Monica Seles, tennis' golden girl who was stabbed out of jealousy, turns 50. Her story continues to break hearts
30 years after Monica Seles was stabbed, her story continues to tug at hearts.
Then eight-time grand slam champion Monica Seles was in the middle of her match in Hamburg when a lunatic stabbed her and effectively ended a very promising career. It's a story that can send chills down your spine. On Saturday, Seles celebrated her 50th birthday. Today’s generation may not know much about her but her tragic story is a classic example of what extraordinary damage unhealthy obsession can cause.
Seles was born in Yugoslavia, a federated country that doesn't exist anymore. The city where she was born, Novi Sad, is today in Serbia - yes, the country of Novak Djokovic. Internecine feuds led to Yugoslavia giving birth to many separate nations. Seles moved to the United States in the eighties before the break-up of Yugoslavia and at a very young age showed extraordinary promise unheard-of at the time.
The way Seles was picking up as a player, it was a matter of time before she overtook Steffi Graf as the number one player in the world. Ahead of the 1990 French Open final, then 20-year-old Graf was the poster girl for women’s tennis with nine grand slams already to her name. The West-Germany born star was up against the up-and-coming 16-year-old Seles in the final showdown at Roland Garros. In a shocking result, Seles despatched Graf in straight sets to open her grand slam account. She was the youngest grand slam champion at the time. That was the beginning of the Seles era which made a German man and Graf fan, Günter Parche, very uncomfortable.
Seles’ dominance was unprecedented of sorts. In the next 11 grand slams, she won seven of them and had effectively ended Graf’s reign as the world number one. She was the new queen of the tennis world. Jealous Parche could not digest her popularity. More than that, he couldn’t digest that Graf was on a downward curve because of Seles. He was at his wits’ end. Seething with anger, Parche made up his mind to cause grievous bodily harm to Seles to disrupt her game, so that Graf could be back dominating women’s tennis. He hatched a chilling plan.
In late April in 1993, Seles was in action against Magdalena Maleeva in the Citizen Cup quarterfinals at Hamburg. During a break in the match, Parche, part of the crowd, surreptitiously charged towards Seles and stabbed her in the back, making a wound of half an inch with a kitchen knife.
Luckily for Seles, it was not a fatal wound. She recovered over time but she had to take a break from the game that lasted almost two and a half years. When she returned, she still had some spark left as she manifested by winning the 1996 Australian Open. Her wounds healed but she never fully recovered mentally.
Seles' participation in events dwindled gradually and then in a massive blow, she suffered a foot injury in 2003. She never played competitive tennis again and called it quits in 2008. She finished with a grand slam haul of 9 while Graf, who is married to another tennis legend Andre Agassi, went on to finish at 22. What Parche had set out to do, he achieved to a tee. He was handed a two-year suspended sentence. Many think he got away with what he did. He died last year in a German nursing home at 68. He maintained till his death that all he wanted to do was wound Seles, not kill her. That and the fact he had mental issues saved him from a severe punishment.
For tennis followers from the eighties and nineties, the mention of Seles evokes tragic memories of that fateful day. Also, what could have been if not for that unfortunate incident. Who knows? It could have been Seles overtaking Margaret Court’s record of 24 singles major. Court’s record stands to date with Serena Williams falling one short. The attack on Seles, a naturalized American citizen since 1994, remains a great stain on the sport, even though she is happily married to billionaire Tom Golisano and spends her time doing loads of charity work.