Monica Seles was - and still is - one of the most celebrated and influential players in tennis history, and this Saturday marks exactly 26 years since she first became the No.1 player in the world.
After a breakthrough 12 months that saw her win 63 of 67 matches and 10 of 14 tournaments - including her first two Grand Slam titles at the 1990 French Open and 1991 Australian Open - Seles ascended to No.1 on Monday, March 11, 1991, ending Steffi Graf’s 186-week reign at the top spot.
The 17-year-old Seles was, at the time, the youngest player ever to rise to No.1 (a feat surpassed by a 16-year-old Martina Hingis in 1997 - but Seles is still the second-youngest player to get to No.1).
“Since I came onto the scene everyone said, ‘She’s the next No.1,’ and I wondered if I don’t reach No.1 what would happen to me; would I be just another, I’m not sure of the word, hot shot?” Seles said.
“And if I want to keep that position, I have to keep winning tournaments. If not, I could be the shortest No.1 ever.”
She definitely wasn’t just another “hot shot” - she would end up holding No.1 for a total of 178 non-consecutive weeks, putting her in sixth place all-time after Graf (377), Martina Navratilova (332), Serena Williams (who spent her 315th week at No.1 this week), Chris Evert (260) and Hingis (209).
And who knows how much longer she would have held it had she not lost more than two years at the prime of her career after a deranged fan attacked her during a changeover in Hamburg on April 30, 1993, just weeks before she would go for a fourth straight French Open title. She wouldn’t return to the court until August 1995 and although she was still one of the best players on the tour when she came back, she had missed 10 majors in a row, and she didn’t dominate the tour like she used to.
But Seles still finished her career with a phenomenal nine Grand Slam titles: four Australian Opens (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996), three French Opens (1990, 1991 and 1992) and two US Opens (1991 and 1992). Her best result at Wimbledon was reaching the 1992 final (finishing runner-up to Graf).
Here’s a snapshot of what the world was like when Seles first reached No.1 on March 11, 1991:
- Stefan Edberg was the No.1 player on the ATP World Tour.
- The Silence Of The Lambs was the No.1 movie at the US box office.
- Starbucks wasn’t in California… yet.
- Ed Sheeran was three weeks old.
- The No.1 album on the Billboard 200 was Mariah Carey’s self-titled debut album.
- And the No.1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was also by Mariah Carey: