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Blonde Ambition : With Her Wig or Not, There's No Disguising That Monica Seles Has Gained a Reputation as the No. 1 Eccentric in the Women's Game

August 11, 1991|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Monica Seles arrived in Southern California late last month, she walked off the airplane in San Diego and strolled unnoticed past Raquel Giscafre, the tournament promoter who had gone to meet her.

"I thought I needed glasses," Giscafre said.

Actually, there was nothing wrong with her eyes. But there was something wrong with Seles' hair, which isn't that much longer than Sinead O'Connor's. On that trip, though, Seles' hair was very long and very blond. And it wasn't really her hair. It was a wig.

And earlier in July, Seles had to tape a commercial in Malibu, so she flew from her home in Florida to Los Angeles. On the plane, she wore another wig, this one brunet, and topped it off with a hat. Now, Seles would never make the rookie mistake of carrying her tennis rackets--"That's a giveaway."--so she was surprised when she was recognized at Los Angeles International.

"I never would believe that," she said. "Even with a hat and a wig. A lot of times, if I put on a hat and a wig, even my dad, I can walk by him. Maybe for the (U.S.) Open, I'll try something different. Maybe a little different type of haircut."

Hey, why stop there? The way things are going for Monica Seles, the 17-year-old Yugoslav-born Floridian, equal parts teen tennis superstar and Greta Garbo clone, probably few would be surprised if she showed up for a match wearing phony glasses and a rubber nose.

Ever since she pulled out of Wimbledon by sending a two-paragraph fax to the All England Club citing a "minor injury" three days before the most famous tournament in tennis was to begin, Seles has led the game on a zany, infuriating chase through the normally placid tennis countryside, for which she apologizes, sort of.

"People are never going to expect how I am going to react," Seles said. "All tennis players, we all say the same thing. So I think we should have a little more fun. This is still a game. We always forget it. This is not death and life."

No, it isn't, but it's not hard to understand why tennis is so upset with her. The ruling people in this sport become enraged over the color of shirts, so imagine how much more distressing the chance that one of its participants might actually wear hair that she (or he) did not personally grow.

In any event, it has been a busy summer for Seles, considering she hasn't played much tennis. After she created that international incident by pulling out of Wimbledon, she stirred the hearts and lens caps of paparazzi everywhere by making herself scarce, got fined more often than Rob Dibble for her nonappearances, and then started wearing more disguises than Michael Jackson at an open house.

"I have so many different personalities," Seles said. "Maybe I'm still growing up. I'm still not formed. That's what my dad says. I can be one day Madonna and be crazy. The next day, I can be so reclusive, so into myself. The third day, I can be somebody so different. I'm just really shifting every day or week or hour. It's fun like that, but it's hard to take because I can change so fast."

So, does that mean that Monica Seles is wigging out on us?

There may be clues dropped beginning Monday at Manhattan Country Club in the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles, where Seles will again be ranked No. 1, as well as top-seeded and defending champion. Others in the field, such as Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Zina Garrison, will be on hand to try to send Seles and her wigs back to Florida.

Then again, maybe Gerry Smith, chief executive officer of the Women's Tennis Assn., has the right theory on why Seles wears wigs: "She didn't have time to do her hair?"

THE PULLOUT, THE FALLOUT

At Wimbledon, they were stunned when Seles announced her withdrawal in a terse, nonexplanatory fax message to the All England Club committee, citing a "minor injury." It was Friday and the tournament was to begin the following Monday.

What really had happened to Seles?

Fleet Street immediately dispatched its finest journalists, who scraped the mud off their shoes and launched their investigations.

Speculation was exhausting and complete, ranging from Seles' being pregnant by her hitting partner, to knee surgery, to arm surgery, to shin splints, to fear over the unrest in Yugoslavia.

Smith tried frantically to reach Seles from Wimbledon, but failed.

Why didn't Seles ever answer the phone when Smith called?

"Because I wasn't home," she said.

Seles maintains that she also didn't speak with Stephanie Tolleson, her agent at International Management Group, or Bob Kain, Tolleson's boss at IMG. She says she wasn't speaking with anybody except a group of doctors, who could never quite agree on what was wrong with her.

There was a report that she was hanging out with Donald Trump at his estate, but Seles refused to confirm that. In fact, she never acknowledged that she had ever met "the Donald." Nor would Seles reveal exactly where she spent the two weeks of Wimbledon.

"I may want to go there on my vacation and then everybody would know," she said.

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