The intriguing question remains: How did this most captivating creature—of equal parts Woody Woodpecker giggle, samurai truck-driver grunt and Coco Chanel flair—do all this in relative obscurity? The answer is Capriati. While Our Jen, then 14, was winning over fans, agents, advertisers, the press and a good part of a couple of nations in 1990, the 16-year-old Seles was busy winning matches, growing from denim to Dior, hobnobbing with Prince Albert of Monaco and John Forsythe of Dynasty, discovering Los Angeles—"My town; I was born for L.A.; I give myself three years and I'm there," she says—and becoming the youngest this and that in history. Seles is the youngest player to win the French Open (in '90) and the Australian Open ('91), the youngest player to win a million dollars, the youngest to leave Bollettieri high and dry, the youngest to show up in flimsy black lace at a Virginia Slims Championships dinner, and so forth. On March 11, when she ended Graf's record 186-week streak at the top of the rankings, Seles became the youngest No. 1 as well. She beat Austin by 26 days.
Still, there are tennis marketers who insist they would rather be hitched to the 12th-ranked Capriati, who has won but one minor tournament, the belief being that the Kewpie-faced Floridian is a "true American" and will turn out to be the better player, because Seles's head, in the words of one sportswear representative, "swells by the day." On current evidence, this notion seems preposterous. What's more, an unsuspecting world should get prepared for an onslaught of Monicana, ranging from Matrix Essentials hair-care products advertisements—word has it that Seles collected a nifty $800,000-plus for her make-over and endorsement contract—to photo layouts in Elle (in France), Arnica (in Italy) and Vogue (in the U.S.).
Tennis-wise, Seles needs to work to improve her serve and volley, but she hits the ball sooner—on the rise, in the game's parlance—and harder than most any other female can dream of doing. "It's Steffi's forehand off both sides," says Evert.
Spiritually, she is tennis's premier fighter since, well, Evert herself. At 5'10" (at least) and 120 pounds, Seles remains slight and vulnerable to ankle sprains and other injuries, but she has vowed to get as strong as her top rivals with some serious weight training. Still, following a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Seles at the Italian Open last year, Navratilova said, "It was like being run over by a truck."
Seles may be Eastern Euoropean-born (Novi Sad, Yugoslavia), but she is as Main Street as Madonna, whom (as if you couldn't guess) Seles idolizes for all the proper reasons—the Material Girl's power, invention and singularity, not to mention all those bustiers. "Forget whether she's talented or not," says Seles. "Madonna has total control over her life, and not many women have that."
The traveling Seles family—her father, Karolj, a former cartoonist and documentary filmmaker; her mother, Esther, a former computer programmer; Zoltan, 25; and the bitingly mean Yorkshire terrier, Astro—possesses a hard-headed reluctance to close deals. But why would anyone risk signing with one of tennis's panting pack of agentry jackals if she didn't have to? Astonishingly, Monica and her management company, IMG, work together without a contract.
Moreover, while Monica was guilty early on of the occasional ill-timed star turn—her debut entrance onto Court Central at the 1989 French Open featured her flipping roses to the crowd and presenting some to her opponent, Zina Garrison, who was not only unamused but beaten badly—her ascendancy has been distinguished by total professionalism on and off the court. "Dealing with the pressure of being Number One, taking an active role in the WTA, spending time with sponsors, giving back to tennis, Seles is exactly what we've been missing on the tour since Chris and Martina cut back their participation," says Garrison, victim turned supporter. (Garrison exacted revenge at Wimbledon last year, upsetting the third-seeded Seles in the quarterfinals in the tournament's most riveting match.)
"Monica's the first one of the new breed to show the responsibility to the game a top player should have," says Evert, who doesn't compare Seles with any of the great players of the past but to Kristien Kemmer, a journeywoman of elegant looks and sass who took Evert under her wing in the early 1970s and introduced her to backless dresses and purple eye shadow—in other words, to style. "Kris was always a trend setter, and Monica's like that," says Evert. "She has such self-assurance and poise for someone her age, and it's no fake creation. That's genuinely her."
"Our entertainer," says Pam Shriver of the new kid at the top of the block. "Monica has such a feel for the crowd and the moment. She's not only outgoing, she's approachable; she shows herself to everybody. And she handled moving from four to three to two to one just right. She was always sensitive to Steffi as she took over the rankings."
Likewise, when Seles lost back-to-back rain-interrupted finals to Graf and Sabatini in Hamburg and Rome earlier this month, she mentioned very little about the conditions. It wasn't until almost three hours after losing in Rome—after beseeching the crowd to stay for the doubles final, after enduring the trophy presentation, after meeting the press, after winning the doubles crown with Capriati—that Seles finally let out her emotions. On the sidewalk outside the locker room, in view of hundreds of fans watching from a terrace above, she began to cry. "Get inside. Hurry, inside," said Capriati's father, Stefano, who was standing nearby. Seles stayed.