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Yugoslav Monica Seles, 15, Enjoying Life in the Pink

June 02, 1989|THOMAS BONK

PARIS — Monica Seles is a 15-year-old, left-handed Yugoslav who lives in Florida, paints her fingernails fire-engine red, talks like a Valley Girl and signs autographs with her new, lucky pen.

At the French Open, where Seles is all the rage, she has been signing lots of autographs.

Clad in her usual pink shirt and pink skirt, Seles won her second-round match Thursday, beating Stacey Martin of Washington, 6-0, 6-2, then signed her name to oblige as many fans as she could on the way to the locker room.

"I am almost exhausted from all the happiness," she said.

Seles signed autographs with a pink pen that had on one end a fuzzy, pink ball with a kitten's face drawn on it. She signed. She smiled. Then she laughed.

Someone has suggested that Seles has the determination of Bjorn Borg, the grunt of Jimmy Connors and the laugh of Woody Woodpecker. It's too early for only the first comparison to be tested completely.

Seles hits the ball two-handed from both sides and grunts audibly every time. And her laugh? It sounds like something between Woody Woodpecker and a car trying to start.

But however she sounds, it's how Seles plays that is drawing attention in women's tennis, which is in need of new, young stars. Although Seles is playing in only her fifth tournament as a professional, she is already No. 22 in the world. Last month in Houston, she defeated Chris Evert to win her first Virginia Slims title.

Seles has not lost a match this year, but she has played only 10.

Seles got stomach cramps and defaulted to Zina Garrison before their semifinal match in the Virginia Slims of Washington, but that is not counted in won-lost statistics.

A two-time world junior champion, Seles was chosen sportswoman of the year in Yugoslavia when she was 12.

"I got so much press attention, I couldn't believe it myself," Seles said.

When she was winning the Orange Bowl junior tournament in 1985, Seles met Nick Bollitieri, who persuaded her to join his tennis academy in Florida. She agreed, and her parents later left Yugoslavia and joined her there.

Seles has grown four inches--to 5-foot-8--in the last year, and her notoriety is experiencing a similar growth spurt. Garrison, Seles' next opponent, may stunt that growth, but if Seles does get past the fourth-seeded player, she will be on a path to meet Steffi Graf in the semifinals.

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