by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEW YORK — That does it. I am drafting a petition to the Womens Tennis Association: No more press conferences for girls under 18. Let them play. Let them shower. Let them go home to their Sting records.

But keep them away from the microphone. Really. It’s for the best. And I have been thinking about this for a while, ever since Steffi Graf mumbled through her first few years, and then Gabriela Sabatini mumbled through her first few years, and then Jennifer Capriati laid about 400,000 “you knows” in a single sentence.

But what really pushed me over the edge was Tuesday, when Monica Seles, 17, came into the interview room after destroying yet another opponent, Gigi Fernandez, in about the time it takes to make an omelet.

Seles, as you know, has been quite a little pistol in her young career. The first thing anyone remembers her saying is “UNNNNYYEEEEE,” which she shrieked whenever she hit a ball. Opponents were so distracted, they wanted to put a sock in her mouth.

The next thing we remember is her giggling during interviews, which made her sound — use your imagination here — like Woody Woodpecker on helium.
“Well, I . . . hehehehe . . . think I . . . ” Reporters wanted to put a sock in her mouth.

This summer was Seles’ silent period, when, ranked No. 1 in the world, she mysteriously disappeared and pulled out of Wimbledon. The official explanation

was an injury. Others blamed: 1) fatigue, 2) pregnancy, 3) a love affair with Donald Trump, 4) publicity stunt. When Seles finally emerged, weeks later at a press conference, reporters watched her breeze in like a movie star, holding a little dog that was yapping like something out of a Zsa Zsa Gabor kennel.

They wanted to put a sock in the dog’s mouth. Talk about talking fast, y’know?

Now comes the U.S. Open, where young Seles has already reached the semifinals. She could win the whole thing. But there’s one problem.

This year, the Open, in an effort to increase accuracy, has hired a court reporter to type everything players say during press conferences. It’s a good idea. The guy taps on a stenographer machine, like something out of “The Verdict.”

And then along comes Seles.

And the stenographer panics.

I don’t want to say Seles talks fast. I will say that, after her, the guy from the Federal Express commercial makes perfect sense. The big problem — besides her favorite subjects being clothes, Madonna and Alec Baldwin — is that Seles, like most teens, forgets to come up for air between sentences.

Example: Someone asked her Tuesday about equal prize money for women and men. She said:

“I think a lot of times when you watch men’s tennis and they go into five sets and you are up to here with them, 6-1, 6-1, you are sitting there and just waiting and the point, there are no points, I mean, he serves an ace and that is it, he serves, this is it, while in women’s tennis not everybody is going to finish him with a big serve.”

You got that? The stenographer didn’t.

How about when they asked Seles if other players said anything about her Wimbledon controversy?

“To me personally, nobody, really even from the top players and from the lower-ranked players, you know we don’t talk, just say hi, I just walked by her and she walks by me.”

I am not making this up. Following Seles in conversation is like following a bumblebee. The poor stenographer, a nice guy named Peter Paul Balestrieri, was having a whale of a time with the question about Steffi Graf:

Seles: “Me and Steffi don’t sit down much, we just say hi, how are you, and I ask her — I say congratulations for Wimbledon, she says congratulations for the French, and afterwards, you know, but you know, the thing that — it’s not that — we don’t hate each other, I mean, we have respect but we are not
— I am not going to ask her about her personal life, and she’s not going to ask about mine.”

Of course not. She’d be gone for days. She’s not a stenographer’s type

After Seles finished her press conference, I approached Mr. Balestrieri, who was shaking his hands out, trying to get the blood back to his fingers.

“Is she the fastest talker on the tour?” I asked.

“Oh, easily,” he said, sounding fatigued.

“Do you know how fast she talks?”

“Over 300 words a minute.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. I won the New York State court reporters competition by typing 280 words a minute. And she’s much faster than that. She’s unbelievable. She’s the fastest person I’ve ever listened to. She’s really — “

I wanted to talk more, but he passed out.

All of which leads me to my point: Do we really need to hear 300 words a minute from Monica Seles? The girl just got her driver’s license, for Pete’s sake. How much wisdom can she impart?

Come on. Let her be a kid. Let her have fun. Let her play tennis, win tons of money, then go home and buy her own high school, if she wants. But enough with the microphones. To paraphrase a teenager: It’s, you know, like, embarrassing.

At least wait until she’s 18. Then, having reached voting age, she can tell us all about Alec Baldwin, her newest outfit, and how much she adores Madonna.

And we can tell her what hospital the stenographer was sent to.


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