VAIL, COLO. -- It's been 13 weeks since tennis diva Monica Seles first arrived here amidst heavy security, swaddled in a blanket as she stepped off a private jet from Europe, nursing a stab wound she'd suffered two days earlier in a horrific courtside attack in Hamburg. Except for a brief news conference soon afterward, then a statement released by her management firm on July 8, Seles hasn't been heard from since.

But townspeople in Vail have seen her.

This little village balloons to a population of 25,000 during ski season. It's admittedly jaded from a steady stream of famous visitors such as Dan Quayle, Gerald Ford and Ross Perot. But during the summer the town returns to a tight-knit community of about 2,500 -- small enough for folks to notice the slowly recuperating tennis star when she surfaces around town, and small enough for mail from around the world to find her even when the envelopes are addressed to "Monica Seles, Hospital, Vail, Colorado." A just-graduated college student here speaks of a friend who was in rehab classes with Seles at the renowned Steadman-Hawkins Clinic where she's being treated. A bellhop at the resort hotel where Seles was staying until a few weeks ago says he can't speak for Seles' frame of mind, but he did know her brother Zoltan spent most nights sleeping on a sofa bed in her suite and usually accompanied her whenever she left the hotel grounds.

A clerk at the Ralph Lauren store in town tells of helping Seles try on a sweater and noticing how difficult it was for the tennis star to lift her left arm, an aftereffect from the half-inch-long stab wound on her back. A woman at the town's tourist information desk speaks of taking her son into a local shoe store and blurting, "Look, there's Monica Seles!" -- causing Seles to bolt up from the bench she was on, cup a hand over one side of her face and hurry out the door.

"She made it very clear she wanted to be left alone," said the woman, echoing what everyone else who has encountered Seles here says.

Since she was attacked April 30 by a German lathe operator named Gunther Parche, the list of interview requests for Seles has passed 150, and includes Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer. Tabloid reporters from as far away as England and Europe have visited this skiing town or dangled monetary offers at Seles for an exclusive. At least one man was seen rifling through Seles' garbage and another -- a photographer for an American supermarket tabloid -- told Seles' publicist there's a $50,000 "bounty" out for the first photograph of Seles hitting a tennis ball and grimacing.

But no one, save Seles' intimates, knows precisely how the 19-year-old is recuperating emotionally or physically from the attack. And Seles wants it this way, as she did during the other two prolonged absences in her career.

None of her handlers will say if Seles will play when the U.S. Open begins Aug. 30, though raging speculation that she's definitely out appears right.

No one is saying how much emotional fallout Seles still suffers because of Parche, an obsessed fan of German star Steffi Graf who said he wanted to disable Seles but not kill her, so her archrival Graf could recapture the No. 1 ranking Seles had held since March 11, 1991. (After the French Open, which Seles had won the previous three years, Parche's lunatic wish came true.)

Nor will anyone say what is taking Seles so long to heal. Initially, the doctors who treated her in Hamburg estimated Seles would miss one to three months of play. But Seles' doctors in Vail almost immediately distanced themselves from that guess, and the three-month anniversary of the attack passed July 30 without comment.

Stephanie Tolleson, Seles' agent with the International Management Group, has said, "Everyone is making this out to be a mental case and it's not."

Tolleson has also said Seles hasn't hit a tennis ball yet. And people in Vail back that up.

At the Cascade Club where Seles has worked out for most of her stay, three employees confirm that they haven't seen Seles playing on their six private tennis courts at all, though she has been exercising in the swimming pool and weight room. At least two local tennis pros have told the Vail Daily, the town's newspaper, that Seles has been doing footwork drills on their courts but is not hitting with a racket. At least not in their presence.

Beyond that, the silence shrouding Seles has predictably led to an abundance of rumors, speculation, and half-baked explanations for her long layoff and her Garbo-esque behavior.

Some of the rumors are foreboding: Seles is emotionally unstable; Seles will never play again because the back injury prevents her from hitting her powerful two-fisted forehands and backhands without pain. Other rumors are patently ludicrous, like the word that Seles is taking "mysterious lessons" from Madonna and chatting up pop singer Michael Jackson on the phone.

There's been talk that Seles is horribly overweight (she's not), that Seles just feels like taking some time off, that Seles isn't in Vail at all -- she's in Los Angeles wearing disguises and frequenting Hollywood parties. A rival agent is among those who doubts Seles will return this year because "she has no financial incentive. She can't regain the No. 1 ranking in 1993 now. She'll miss out on the bonus money she stood to gain, which in her case was $750,000. And she has a history of not returning to action unless she is 100 percent fit."

Some tennis insiders -- if not people outside the sport -- have begun to question her motives.

Though such cynicism might seem crass given the circumstances of Seles' injury, her past behavior has probably contributed to the creeping doubts.

For the past three years, Seles has been the best player and the most perplexing figure in women's tennis. Despite piling up eight Grand Slam titles since 1990 she has remained a hard person to know. Pam Shriver jokingly calls Seles "the youngest eccentric I've ever seen." She has been known to keep IMG in the dark as much as everyone else while her older brother negotiates deals on the side.

Though Tolleson has defended Seles as a "very, very, very private person," Seles has often delighted in adding flourishes to her public image too. Early in her career she talked of moving to Malibu, doing some modeling work, perhaps becoming an actress someday. She seemingly enjoys being a bundle of contradictions, a glamorous enigma. She is someone who shows a repeated tendency to exert extreme control over things while acting unpredictably herself.

By all accounts, Seles is intelligent and mentally tough. Though not yet 20, she has had to grow up fast. She became her family's breadwinner when she turned pro at age 15, one year after she, her brother and her parents emigrated from the former Yugoslavia to Florida in 1986 to further her tennis career at Nick Bollettieri's famous academy.

Once in America, it wasn't long before Monica was speaking English fluently. She became her family's travel agent on tour while her brother attended college. By her second year as a pro she was ranked No. 6 in the world. Within two years she'd won the first of her eight Grand Slam titles and ended the year No. 1 in the world. Yet a former business associate says Seles wasn't without worries. Even then, the man says, the Seles family's concerns about security -- specifically Monica's -- bordered on an "obsession."

"When she flew she used to want her commercial flights to stop short on the runway so she could get out, get into a van or something, then be driven to the gate so she could leave by herself," the businessman said. "She has always been paranoid. Why? Because she thought someone was out to get her. This was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy in that way.

"But you know, all the top players get death threats, weird letters, things like that. You have to expect those things if you're a public figure. With her, some of {her attitudes} have to do with where she is from. But her paranoia pre-dated what happened to her in Hamburg, and it pre-dates the war in Yugoslavia too."

Though from the Serbian-controlled town of Novi Sad, Seles is an ethnic Hungarian. Unlike Graf, who has had much-publicized encounters with several stalkers, Seles has confessed advance knowledge of none -- not even Parche. At Wimbledon in 1992, however, Seles did receive death threats while refusing to take a stand on the war in Bosnia. She resisted comment again in Hamburg the night before she was stabbed, telling reporters, "Tennis is tennis and politics is politics."

Police so far have found no political motivation behind Parche's attack.

Besides her contradictory behavior, yet another factor spurs speculation about Seles' prolonged absence: This isn't the first time she has dropped from sight in her four-year professional career. Nor is it the first time she's remained mute as speculation raged on.

From late February through April of this year, Seles silently missed nine weeks with what her handlers described as a stubborn viral infection. But her credibility was undermined when she played two one-night exhibitions in Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis in mid-April -- then pulled out of a Barcelona tour event the next week. Seles' excuse was she came away from those exhibitions feeling she wasn't ready for tournament competition. But Gerard Smith, executive director of the Women's Tennis Association, told the Los Angeles Times that Seles' Barcelona pullout, "put us in a little bit of an awkward situation."

In a more celebrated case, Seles also pulled out of Wimbledon abruptly in 1991 and remained incommunicado for almost four weeks, even after the London tabloids started talk that she was pregnant. When she finally surfaced again -- for a lucrative fee at an exhibition tournament run by brash promoter John Korff in Mahwah, N.J. -- Seles said she'd been suffering from shin splints and a leg stress fracture. Then, blinking like a flattered ingenue, she professed amazement that she'd caused a tempest.

In hindsight, the decision to skip Wimbledon cost Seles a chance to become only the seventh player -- male or female -- to notch tennis's Grand Slam, because she ended the year having won the Australian, French and U.S. opens. Seles later insisted she had no regrets, though. If anything, she seemed to love the intrigue her Wimbledon absence created. She even spoofed the episode by posing for a magazine photograph wearing a dark wig and stepping out of a rented limousine.

Smith, the WTA executive director, fined Seles a total of $26,000 for the two incidents (though Seles appealed the $20,000 fine for playing Korff's exhibition tournament). Though they've had differences in the past, he says he has no doubts that Seles' problems now are legitimate.

"In some cases with her, people might have suspected it's the old story of the little boy who cried wolf too often," Smith said. "So that when the boy really cried wolf, no one believed him. I believe Monica. In this case the wolf is real. The head of our health services department actually just saw Monica in Vail. And everything that's been reported is, to the best of our knowledge, accurate. She still has troubles. It's obviously taking its toll on her both physically and psychologically."

Korff said Tuesday he does see some similarities between Seles' behavior in 1991 and now. Like Smith, Korff senses "right know Monica is fighting this mental thing, like, 'I fell off a horse -- now how do I get up on that horse again?' There's a personal concern about how does she go out on a tennis court again?

"When Monica did my tournament in 1991, she was loving life with the headlines she got. If anyone said she was acting the way she is now for attention, they'd be called crazy. But earlier this year when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was tearing up the tour, all of a sudden there's Monica raking up more headlines by not playing.

"And you can bet when she does come back this time, she'll probably come back for a bejillion dollars somewhere, the entire world media will be there, and she'll probably come out tossing flowers to the crowd. It'll be the biggest spectacle in women's tennis since Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs."

Korff chuckles and adds: "If I were the WTA, I'd love all the publicity this is bringing to women's tennis. I mean, what else is everyone going to talk about -- Maggie Maleeva?"

At the moment, Seles' plight is indeed the most riveting subplot the sport has. But with three months gone and who knows how many more to go, she remains cloistered in Vail, working out and waiting, her silence as unmovable as the mountains.