Seven years after the tragedy, the United Cup as an opportunity for Chile’s Daniela Seguel
SANTIAGO, Chile – Forty-five minutes past noon on that November 26th, 2016 in Chile’s capital. At the Club de Tenis El Alba, where the streets of eastern Santiago are steepest, the dry heat, typical of a late spring day was felt strongly.
The center court of the municipal venue witnessed that day what was probably the most tragic event in the history of tennis, since the knife attack on Monica Seles in Hamburg. That day, in the Santiago district of Las Condes, everything came to a standstill. Daniela Seguel Carvajal’s life changed forever. “And now, who am I going to lean on?”, she would ask herself in the following days.
Jorge Seguel, the father of Chile’s number one tennis player and the pillar of her career, died at the age of 63 while his daughter was playing the final of the ITF Copa Las Condes. Seguel was a set up against Brazilian Paula Gonçalves, and on her way to a new title, everything started to happen in a very fast and unexpected way. This is how Seguel remembers the events.
“That day my whole family came to support me, my uncles, my cousins. My nephew went to the court for the first time. In the sector of the gallery where they were, I saw them start to stand up, just when I was ready to receive. I approached that corner and found my dad collapsed with his eyes wide open.
He was struggling. I burst into tears. The referee and the girl I was playing against came over. They took me out of there and I told them that my dad was having a problem,” recalls the 31-year-old tennis player.
Seguel’s brother took his father in his car to the nearest clinic, as the tournament did not have an ambulance on duty. In the midst of a very rarefied atmosphere, the Chilean continued to compete; she thought about withdrawing from the match, but the people she was listening to told her that her father’s problem was a typical heat-related fainting spell. Besides, her father had no heart problems in his medical record. That made her stay on the court.
“I didn’t imagine anything serious, it was just a typical fainting spell, my family was with him. As best I could, I stayed in the game, even though my head was also in the hospital,” she told CLAY.
The score was four games all in the second set. She was close to defending the trophy she won in 2015. That’s when tournament director Macarena Miranda entered the court and told the Chilean that her family needed her at the hospital, that her father was in “critical” condition. Seguel let out a heartbreaking scream. She started crying again and then left the arena quickly. On the way to the clinic, the thought of such a tragedy never crossed her mind: “I was under the illusion that maybe he was in a little more serious condition and that my family just wanted us to be together. When I arrived at the hospital I saw everyone devastated. They didn’t even have to tell me what had happened.”
Seguel Sr. lost his life in the vehicle, on the way to the medical center, as a result of cardiorespiratory arrest suffered in the stands.
All those who minutes ago were shouting at the tennis local star from the stands, hoping to celebrate a title, were later reunited, sharing an inexplicable pain. The Seguels, the Carvajals, the family friends. Jorge was gone in a fleeting moment.
The value of memory
The months following the tragedy were very complicated. The vivid memory of his father caused deep pain.
With his mother Mercedes Carvajal, they thought of selling the house because living there was becoming unbearable. Someone was always missing.
“It generated me a lot of fear to think how I would return to tennis after that, because the saddest moment of my life I had lived on the court, which is my comfort zone. I didn’t know how I was going to feel competing, maybe I would panic. Fortunately didn’t happen…”
Daniela’s voice begins to crack. A long silence is sustained, and Seguel expresses her emotions, trying to suppress the tears to continue with the conversation. She apologizes to her interviewer for something for which no apology is needed.
“I don’t usually start crying when I give interviews about my father,” Seguel clarifies. For her, it is not taboo to talk about death or grief. In fact, she likes to put her father into words.
Shortly after Jorge’s death, Seguel and her mother went on a three-month tour to Europe. Mother and daughter supported each other. Seguel won a 60,000 in Barcelona, the most important title of her career. When she triumphed, she threw herself to the ground, pointed her fingers to the sky, and then kissed his forearm, where her father’s name is tattooed.
When they returned, the idea of selling the house had dissipated. They began to value every single memory.
“The memory of my dad became my motivation. I kept trying, kept fighting to fulfill my dreams, which were also his dreams,” she says.
A new opportunity after thinking about quitting
Seven years after the saddest day of her life, Daniela Seguel reflects on her career without her emotional support next to her. Without the man who gave his daughter her first racquet and who propelled her into the pros.
She does so living in calm after a recent storm. Not exactly because of her father’s bereavement. 2023 was a bitter season for Seguel with many injuries, defeats and a brutal drop to her worst ranking since 2009. She had a hard time and did not feel competitive.
Without money or sponsors she had to fire her coach and physical trainer, and so the idea of retirement strongly penetrated her head.
Tennis gives, and tennis takes away. Just like life itself. In such a difficult year came a fantastic Christmas present. The solid finish of the year of his compatriot Nicolás Jarry (19th ATP) made Chile the last one to qualify for the United Cup. Thus, in an unexpected way, Seguel will start the season facing the Canadian Leylah Fernandez and the Greek Maria Sakkari.
Apart from being a good economic cushion to plan the year more calmly, it is a chance to compare her level with other players of the elite: “I’ve been playing 25,000, 40,000 tournaments all year, the biggest one was the WTA 125 in Chile… and now playing against a top ten player and another Grand Slam finalist is a tremendous motivation. As soon as I found out I started to work on it mentally”.
Seguel has a second chance in Australia. Why not, she thinks, aiming for the qualifiers of the big tournaments again. She is in an opposite scenario than a few months ago.
“When I approached the idea of retiring I got really scared. I didn’t even want to make the decision just because of the fear of uncertainty, not knowing what I would do after tennis”, she confesses.
But there was a greater fear in Daniela Seguel. Almost terrifying.
“I felt I was failing my dad because I wasn’t managing to be happy. He always wanted to see me enjoying tennis”.