November 22, 1992: The day Seles took down Navratilova for her third straight WTA Finals title

Every day, Tennis Majors looks back at the biggest moments in tennis history. On November 22, 1992, Monica Seles needed three straight sets to beat Martina Navratilova to win the WTA Finals and cap one of the most remarkable seasons on the WTA Tour

Seles OTD 11_22 Seles OTD 11_22

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, November 22, 1992, in a clash of generational icons,18-year old Monica Seles defeated 36-year old Martina Navratilova (7-5, 6-3, 6-1) to claim her third consecutive WTA Finals (then known as the WTA Championships) title. With this triumph Seles, who had been world No 1 since March 1991, confirmed her domination on the tour, having clinched three Grand Slam crowns in1992.

Sadly it would mark Seles’ last appearance at the WTA Finals before her shocking stabbing in April, 1993.

The players involved: Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova

  • Monica Seles: Yugoslav teenage sensation; youngest world No 1 in history

Monica Seles had become one of the most successful players in the world at a particularly young age. She first made a name for herself on the tour in 1988, at the age of 14 in Boca Raton, where she defeated world No 31 Helen Kelesi (7-6 6-3).

Her powerful two-handed groundstrokes, innovative way of hitting the ball so early and with so much pace and her trademark grunting represented a revolution in the women’s game. From her first moments on tour, she was a tour de force, and a virtually unstoppable one at that.

In 1989, Selew played her first full year on the tour and, after claiming her first title at Houston early in the year, she played in her first ever Grand Slam main draw at Roland-Garros. This first appearance in Paris would be long remembered. In the third round, facing world No 4 Zina Garrison, 15-year-old Seles gave away flowers to the Centre Court public before crushing her opponent 6-3 6-2. She went on to the semi-finals where she was only defeated in three sets (6-3 3-6 6-3) by the invincible Steffi Graf, who had won the last five Grand Slam events.

In the following year, 1990, at the age of 16, Seles continued to sparkle. She became the youngest ever player to win Roland-Garros, taking her revenge upon Graf (7-6, 6-4) in a final that marked the start of her domination on the tour.

In March 1991 then 17-year-old Seles became the youngest world No 1 in tennis history, knocking Graf off the throne that she had been sitting on since the summer of ’87. From January 1991 onwards, Seles won seven of the eight Grand Slam tournaments she entered, losing only the 1992 Wimbledon final as she produced a jaw-dropping 56-1 record. Additionally, Seles had also won two consecutive WTA Finals titles in a row (1990 and 1991).

  • Martina Navratilova: Former world No 1, left-hander, now 36

Martina Navratilova, born in 1956 in Czechoslovakia, was, according to Billie Jean King, “the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who ever lived,”. Since 1968 when the Open Era began, no male or female player won more singles tournaments (167), doubles events (177), or matches (2,189) than Navratilova.

Navratilova had claimed a total of 18 Grand Slam titles in singles, with a record nine Wimbledon singles crowns, six of them logged successively between 1982 and 1987. In 1992 Navratilova had already accumulated 31 Grand Slam crowns in doubles, and another six in mixed doubles. She only missed out on the Australian Open mixed doubles title to complete the Boxed Set Grand Slam (winning all the four events in singles, doubles and mixed doubles).

Navratilova also held a record of six consecutive Grand Slam titles between Wimbledon 1983 and the US Open 1984 (back then, the Australian Open was played in December), and had secured the world No 1 spot for 332 weeks, a record at the time (later eclipsed by Graf, and Novak Djokovic on the men’s side).

The left-handed serve-and-volley savant attacked the net like like a predator, swooping in behind her precision serving to end points before her opponents could even start them. According to her rival Chris Evert, Martina took fitness to a new level in the women’s game, introducing the idea of cross-training, playing other sports such as basketball in order to improve her physical condition. In November 1992, aged 36, more than two years after her last Grand Slam title, she was still world No 5 after reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon (lost to Monica Seles, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4).

The place: The iconic Madison Square Garden, New York

The WTA Finals, known as the Virginia Slims Championships, was originally founded in 1972. Its first edition was held in Boca Raton, Florida, and the tournament moved to Los Angeles and Oakland before eventually settling down in New York in 1979. The venue of the event was the famous Madison Square Garden, where 18,000 spectators could be hosted. In 1994, the first 16 players in the world qualified for the Championships, and, unlike in modern days, there was no round robin.

From1984, it had been the only tournament on the women’s tour where the final was played under a best-to-five set format (this format was last played in 1998). Navratilova held the record of the most titles at the WTA Finals with eight victories, but Seles had claimed the two latest editions, in 1990 and 1991.

The facts: Rampant Seles romps to straight-sets win

The 1992 WTA Finals title showdown was a real battle of generations, as Seles, 18 years old, was half the age of 36-year old Navratilova. With her 18 Grand Slam titles, Navratilova was a living, breathing legend, but she hadn’t won a major title since Wimbledon 1990, while Seles was the youngest player in tennis history to hold seven Grand Slam titles. 

Their styles of play were also completely different. Navratilova played old school serve-and-volley, while Seles, hitting the ball with two hands on both wings, played a new kind of hyper-powerful baseline game. 

In the first set, Navratilova started well and even served for the set at 5-4, but she was broken back, and Seles took the set, 7-5. In the second set, the nine-time Wimbledon champion took the lead again, 3-1, but the world No 1 then stepped up her level and, speeding up the pace, totally outplayed Navratilova, 6-3, 6-1.

With this third consecutive title at the WTA Finals, her 10th title in 1992, Seles put the cherry on one of the greatest seasons that was ever played. She was the undisputed world No 1, despite the negative comments she received in New York about her appearance.

“I’m different, I know,” said Seles, according to Sports Illustrated.  “I don’t look like a No 1 player. People say to me, ‘You don’t look like an athlete. You look like a person.’ I don’t look like a No. 1 player, but No. 2 is far behind.”

What next: Navratilova wins more doubles titles, Seles stabbed by crazed fan

Martina Navratilova would obtain her last remarkable result at Wimbledon in 1994, finishing runner-up to Conchita Martinez (6-4, 3-6, 6-3), before retiring at the end of the year. In 2000, Navratilova would come back on the tour, playing mostly doubles, and by winning the mixed doubles at the 2003 Australian Open with India’s Leander Paes, she would complete the Boxed Set Grand Slam and become the oldest Grand Slam champion of all time at the age of 46.

In 2004, she would receive a controversial wild card into the Wimbledon single’s draw. Now 47, she would incredibly win her first round 6-0, 6-2 against world No102 Catalina Castano, before losing to Gisela Dulko, ranked No 59 in the world, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. In 2006, a few weeks from her 50th birthday, she would claim the mixed doubles title at the US Open, partnering Bob Bryan, and finish her career with a title. 

As for Monica Seles, after she triumphed at the 1993 Australian Open, her domination was tragically interrupted when she was stabbed on court by a madman in April 1993. Although she would come back on the tour and claim a ninth (and final) Grand Slam title at the 1996 Australian Open, she would never reach the level of her early years on the tour.

People in this post

Your comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *