20 Years Later: Remembering Monica Seles' Stabbing
It's most likely the last thing she wants to talk about these days, the now 39-year-old Monica Seles. She will turn 40 this December, and yet she hardly wishes to pull up the reins, stomp on the brakes of her life. If anything, Seles is not one for regarding what's in the rear-view mirror. She presses on, forges ahead today, just like she did in 1989. And just as she did in 1995, two-and-a-half years removed from that vile stabbing on April 30, 1993.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of that event, one that changed the course of sports history and radically altered lives, chiefly that of a ferocious ball striker and otherwise sunny person. The moment superseded sport. It affected security at major events of all kinds—sporting, political, festive, somber. It was a stark, violent reminder of the presence of evil in this world, and the consequences of mental derangement, whether alleged or all too real.
So where is that man today, the man who attacked Seles? Reportedly, "having suffered several strokes, [Gunter] Parche is now incapacitated in a nursing home in Nordhausen, Thuringia." Sadly, Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price asked a decade after the attack whether athletes were really any safer from "increasingly belligerent spectators." The truth? No. Not a decade later, nor two decades removed. Onlookers have rushed onto tennis courts in recent years—notably at major championships including the French Open and the U.S. Open—and surprised the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams. And if those three marquee names don't have sufficient security surrounding their stadium courts, who does? That's not to say lesser players deserve more relaxed security measures by any means. It's to say that we have not truly learned our lesson.
As NBC broadcaster Ted Robinson put it so eloquently in that frightful moment when a fan ran at Federer on the Roland Garros stadium court, "And there should be zero tolerance for that, and of all sports, this one is the one that experienced the absolute worst with the nightmare of Monica Seles."
Now it's a difficult discussion to have, and can easily slip down so many rabbit holes. That said, I agree today with Chuck Culpepper at SportsOnEarth.com: "And the top players of the last 25 years are [Steffi] Graf (with 22 Slams), Serena Williams (with 15 Slams)—and Seles. That's because I know her nine was bigger than nine, I know the wretched reason it stopped at nine, and I don't accept as merit—or even as accidental fate—the wretched reason it stopped at nine."
I might venture as far as SI's Frank Deford did as well, in 2001: "Was Graf the best female player of all time? She wasn't even the best in the heart of her career." Yes, Graf had won eight of the past nine Grand Slam singles titles when Seles rose to champion status. As Deford deftly notes, Seles proceeded to win eight to Graf's two in the next three years. Without Seles' presence to force Graf to tighten and up her game, the WTA Tour at that time (1993–95) became, in the words of Martina Navratilova, the story of "Steffi and the seven dwarves."
That's hardly to tarnish the legacy of a superior sportswoman, an incredibly gifted athlete, the legend that Stefanie Graf embodies, both then and now. At the same time, it has been said that the longest book ever written is The Book of If. Would Monica Seles have been the greatest female tennis player ever? The world will never know.
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