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Seles wants 15 more minutes

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The once-great Monica Seles may have finally retired from the sport of tennis last week, but her "15 minutes of fame" aren't up just yet, as the nine-time Grand Slam singles champion will return to the spotlight on the ABC hit series "Dancing with the Stars" next month.

Last week, the 34-year-old star officially announced her retirement from tennis, even though she hadn't played a WTA Tour match in almost five years after suffering a foot injury.

On March 17, however, Seles will make her ballroom dancing debut, as she'll be one of 12 (B-List) celebrities on an all-new season of "Dancing," or "DWTS," if you will. She'll be joined by such luminaries as actress Shannon Elizabeth; magician Penn Jillette, who is half of the famous illusionist team of Penn & Teller; occasional actress Priscilla Presley, the former wife of Elvis; NFL Man of the Year Jason Taylor, of the Miami Dolphins; and 1992 Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

My guess is that Seles is a better tennis player than a dancer, but we'll just have to tune in and find out.

The one-time world No. 1 from the former Yugoslavia was dominating women's tennis in the early 1990s before that infamous stabbing incident in Germany.

A deranged Steffi Graf fan made his way onto the court on April 30, 1993 and plunged a knife between Seles' shoulder blades during a quarterfinal match against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg. The injuries only took a few weeks to heal, but the psychological damage was done, as the powerful southpaw stayed off the tour for more than two years following the crime.

Seles became the youngest-ever French Open champion in 1990, at the tender age of 16, and ruled the circuit in 1991 and 1992 by winning six-of-eight Grand Slams, only to see her career derailed by one Gunter Parche (the knifeman). She would miss 10 straight major events from 1993-95, six of which were won by Graf, who claimed an unstoppable four straight Slams at one point during the stretch.

Monica Seles
Monica Seles will return to the spotlight next month as a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars."
Parche, of course, was charged following the violent incident, but was never jailed because he was found to have psychological problems. Instead, he was sentenced to two years' probation and psychological treatment. Seles, who became an American citizen in 1994 during her tragedy-induced hiatus, vowed never to play tennis in Germany again.

Can't say I blamed her.

When Seles finally returned to the tour in 1995, she enjoyed some immediate success, but was never quite the same player. She soared all the way to the U.S. Open finale shortly after her return and captured the Australian Open in 1996 to mark her last major championship.

Prior to the attack, she won the French Open three straight years from 1990-92 and captured three straight Aussie Open titles from 1991-93. She also rattled off consecutive U.S. Open championships in '91 and '92, as only the coveted Wimbledon championship eluded her grasp. Seles reached a Wimbledon final in 1992, but succumbed to her arch-rival Graf.

FYI, Seles was an unbelievable 33-0 at the Aussie Open before she lost to Martina Hingis in the semifinals there in 1999. Her first four trips to Melbourne all resulted in titles.

Seles' last Grand Slam final came at the 1998 French Open, where she lost to Hall-of-Famer Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. All told, Seles appeared in 13 major finals, going 9-4. She set a women's record by winning her first six Grand Slam finals, all this by the ripe old age of 18, and she topped Graf in three of their first four meetings in Grand Slam title bouts.

The popular Seles performed in nine-of-12 major finals at one point, winning eight of 'em from 1990-93.

She played her first professional tournament when she was only 14 years old, in 1988, and joined the tour on a full-time basis the following year. Seles beat the legendary Chris Evert in a final in Houston in May of 1989 for her first career title, at the age of 15, and finished her first year on the tour at No. 6 in the world. Amazing!

In 1991, Seles became the youngest-ever woman, at the time, to ascend to No. 1, and would wind up with 53 singles and six doubles championships. She also captured a bronze medal for the U.S. at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

In 2003, she succumbed to the aforementioned foot injury, an injury that, in effect, would end her what-could-have-been career.

The Sarasota, Florida resident earned $14.891 million in career prize money, which is good for ninth place all-time, and is also ninth on the women's all- time titles ledger.

Seles was best known for those punishing two-fisted groundstrokes and a dominating return game. She's widely regarded as the first "power player" in women's tennis, paving the way for such stars as Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova, etc. She was also known for, unintentionally, distracting her opponents with that famous on-court shriek.

A quick mover in her prime, a fleet Seles chopped up her opponents with sharp-angle shots and heavy top spin. And (again, in her prime) she was one of the best, if not the best, "big point" players around.

Let's see how clutch she is in the ballroom.

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Scott Riley

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