Monica Seles: 'The greatest female tennis player ever' who was stabbed on court

Monica Seles was stabbed on court when she was just 19-years-old, extinguishing a blossoming career

On April 30th 1993, Monica Seles was playing Bulgaria’s Maggie Maleeva in the quarter-finals of the Hamburg European Open.

Seles had already won the first set 6-4, and was on her way to wrapping up the match with a victory in the second set. She was leading 4-3 when she took her seat during a drinks break.

As the 19-year-old leant forward to take a sip of her water, she felt a sharp pain in her back. Günter Parche, a German man obsessed with rival tennis player Steffi Graff, had plunged a 9-inch knife into Seles’s back.

Before Parche had time to stab Seles a second time, her bodyguard apprehended the 39-year-old and dragged him away.

The attack, which took place in front of 6,000 horrified fans, changed the course of Seles’s career forever. GiveMeSport Women looks back on the harrowing day.

The early career of Monica Seles

Monica Seles was born in 1973 to an ethnic Hungarian family in Novi Sad. The city had been in Yugoslavia, but is now in Serbia.

Seles began playing tennis when she was five. She was coached by her father, a former cartoonist who would draw pictures for her to make the sport more entertaining.

The young talent was later coached by Jelena Genčić, who also acted as a mentor to Novak Djokovic in the early stages of his career.

At 11-years-old, Seles won the Orange Bowl Tournament in Miami, attracting the attention of tennis coach Nick Bollettieri. She subsequently moved to the United States to enrol at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.

Monica Seles was already world number one at 16-years-old

Seles entered the world of professional tennis aged 14, and immediately made an impact. She won a tournament in Houston by defeating 18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert, who was soon retiring. Seles finished her first year on the WTA Tour ranked world number six.

In 1990, she defeated Steffi Graf to win the French Open. At the time, Graf was the best women’s player in the world.

At just 16-years-old, Seles already had her first Grand Slam title and was sitting on top of the world rankings.

In the next few years, Seles earned eight more Grand Slam titles. From January 1991 till February 1993, she reached 33 finals, triumphing in 22 of them.

Monica Seles won nine Grand Slams before 1993

The attack

Seles was on the ascendancy at the time of her attack. She had developed an exciting rivalry with Graf, and the pair were lighting up the world of women’s tennis.

Parche sided with Graf in the rivalry, but to a fanatical degree. He was obsessed with the German star, and his desire to see her return to the world number spot prompted him to travel to Hamburg and stab Seles.

During his trial, Parche was convicted of grievous bodily harm, but received a suspended two-year sentence due to his significant mental health issues.

The impact of the attack on Seles was severe. She had been lucky – Parche missed Seles’s spine and vital organs, and she recovered from the stabbing physically in less than a month.

But, Seles did not return to the tennis court for another two years. She had been shaken psychologically, and struggled with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and a sleeping disorder.

Although Seles triumphed at the Australian Open in 1996, she was never quite able to regain the form that saw her lauded as one of the best female tennis players in the world.

Seles sustained a foot injury in 2003, and she never played another competitive match after that year’s French Open. After appearing at a number of exhibition events, Seles announced her official retirement in 2008.

Monica Seles officially retired in 2008

How good could Monica Seles have been?

Monica Seles had her blossoming career cruelly snatched away from her when she was stabbed in the back in 1993.

She already had an incredible nine Grand Slams to her name, and in 2013, tennis legend Martina Navratilova claimed Seles could have gone on to earn a record amount of titles.

“We’d be talking about Monica with the most Grand Slam titles [ahead of] Margaret Court or Steffi Graf,” she told Tennis.com.

It is impossible to predict what could have been, but as The Guardian’s Tim Adams wrote in 2009, Seles could well have become “the greatest female tennis player ever to pick up a racket”.

Seles was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009, and is often present at WTA events. She also has turned to writing, publishing the New York Times bestseller: “Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self”.

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