On Monica Seles

On Monica Seles

The collective resentment of Monica Seles was an expression of our cultural discomfort with a kind of overt female aggression that seems to revel in itself.


At first, Monica Seles was dominant in a way that some people found alienating. Like a lot of tennis players, she had a tendency to grunt while making her shots, and this prompted outrage that I think would never have occurred if she’d been a man. Opponents would lodge complaints, and Seles would be apologetic, but that was the way she played, and she beat everyone. She was just amazing. Looking back, I’m certain that the collective resentment of her—which I confess I felt in moments, mingled with my excitement about her strength—was an expression of our cultural discomfort with a kind of overt female aggression that seems to revel in itself. There was a perception of ugliness or unseemliness about her unbridled strength.

One reason her stabbing was so appalling—beyond the horrific fact itself—was that it felt like the apotheosis of the public resentment of Seles. And then the attack seemed to break her—she didn’t return for such a long time, and it appeared that she wouldn’t ever. I felt personally implicated in that. But the fact that she did eventually come back was an incredible triumph. She got out there all over again and fought like hell, which is what she does. When she finally retired, it was from a position of strength rather than victimization. My guess is that no female athlete will be criticized in the way she was again. I think everyone felt a kind of disgust, in retrospect, over the way she was treated. But she was stronger than all of it.

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