On This Day

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Associated Press
Monica Seles sits injured on the court after being stabbed by a fan, April 30, 1993.

On This Day: Tennis Star Monica Seles Stabbed During Match

April 30, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On April 30, 1993, top-ranked tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed during a match by a fan of rival player Steffi Graf.

Seles Stabbed by Crazed Steffi Graf Fan

In spring 1993, 19-year-old Monica Seles was the top women’s tennis player in the world. She had dominated the 1992 Women’s Tennis Association season, winning 10 tournaments and concluding the year with a decisive victory over the legendary Martina Navratilova that for many symbolized a changing of the guard in women’s tennis.

She won her eighth career grand slam in January 1993, defeating second-ranked Steffi Graf in the Australian Open final. That April, she was playing in a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, the home country of Graf.

During a break in her match with Magdalena Maleeva, Seles was seated with her back to the crowd when a spectator ran down from the stands and stabbed her with a nine-inch knife. Seles screamed and staggered out onto the court, as authorities rushed to aid her and arrest her assailant.

“I remember sitting on the chair and I just remember feeling this very sharp pain,” said Seles, “I felt something went into my body. And then I looked back, then it hit me what happened.”

The Attacker and His Motivation

Initially, some linked the attack to death threats that Seles, an ethnic Hungarian born in Serbia, had received from Croatian nationalists. It soon became clear, however, that the attacker, a German man named Gunter Parche, was motivated by a love of Steffi Graf.

Parche was a mentally ill, unemployed lathe operator who idolized Graf and wanted to eliminate Seles from competition. While on trial in October 1993, he said, “I didn't want to kill her. I just wanted to hurt her slightly so that Monica wouldn't be able to play for a couple of weeks.”

The court, citing Parche’s psychological problems, remorse and claims that he did not wish to kill Seles, handed down a two-year suspended sentence and let him walk free.

Seles’ Comeback

Seles escaped serious injury, suffering only a muscle tear that was expected to take only a month to heal. However, she was emotionally shaken by the attack and spent the next two years out of tennis and the public spotlight.

The tennis world waited anxiously for her return and any hint of a comeback was breaking news. Many were skeptical of her long absence, accusing her of holding out to collect insurance checks, to escape her sponsor’s contract or even because she was pregnant.

Seles decided to return to tennis in August 1995; first, she granted an interview to Sports Illustrated to discuss her two-year hiatus. She said that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which could be triggered by the mere mention of her tennis career.  “In the dark or light, I didn't feel comfortable leaving the house,” she said, “Total depression. I was just reliving that moment. And the knife …”

With help from a psychologist, she began to overcome her fears and approach life differently: “I've got to the point where I live every day of my life like it's my last. Anything can happen. You never know.”

She began her comeback with a win in her first tournament; many pundits expected this was a sign that she would regain her dominant form that saw her win eight grand slams. However, while she again became one of the top players on tour, she won just one more grand slam and often finished second to Graf.

Seles officially retired in February 2008, five years after her last competitive match. Her career is marked by nine grand slams and by the tragedy that cost her two years on the court.

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