12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
The soundtrack of women's tennis is solid gold again: the "Uh!" that accompanies Monica Seles's two-fisted strokes, the giggles she sometimes gets during changeovers and the standing ovations she receives afterward. Missing for 28 months from the pro tour after being stabbed in 1993, the 22-year-old this year reclaimed a sport that sorely needs her. "She's bigger than life," says ESPN commentator Mary Carillo. "To have her back is good news after a long drought." After winning the Canadian-Open in August, Seles found herself in the U.S. Open final facing old rival Steffi Graf. Though Monica, hampered by tendinitis in her left knee, lost to Graf, she couldn't be happier. "I knew I'd have a nice reception," she says. "But it went beyond my expectations."
Two years older, an inch taller (5'10½") and a century wiser than when she was carried from a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, after a deranged spectator plunged a knife into her back, Seles has fought hard to regain her confidence. The wound healed, but the echoes of her screams, she told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, "stayed with me a long time." While undergoing physical and psychological therapy, she also learned French, fell in love with Jimi Hendrix's music and began to empathize with the wounded of the world. "Parents of disabled children write to ask me to encourage their kids to keep on fighting," she says. Seles doesn't waste time grieving over what she has missed. "If you're going to be mad, it won't make it better," she says. "Just try to solve the problem." Now co-ranked No. 1 with Graf, Seles is looking forward to the Olympics. "I think it's important to forget the dark period," says her father and coach, Karoly Seles, "and live every day in the sunshine."