Advantage: Monica Seles


Monica Seles

This is a story on how Yugoslav tennis superstar Monica Seles, in an exemplary display of courage and determination, agonized and struggled from a two-year near career-ending stabbing incident to reclaim her proper place in the sport she loves most.

The date was April 30, 1993 in the late spring evening in Hamburg, Germany. Monica Seles was playing Magdalena Maleeva in the quarterfinal round of the Citizen Cup Tournament and had just won the first set, 6-4, and was leading in the second set, 4-3, before the one-minute break.

No member of her family were there to watch the game. Her dad, mom and brother Zoltan, were left in their hotel. Her father was feeling sick the night before. Her mom and Zoltan decided to stay with him.

Seles had just wiped the sweat from her neck, she put a towel over her face and leaned forward to avoid any distraction. Suddenly she felt an incredible pain in her back, which radiated agony down her right side. She heard a scream which, she said later, sounded more animal than human, an anguished cry that she could hardly distinguished as her own even as it echoed in her ears.

She saw a man in a baseball cap holding a knife full of blood in both hands. His arms were raised over his head as if to strike again. She recognized him as someone she’d seen earlier loitering around her hotel and watching her as she practiced. A security man grabbed him from behind.

Feeling dizzy, she stood up nevertheless but stumbled toward the net and collapsed. She reached around and touched the aching spot. When she withdrew her hand, it was slick with blood.

Everything was happening too fast. Zoltan, who came after all, raced onto the court, giving Monica great relief. “It’s going to be alright, Monica,” he told his sister rubbing her legs. “Keep moving, Keep moving. Somebody help her.”

A team of paramedics arrived and took her to the hospital. Her parents were already in the hospital when she arrived. They were both crying and looked too frightened. Doctors used an MRI to determine the extent of injury. The assassin’s knife had penetrated just millimeters away from Monica’s spine.

“I didn’t even know who he was or why he had struck me. What if he comes back,” Monica told writer Nancy Ann Richardson in an interview later. “I was terrified with the thought that he would find me in the hospital and try to finish the job.”

Two days later Steffi Graf came to see her. She was Seles’ closest rival for the No.1 world ranking. It was, in fact, at the expense of Graf that Monica took the top ranking. When Steffi walk in, they both started crying.

Graf apologized that the incident happened in her country before leaving for a match that day. Monica wished her good luck.

In the days that followed, Monica’s attacker was identified as Gunter Parsche, who admitted to be a Steffi fan. He stabbed her because Monica stood between her and the No.1 spot. Parsche got what he wanted. With Monica out of the game, Steffi reclaimed the much-coved ranking.

Monica and family were transported by a medical plane back to the U.S. Not to Florida though where they lived for six years since migrating from Yugoslavia but to Colorado so she could be treated at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic, a known sports medicine and rehabilitation center.

From there started Monica’s agony to let go of the thoughts about Gunter Parsche, about not to see his face or hear her scream again. They’re going to lock him up, she assured herself, while in her recovery process, her father was diagnosed suffering from prostate cancer and needed an operation.

It wasn’t easy, she found out. “Life wasn’t what I’d bargained for as a child,” she often told those who cared to listen. “Back then there were no monsters except in my dreams. My father was healthy and strong, he was my coach and best friend.”

While struggling to recover at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic, Monica didn’t know if he could play tennis again. The assailant’s knife had damaged the soft tissues and muscle of her shoulder blade. She found it difficult to maintain Dr, Richard Hawkins’s physical-therapy regimen.

She went back and forth to the gym but just couldn’t seem to concentrate. She kept breaking into tears at odd moments. At night, bad dreams disturbed her sleep. Physicians Steadman and Hawkins tried their best to help. But it was their first time to work with an athlete who’d been attacked. One for whom getting back to her sport raised a host of terrifying experiences.

(To be continued)


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