Service winner. The crowd erupts. Trachtenberg holds the bag high over her head and yells to the black sky, "Jonathan! She did it!"
The house in Carlsbad is spacious and perfect, country-club chic, sunlight crashing through the windows. Seles sits in the corner of a couch. She has been waiting all day. It's 3 p.m., and she has practiced, rested, talked to agents, friends, kept track of the tournament—and still four hours remain until her match against Testud. The air is still, too quiet. "It's so boring," she says. "It's deadly. I'm just sitting here wasting time."
For two days she has been fighting lingering jet lag and migraines so crushing that the ball sometimes blurs or doubles as she readies to hit, but Seles is used to all that. What hurts now is time and the memories that flood in to fill it. Wherever she goes, whatever tournament or city or airport, it's a place she went with Karolj. He was everything to her: parent, best friend, architect of her game. Every act reminds her of his absence.
Being home is worse. People called her decision to play the French Open courageous, but it grew from fear: Seles felt smothered by the quiet confines of the house she shares with her mother in Sarasota, Fla. After returning from Wimbledon, she still couldn't bear to enter certain rooms because her father's presence was too strong. Her new coach, Gavin Hopper, tried for days to coax her onto the family court; when Seles finally ventured out, she hit for just a few minutes and then demanded that they stop. "I would give anything to bring him back," she says.
Karolj never bullied Monica to practice, but if she picked up a racket, he demanded full concentration, perfect strokes. People marvel at the strength of her return, but the origin of that power is no mystery. "He would serve 500 to 600 balls to me daily without saying a word," Monica says. "When I ask my hitting partners to hit 200, the next day none of them can. My father, until he was 62, would stand there and serve. Every day, six days a week. He loved the game so much. He loved it more than I do."
That's what made the 17 months leading to Karolj's death even more difficult. Since she learned, on New Year's Eve 1996, that his stomach cancer had begun to metastasize, Monica found herself torn between playing tournaments because it made him happy and feeling guilty for being away. She also knew that if she took too much time off, her ranking would drop and she would likely lose some of her endorsement contracts. She was miserable. She gained weight, and her vaunted mental toughness cracked: '97 passed in a parade of horrible losses and blown leads.
It all came to an awful head this past May in Rome. Monica had left Florida thinking her dad had rallied somewhat, but the night before her third-round match against Testud she called home, and no one answered. Karolj had gone to the hospital. She lost the match, and by the time she arrived in Florida, he was barely conscious. She never had a chance to say goodbye. He was 64.
"I regret I went. Those are a few more weeks I should've spent home," Monica says. "The worst was flying home by myself. I'm thinking, I'm all alone. The only thought that helped me was that I was born alone, I live alone, and I'm going to die alone. I knew my mom was there waiting, but I knew my dad wasn't going to be there, and I realized that I had no support in my life anymore, someone to take care of me."
Karolj didn't leave Monica completely alone. Last spring he told her to seek another coach and recommended Hopper. Even while he was sick, Karolj had taken notes as he watched Monica's matches on TV, including her Wimbledon loss last year to Testud after holding a 5-2 third-set lead. While preparing for a fourth-round rematch against—who else?—Testud there this year, Monica called Esther. "She was always there when Dad and I talked, and she writes down everything," Monica says. "I said, 'What was his opinion last year when I lost, what did he think I should have changed?' " This time she beat Testud, 6-3, 6-2.
In Karolj's last weeks he hammered Monica with a message. Since her comeback in 1995, she has shown only glimpses of the player she once was. Distractions—court cases against her attacker, Guenter Parche; his release; her injuries—had left her rudderless. Said Karolj, "You have such talent, you worked so hard as a child, and you're giving it away. If you don't want to give to it fully, to practice and be dedicated like you were, then you're making a mockery of when you were Number 1. Move on."