Monica Seles: How the tennis icon dealt with the attack in Hamburg in 1993


On April 30, 1993 he went down in tennis history. Not for sporting reasons, however, but because that day one of the great careers of the sport came to an abrupt end.

The then world number one, Monica Seles, played against Magdalena Maleeva in the quarterfinals at the Rothenbaum in Hamburg.

When the score was 6: 4, 4: 3 in the second set against the Bulgarian, the mentally disturbed spectator G√ľnter Parche attacked the 19-year-old Seles on the bench and stabbed her in the back with a knife.

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Although fortunately the stab was not too deep, the assassination left enormous wounds in the soul of the young athlete from Novi Sad, then Yugoslavia. “A split second made me a different person,” Seles wrote in her 2009 biography, Always Getting Up.

At the time of her assassination, she had dominated and revolutionized women’s tennis. Even the great Steffi Graf was challenged by the teenager and beaten twice in the Roland Garros final.

Seles: “gravely wounded soul”

This fact became the undoing of Seles. The forward was a pathological supporter of Graf and wanted to prevent Seles from playing tennis with the attack. He was able to do it sometimes. Two years after the attack in Hamburg, the then 21-year-old returned to the tennis stage – the psychological problems had a lasting effect. Seles never became the same player on the court.

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In her 2009 autobiography, Seles wrote, “Something terrible happened to me that irreversibly changed the course of my career and severely wounded my soul. In a split second, my personality changed forever.”

The attacker himself received a two-year suspended sentence for assault.

And in fact, even today the question arises as to how Seles’ career would have gone without the knife attack. Would Graf follow up with eleven more Grand Slam titles? Or would he have been prevented by the young Yugoslav girl?

Seles dominated until the assassination

At the time of the attack, the two players had respectively eight (Seles) and eleven (Graf) major victories. The German ends her career with 22 titles, with Seles adding another one after the attack (Australian Open 1996).

Between January 1991 and February 1993 alone, the southpaw had won 22 tournaments. In March 1991, he replaced Graf as the world number one. In the first four years of the tour (through 1992), Seles also had a winning percentage of over 90% (W231 – L25).

To date, the nine-time Grand Slam champion is the youngest champion at the French Open, where she won in 1990 at the age of 16 years and 6 months.

Schett: Seles would have won many more Grand Slams

Seles is considered by many to be the founder of power tennis. He drove his opponents to the brink of desperation with his two-handed forehand and backhand that allowed for incredible angles, as well as his loud moans. Game-winning shots from the baseline also became her trademark of him.

Barbara Schett explains, in the field against Seles herself Eurosport: “The fact that he’s left-handed was a problem. He opened up his serve really well. And then of course he played everything with both hands. He was so strong. His intensity was incredible.”

The Austrian is certain that Seles “would have won many more Grand Slam tournaments”. “She may have been the greatest player in history. She may not have crossed paths with Serena Williams, but she would have had an impact on Steffi Graf,” Schett said.

Monica Seles (.) and Steffi Graf at the 1995 US Open

Photo credit: Imago

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin agrees: “Her dominance was extraordinary. It can be assumed that she would have gone further, even though her career is already extraordinary.” But after the attack “it wasn’t the same Monica Seles”.

Henin enthusiastic: “Seles shook the players”

The Yugoslav also “overturned some rules, like Serena and Venus Williams after her. In the history of tennis we need players who overturn the rules of the game a bit and introduce a new style of play,” explains Henin, who went from Seles as a child looking up: “The speed with which she played was impressive and shook the players of her generation.”

Seles is “one of the greats”. The rivalry with Steffi Graf also “promoted the sport”. After his return in 1995, more tournament victories were added to his total of 53, but Seles was unable to consistently maintain the previous level. Chronic injuries did the rest. In 2008 Seles officially ends his career. She played her last match at the French Open in 2003.

Today, the 49-year-old lives mostly in isolation in the United States. Since the Seles bombing, tournament safety has been tightened, stewards and security guards monitor the pros almost continuously. Thus, the former world number one not only changed the sport, but also involuntarily changed the lives of tour athletes to this day.

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