Getting a Grip: On My Game, My Body, My Mind… My Self by Monica Seles

monica seles getting a grip
Date Finished: April 2018
Did I Like It? 8/10

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Monica Seles, one of the greatest tennis players to grace the courts moved to the USA at the age of 13, turned pro at 14, and won a Grand Slam at the age of 16. Her legacy showed no bounds, but getting stabbed on court put a halt to everything. Weight battles influenced the rest of her career, and while she showed signs of the quality of tennis that shot her to #1, the consistency wasn’t always there.

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What I Highlighted:


The harder I tried to be the old me, the farther away from her I found myself.

Before my reality was ripped away in 1993, I’d been on top of the world, ranked number one in professional women’s tennis. My whole life was in front of me. A dream future was mine for the taking.

Life couldn’t have been any better. And then in an instant it was all taken away.

Although the physical scars healed, the emotional damage cut much deeper and I was plunged into a fog of darkness and depression that I couldn’t see my way out of.

My insanity was firmly entrenched in one goal: to be thin. I was 100 percent convinced that it was the key to solving all of my problems.

Blinded with the optimism that putting a new calendar on the wall brings, I was always on my best eating and exercising behavior for the first few days.

But I was still fat and I became an expert in hiding my body under layers of clothing.

I couldn’t trust myself enough to be by myself. The pounds piled on until I’d gone up four sizes and forty pounds. The bigger I got, the smaller I felt as a person. But I didn’t know how to stop the madness.

I tried every diet, every workout regimen, and consulted every top fitness expert, but nothing changed and I was convinced I was destined to be an unhappy person in a body that

I stopped looking for answers on the outside and started listening to the quiet voice inside of me.

1. Blasting Through the Comfort Zone

It took a long time to get to this point, but I knew that I didn’t need tennis to define who I was anymore.

I gave my new favorite answer to every opportunity that life threw my way: “Why not?”

I’d already be warmed up and ready to launch straight into hitting. I’d mellowed a lot since then, but that Type A, gotta-get-it-right girl was still lurking inside me.

After years of working to build up my inner core and working out with my trainer, Gyll, to strengthen my physical one, the biggest criticism was that my core wasn’t up to par. Yikes.

After I’d done everything I was supposed to: our goal had been to get all our steps into the routine, so who cared that we got the lowest score? Big deal.

Misery loves company.

The only thing I’d wanted to do was stay on the show for at least a week, and I was mortified that I hadn’t been able to do it.

If you don’t take risks in life, you won’t get anything out of it.

2. Girls Don’t Play Tennis

Some sports prodigies are born with superb hand-eye coordination, abnormally flexible shoulder joints, or extremely efficient red blood cells. Me? I just had freakishly strong wrists.

I devoted every afternoon to playing in that parking lot.

I loved tennis with every bit of my heart.

I’d practice hitting against the brick wall of our building over and over again. Ice, rain, snow, wind—no matter what the weather was like, I was out there.

When you’re young, the choice is so easy. If it’s fun, do it; if it’s not, don’t.

Cutting down the reaction time of your opponent—this was an extremely aggressive approach that few players were using.

When I felt people’s eyes on me, I became very self-conscious. Why on earth I picked tennis—the most solo sport around—I still don’t know.

Fun friends, amusement parks, good matches—I thought tennis was the greatest thing in the world. It was a dream come true.

Without the pressure of money on the line, kids make tons of friends and keep in contact with each other via postcards until the next tournament.

For five months of the year I could see my breath while I was practicing outside. My hands often grew numb from gripping the racket in the cold and my lips would chap and crack from the wind chill.

I adored being part of a team.

The more physical I was, the more I wanted to do. The faster my clocked times, the faster I wanted to go the next day. Something was lit inside of me, and it was starting to grow hotter. I wanted to be the best I could be, so working out wasn’t a burden. I loved it.

I had a decision to make. At twelve, I still had no idea that I could make a living playing tennis.

Having a big brother look out for you is the best security blanket in the world.

There are so many pitfalls along the way, and if you are by yourself, it is very difficult to avoid them.

4. Academy 101

with a single purpose: to become the best they could be.

At that moment I realized I was going to have to make my own luck. There was no other way.

It was a crash course in tennis as a life instead of tennis as a game.

He could practice a quarter as much as everyone else and still be the best out there. That’s what being born with natural talent does for you.

Most people will hit back and forth to each other, but that’s not how I operated. Right from the start, I was hitting it from side to side at crazy angles; I wasn’t making anything easy for him.

5. She’s Not All That

After my first piece of toast slathered with it, Nutella was forgotten and I had a new best friend.

Top players didn’t use two hands, so why should I? It was a mistake. It’s very hard to change something like that after you turn twelve.

The new swing wasn’t working for me and it was destroying my confidence.

Terrified my scholarship would be taken away, I tried harder to master my new game, but the harder I tried, the tenser I got.

6. Back to Basics

There have been several times in my life when I’ve been overwhelmed with the extraneous.

I’ve come up with a three-point plan for surviving these tempests in life: 1. Clean house. right at that moment. 2. Don’t be afraid to say the magic word. 3. Embrace the power of being you, without apology.

I forged my own path, but they gave me unbelievable backup.

My mom’s complete lack of interest in tennis gave me a good balance.

I didn’t want to spend another moment being miserable. Nothing was worth feeling like that. Not even tennis.

The number one reason promising players don’t make it past junior tennis is burnout.

7. The Training Wheels of Professional Tennis

I love tennis, but I can honestly say that I never once had fun during a match.

I was born with an unshakable people-pleasing personality, and I never loved winning at someone else’s expense.

Focus, motivation, drive—I had all those things. But the desire to wipe up the court with my opponent was never part of my game.

8. The Big Time

If you’re going to make a run for the top, you can’t spend four years in college.

There is a danger in professional sports of being surrounded by too many yes-men, too many people who just tell you what they think you want to hear.

Teenagers are fueled by a naïve invincibility that can lead to tremendous achievements—it just goes to show how much power the mind has.

I thought that, because it was a lot of money, it had to be written on a really big check. I was convinced that I had to take it to the bank to cash it,

9. The Grand Dame of Grand Slams

If you’re not emotionally invested, you can remain cool headed when it counts.

My philosophy was always “Get to know people as little as possible; that way nobody gets hurt.” It won’t give you the happiest life, but it will improve your tennis game a lot.

10. Hitting My Stride

Bursting into the top ten rankings is a baptism by fire into the business side of tennis.

It takes a team to build a successful player: a coach and hitting partner travel with you everywhere.

If I was serious about being in the top ten (I’d started that year’s season at number six but was rapidly losing ground), I had to leave my childhood security blanket behind.

We’d all reached a breaking point in our relationship and it didn’t make sense to stay there anymore.

I was sixteen and I just wanted to play tennis.

Winning my first Grand Slam came down to what was going on between my ears. If I believed I could beat her, I would.

I’d just accomplished one of my dreams and I was ravenous from the effort.

11. Reaching the Top

At sixteen, I still had a whole career ahead of me, but I’d already accomplished something that players spend decades trying to achieve.

The best tip I picked up along the way was to pack my pajamas and toothbrush at the top of my bag, so if we checked into a hotel late at night, I didn’t have to go rooting around my luggage in search of them

I was not a mature teenager and I didn’t have the first clue about how to handle myself in the cyclone of fame and success that was swirling around me.

If we’d been friends back then, I don’t know whether I would have been able to summon the gritty focus it takes to win a set that close.

In a monumental event like a Grand Slam final, if you don’t have confidence, you don’t have anything.

Just play each point—my dad’s words came back to me at full volume.

12. Ego Check

I’d reached the pinnacle of the tennis world, but I was afraid to look around to enjoy it. It had been much easier working my way up from the sixth spot.

Now, playing as the number one, I had something to lose in every single match.

I was wrong: it felt even better the second time. I’d proved I was there to stay.

I had developed a raging case of entitlement and I was becoming more spoiled by the second.

I’d been kept in a bubble for most of my life, but I was suddenly filled with a sense of urgency that I had to make up for lost time.

I was convinced I didn’t need a coach anymore; I knew everything there was to know about tennis.

I wasn’t hustling, I wasn’t pushing myself. I was settling for the bare minimum.

When you are that close and you don’t aggressively shut down your opponent, it’s like throwing the set away.

I knew the reason: keeping odd hours was starting to catch up with me, and now I had to beat one of the best players in the game.

There was a difference between being famous and being a celebrity; I’d just never realized it before.

I needed both of my parents with me. There was no way I could be the player I wanted to be if I was alone.

Tennis was what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I wanted to do.

We were both power players and we shared the same hatred of losing. It was just a matter of who hated it more on any given match day.

If you don’t have games on your side, you don’t have momentum. If you don’t have momentum on your side, you’ve got to dig deep to come up with some confidence. If you can’t find the confidence, fake it. If you can’t fake it, it’s over.

13. In the Zone

It’s not often that you realize your life is good in the moment it is good.

Critics can kill your spirit if you let them.

It didn’t seem fair but I made the unwise decision to muffle my noise in my final against Steffi. Big mistake: it’s one of the only things I’ve regretted in my life.

But the danger in being a people pleaser is that you often end up never pleasing the person who matters the most: you.

And within the pages of every single one there is at least one mention of finding balance, achieving a perfect equilibrium where your personal, professional, physical, emotional, and psychological lives are all working in perfect harmony. When this happens, you are living at your optimal level and anything is possible.

But it was hard to get a big head when I still had to do the dishes at home with my family, clean up after the dog, book my own court times, and pick up my own balls during practice.

I knew the key to staying at the top was not to get too comfortable there.

14. Derailed

A split second of horror fundamentally changed me as a person. I was stabbed. On the court. In front of ten thousand people.

That was a harsh lesson in the business side of tennis: it really is about making money over anything else.

15. Another Hit

It was prostate cancer. I’d just been stabbed and now my dad had been handed a grim diagnosis. I was devastated.

For two months I’d been funneling my frustration into my physical therapy, attacking it with the same intensity and focus I brought to all of my matches.

I’d never made up an excuse in my entire life and now I was making them daily.

Darkness had descended into my head and it was going to stay awhile.

16. Keep Running

I wish that I’d paid better attention to what I was doing, acknowledged the bad habits that were forming, and corrected them before they got out of control.

Despite the pain, I loved working out with Bob.

Sweating out my rage, confusion, and frustration did more for me than one hundred hours of talk therapy.

ultimately I was just replacing the torment in my mind with torment in my body.

The damage to my psyche was hiding behind sit-ups, push-ups, plyometrics, and supersets with twenty-pound dumbbells.

In ten days I gained back all the weight that I’d lost with the Kersees.

17. Happy?

I can now take misfortunes and turn them around into opportunities for growth.

What is this trying to teach me? How am I supposed to grow from this really awful situation?

What had happened to me had never happened in any sport, so there wasn’t a rulebook for getting better.

What I didn’t yet understand was that I would never be who I used to be.

18. Baby Steps

Tennis had been my life’s passion and I still loved it.

I’d never played with that kind of self-consciousness, and I hated it.

They looked so happy. I should have been happy. But I couldn’t be in the moment. I was too upset about the way my body looked.

I tried to focus on the positive: I was back.

The self-confidence that had fueled me for so many years wasn’t there.

19. A Resolution

For two weeks the world comes together to embrace the true international spirit of sportsmanship and athleticism.

I could put on a good face and smile and laugh but I had an impenetrable barrier around me. The bigger I got, the stronger the barrier became.

I barely took advantage of everything the Olympics had to offer. Instead of being inspired by all this phenomenal athletic talent, I was intimidated and self-conscious.

If I was going to do it, then I was going to do it big. Anything less would be a failure.

20. A Phone Call

My body couldn’t take the extra forty pounds of pressure and it was starting to break down on me.

The concept of mortality had never hit me as hard as it did at that moment.

21. On My Own

I bought every book that promised to give me a new life, a new body, or both. I was obsessed with losing the weight. I was convinced I’d be happy again if I could just get rid of it.

Gavin was hard-core. He had no emotions attached to his eating.

I worked so hard in the gym, but I’d mess it all up in one binge.

He spent thousands of hours hitting with me when I was little—not because he wanted to groom a prodigy, but just because he saw how much I loved it.

22. C’est la vie

When he passed away I didn’t know what to do.

I hopped on the plane for one simple reason: I couldn’t stand staying in our house a minute longer.

So, just like I did for years after my stabbing, I ran away from my feelings by rejoining the tour.

This was nothing compared to what I’d gone through with my dad. I was ready to play.

I capitalized on her inconsistent serves, nailed my own, and kept my unforced errors to a minimum. The game I brought was calm, controlled, and strong—the exact traits I’d been missing in myself.

If there was one thing my dad’s long, painful battle had taught me, it was that life isn’t fair. And it’s too short to sit around brooding about it. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go forward.

23. The Search Continues

We were just too different, but I convinced myself that being around his “good” eating habits would help me develop my own.

It was like spending time with a food monk.

He used food as energy to accomplish what he wanted to achieve in life. I used food as a drug to help me forget about the bad things in life. Instead of fueling me, food was hindering me from reaching my goals.

There had been so much death, sadness, and tragedy. I needed some quiet.

I wanted to look like the other girls, but I didn’t know how to get there.

It is just you out there and you have no excuses.

24. The Virtues of the Peanut

The thought of returning to the grind of the tour and fighting my way into the top ten again was just too much.

I told him I wasn’t having fun anymore.

To get back to basics, all I truly needed was me and my racket.

The energy of a standing ovation rained down on me from every angle. Goose bumps spread down my arms. I was overwhelmed.

That old edge of competitiveness that had been my trusty companion for so long began to peep its head up to quietly say, I’m still here.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

“Stay in the present” had been my motto since I was fifteen years old.

I was struggling to reach balls that used to be easily retrievable.

Somewhere inside I knew I could still win one.

Sometimes you find what you’re looking for in the most unlikely of places.

I got back to basics, back to the raw feeling of playing tennis for the sake of playing.

As I had when I was seven years old, I was just playing for me.

I still had some tennis in me, if I could just lose the weight.

25. A Hag with a Frying Pan

Without a team behind me I’d burn out by the second round. I’d always had structure and I thrived on it. I missed that.

Oklahoma had made me realize I still wanted to be a tennis player. This time I was serious and I’d succeed.

I hit the gym with a vengeance and kicked the calorie counting into high gear. Another short-term solution to a long-term problem. I was setting myself up for failure yet again.

Being good at tennis wasn’t enough anymore: agents and sponsors wanted the whole package.

Instead of using her as inspiration for stepping up my fitness and whipping myself into shape, it was easier and more comforting to blame her ultimate lottery-winning genetics.

I shouldn’t have been playing, but I didn’t want to pull out.

As a professional athlete, I should have been the one in shape. I wasn’t and I was overcome with anger at myself for not holding it together over the past week.

26. A Girl’s Best Friend

The best way to forget a bad tournament is to conquer the next one.

To be a threat on the professional tour, you are forced to be selfish and to put yourself before all others.

Having a tight-knit group of friends on the tour simply wasn’t compatible with being a top player.

Sitting around waiting for a match can be more exhausting than playing it.

I’ve never been a quitter. It’s not in my DNA.

27. The A-Team

I could find my way from the hotel to Roland Garros with my eyes closed, but I’d never seen Notre Dame or the Louvre.

I didn’t know how much progress I could make in four weeks. But drastic times called for drastic measures.

If you mess up in tennis, it’s just you out there.

But behind most top players there is a small army of coaches, trainers, hitting partners, therapists, and nutritionists enabling that athlete to reach her peak performance.

You can always learn something new in tennis; it is a game that is impossible to master. That’s the beauty of it.

I didn’t want everyone else’s hard work and dedication to go to waste. Besides, it was only four weeks. I could get through it.

Airplanes are a quiet bubble of peace for me, an isolated sanctuary at thirty-five-thousand feet.

28. Roman Holiday

You don’t gain respect by having a single extraordinary tournament run, especially at such a young age.

Tennis is more a game of the mind than a game of the body.

29. The Wolf’s Mouth

I don’t remember playing any points, just losing them over and over until the set slipped right out from under me, 3–6.

30. Gladiator

Using my army of ground strokes, I took the first set 6–2. Then I got scared. Nerves and anxiety disarmed my game and—poof—my focus was gone.

One half of a second can be the difference between winning and losing an entire match.

Sacrifice off the court was what it took to get me here, and sacrifice on the court was what it was going to take to win.

31. Gold Isn’t Everything

I finally understood the meaning of being “high on life.” I wish there was a way to bottle that magic.

Olympics were about: it was a sixteen-day period where miracles could happen.

It wasn’t the most eloquent or unique advice, but if there’s one thing that tennis has taught me it is never to count yourself out before the umpire calls the final score.

It’s a bit of a downer, playing for the bronze, so I had to shift my mind-set. I was now competing for a medal, period.

32. Injustice Served

Tennis isn’t about loyalty, it’s about money.

But while my financial loss can be tallied (into the eight figures), I can’t put a number on the emotional and physical damages I sustained.

But as long as that verdict stands, my promise to myself remains unaltered. To make a quick buck isn’t worth sacrificing my principles.

33. A Chemical Army

My momentum and mental strength were fickle friends, and I never knew when they’d make an appearance.

34. Back in the Saddle

There are five things I look for in a coach. 1. Great work ethic and impressive stamina. 2. Stability.
3. Steady hitting ability. 4. Knowledge about the other players’ games. 5. Willingness to make me a part of his life.

35. Diet Secrets of the Sumo Wrestler

And the most important thing I learned was that what you put into your mouth is more critical to weight loss than how much exercise you do.

Calories are easier to put on than they are to take off, which is why one of my half-hour binges would wipe out an entire day’s worth of hard work.

I worked out in extremes and I ate in extremes. Nothing was in balance and my body showed it.

36. Call Me Ox

I’d given up so much for tennis and had never mastered the art of striking a balance.

I had been convinced that, to be number one, I had to eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

37. A Pumpkin by Midnight

Play every point, I thought, the games and the sets will take care of themselves.

38. Live to Work or Work to Live?

I thought if I spent every meal with her, studied the way she approached food, and copied exactly what she did, I’d eventually adopt her habits on my own. It didn’t work.

I knew that one day, when I was sure, I’d just stop. I didn’t need to give the world advance notice.

I was so tired of asking all of the what-ifs; I’d been doing it myself for years and I didn’t want to do it again.

Time slipped away faster than I ever could have imagined, and I wanted to try again. I didn’t want to live with the regret that I didn’t at least try.

39. A Well-Timed Rain Delay

New Yorkers break every rule of tennis etiquette, and I love it.

I wasn’t a hungry teenager untouched by the sadness and tragedy of life anymore, but I knew I could get some of that focus and intensity back if I really wanted to.

40. A Passing of the Grunting Torch

I would have given anything to have had her willpower and discipline when it came to food, but I just didn’t.

On and on I went, using his unhealthy actions to justify my own.

41. Where Is the Panic Button?

I was overwhelmed with the simple task of implementing a “normal” diet.

But something groundbreaking was beginning to happen. If I did eat the ice cream bar, it wouldn’t launch me into an all-out feeding frenzy. I’d eat it, then go in the other room and start doing something else.

Left to my own devices and free from the judging of my food babysitters, I felt calmer than I had in years.

It was liberating. I walked along the shore during the incoming tide and felt, for a moment, a connection to my body I hadn’t felt for years.

I spent most of my thirtieth birthday challenging myself to do something new: I was going to just relax. I threw myself into a hammock to read and nap. I wasn’t going to feel guilty about relaxing. I was just going to be.

42. Worth a Thousand Words

I knew I needed to lose weight, but this was a whole new perspective. I didn’t need to lose it so I’d look good in a bikini; I needed to lose it to give my body a break.

Nobody on the outside could fix what was going on inside of me. I was the only one who could and would do it.

For two weeks I laughed and cried as I put my life in order in the pages of those albums. And somewhere, between the first album and the twentieth, I finally started to grieve for my dad.

43. The Little Black Dress

I was beginning to realize I had a say in whether I was happy or not, whether

I was feeling strong or hopeless. I had the power to control what I put into my mouth and over the thoughts I chose to obsess upon.

Instead, I lived in the liberating and calming gray area of moderation.

I was learning how to live my life more fully by choosing less.