MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Monica Seles was affected just seeing the same surface she was playing on in Hamburg three years ago when she was stabbed in the back by a German spectator. Playing on the red clay was almost as tough.
“It brought back a lot of memories,″ she said. “I knew this would be the hardest to come back. Hard or green clay doesn’t bring back what this brings back.″
Playing her first match in Europe since the attack, Seles saved five match points Wednesday before beating unheralded Barbara Schett of Austria, 3-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-2 in the second round of the Madrid Open. Returning to action after an injury layoff of nearly four months, Seles did not display the top form she’ll need at next week’s French Open.
“A few times I was embarrassed because this wasn’t the level of tennis that I should be playing,″ she said. “The crowd got me mostly through this match. I’m not sure I deserved to be out there the way I was missing a lot of shots.″
She called the victory over the 50th-ranked Schett another step in her comeback from the April 30, 1993 stabbing.
“I knew coming in it was going to be tough emotionally, and it was,″ Seles said. “But it’s great to put another step behind me.″
“Gamewise it was not one of the highlights of my career, but it’s good to get it over with and move on,″ Seles said. “It was a step forward again. One of the reasons I wanted to play here is to go through the things I will have to go through at the French Open.″
The critical stage in Wednesday’s match came with Seles serving in the second set, down 5-6 and facing three match points. After gaining the advantage, she paced a few times behind the line as the crowd urged her on with shouts of “Mo-ni-ca.
Switching balls to one she apparently favored, Seles served an ace to send the set to a tiebreaker. But even in the tiebreaker, Seles struggled. Schett, who never approached the net during the match, held match point twice, but failed to capitalize.
“I never thought I could control this match _ even in the third set,″ Seles said. “I was very lucky to pull this one out.″
The Madrid Open, which was held last year in Barcelona, is being used by many of the participants as a tune-up for the French Open, which begins Monday. Seles, who won three consecutive French Open titles from 1990 to 1992, has not participated in the Grand Slam event in Paris since the stabbing.
Wednesday’s match marked Seles first competitive play since Feb. 2, when she lost to Iva Majoli in the quarterfinals of the Pan Pacific tournament in Tokyo. She said her shaky performance was the result of the shoulder injury she suffered three months ago and her overall lack of competitive tennis since the stabbing.
Seles faced a tougher test today when she plays Romania’s Irina Spirlea in the third round. Spirlea is a strong clay-court player who won at Amelia Island, Fla., last month. Seles, who injured her left shoulder at the Australian Open in January, said she started serving for the first time since the Tokyo tournament only four days ago.
“It’s been very slow healing,″ she said.
Seles said she contemplated surgery to repair the shoulder, but decided against it for the time being. If the shoulder still bothers her after the U.S. Open this summer, she said she will almost certainly have an operation.
She returned to active play last summer when she won the Canadian Open. In August, she reached the finals of the U.S. Open before losing to Steffi Graf. In January, Seles won her ninth grand slam title at the Australian Open.