Seles startled by autograph seeker

PERTH, Australia – Monica Seles, who was stabbed in the back by an obsessed Steffi Graf fan in Germany in 1993, was startled by an autograph seeker who approached her from behind at the Hopman Cup on Wednesday.

Seles was sitting courtside after her mixed-doubles match between the United States and Russia when a middle-aged man tapped her on the shoulder for an autograph.

Witnesses say the tennis star appeared unnerved by the approach and immediately grabbed playing partner Jan-Michael Gambill, who ushered her from the area.

Security officials at the venue, Perth’s Burswood Dome, escorted the man from the scene, but there was no action taken against him.

Tournament director Paul McNamee would not comment on security at the event. McNamee said he had spoken to Seles and she had not complained about the incident.

He also said Seles had later signed the autograph for the man and had left the arena in good spirits.

Reporters did not see what happened and Seles was not asked about the matter at her post-match news conference. She seemed relaxed, giggling occasionally while answering questions.

Seles was the world’s top-ranked player on April 30, 1993, when she was playing in Hamburg, Germany. Seles was sitting courtside during a changeover when Guenter Parche – a deranged fan of Seles’ rival Graf – reached over a railing and stuck a knife between her shoulder blades.

Seles missed 18 months of tennis and has never regained the No. 1 ranking.

Before the Hopman Cup started, Seles said she still was bothered by the attack.

“I don’t know how many tournaments I want to play this year,” she said. “Obviously a lot of tournaments have moved to Germany and I’m not playing them. That is going to hurt my rankings a little.”

The Hopman Cup is an exhibition and thus not ordered to stage the same level of security that has surrounded Seles at WTA Tour events since her return, where guards are placed behind her chair and watch the crowd throughout the match.

Hopman organizers have a guard behind her chair but there is no barrier between the crowd and the players. Fans have to walk on the edge of the court surface when they enter and exit the stands, and the crowd Wednesday was a near-capacity 8,000.

The United States beat Russia 2-1 on Wednesday, with Seles figuring in both victories. She won the first match, beating Elena Likhovtseva 6-3, 6-3. Seles then teamed with Gambill in the closing mixed doubles, downing Marat Safin and Likhovtseva 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.