Monica Seles was asked yesterday about her approaching “10-year anniversary”. The giggling stopped. In 1993 Gunther Parche invaded a Hamburg tennis court and stabbed Seles in her left shoulder-blade.
A decade on, the mental pain remains. Seles still will not return to Germany and remains angry that Parche, who pleaded insanity and received a suspended two-year sentence, was not put behind bars.
“It’s just that when someone does that to me, and doesn’t spend one day in jail, I don’t want to go back,” said Seles, who was furious with the WTA in 2001 when they organised their season-ending championships in Munich without consulting her.
“You never think never, but it’s hard because of what happened. I’m pretty strong with principles. I just feel that justice wasn’t done.”
The 29-year-old American stressed that she isn’t anti-German. Andreas Bibek, a “gentleman” from Hamburg, has been her hitting partner this week at the Dubai Women’s Open, where she is seeded fourth and projected to meet Amelie Mauresmo in the semi-finals.
“People have taken it that I’m against Germany, but the gentleman here, my hitting partner, he’s from Hamburg, so it’s not anything like that,” she said. “Maybe down the road it will change.”
On April 30, 1993, Parche bypassed security at the Hamburg Open and attacked the teenager, who was sitting at the chair during a changeover. The loner, an unemployed lathe operator, wanted to rid the tennis scene of Seles and allow his obsession, Steffi Graf, to get back to the world No 1 spot. It worked.
Seles, who had won eight of the 11 Grand Slams she contested between May 1990 and January 1993, was scarred mentally more than physically and did not play again for 27 months. The court was where she had felt the safest – and she had been stabbed in the back.
Depression, panic attacks and an over-eating disorder followed, but Seles maintained yesterday that the knife attack had not warped her personality. “No, I’m still the same little old me,” she said. “I’ve got the same friends that I had, same everything – the only thing that has changed is that I have a nicer house. But, besides that, the same. That’s what has kept me grounded mentally.”
Seles, who added her ninth major at the 1996 Australian Open, but has never recovered the snap of the “before” years, has often been asked when she will quit, but continues to play tennis for the sole reason that it makes her happy.
“I think I’d want a new challenge at some point. Right now I’m happy, but it could stop tomorrow. Some weeks I’m OK, some weeks I struggle,” she said.