s tennis.

“Monica Seles represented the sport wonderfully on and off the court, and this is very rare in the modern world of sports,” Bollettieri said. “I am thrilled that I was part of her career here at Bollettieri.”

Seles won nine Grand Slam singles titles and was ranked No. 1 in the world for 178 weeks. No one knows how many more titles she might have won had Seles not been stabbed in the back by a crazed fan of Steffi Graf at the height of her career during a tournament in Germany in 1993.

It would be 27 months before Seles played competitively again. Though she reached the final of the U.S. Open in 1995, and won the 1996 Australian Open, she never regained the dominance she showed prior to the attack.

Seles, 35, said she sometimes thinks about that day, though not as much now that she has not played since losing in the French Open in May of 2003.

“I think I was a normal person in some extraordinary circumstances, she said about a 15-year career that earned her nearly $15 million in prize money.

Reflecting Thursday on her career, Seles pointed to three matches that were most important to her.

The first was the 1990 French Open when she beat Graf for her first Grand Slam title.

The next was the comeback match at the U.S. Open in 1995, returning from the stabbing to reach the championship match against Graf.

The third match was the 1992 Tour Championships at Madison Square Garden, where she beat Martina Navratilova, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. Seles considers that match the best she has ever played.

Off the court, Seles has been known for her kindness and generosity and for her charity work.

“What a way to remember an amazing tennis career,” Seles said about reaching the game’s hall of fame. “But also, hopefully, I can inspire young girls around the world that if they dream big enough and work hard at it, their dreams can come true like in my case.”

Seles’ tennis work-ethic, even as young child, has become legendary. But Seles insists it was the love of the game which drove her.

“The love of tennis is what kept me going through the good times and the bad times,” Seles said. “I loved playing on the court at my house (in Laurel Oak Country Club) as much as the French Open or Center Court (at Wimbledon).”

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