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Disturbed fan stabs top-ranked Seles

Trauma of the attack kept Monica Seles off the tennis court for more than two years.

Monica Seles grimaces after being stabbed on April 30, 1993. [AP photo]

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 7, 1999


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Monica Seles had experienced death threats before -- a letter saying a bomb had been planted in the house where she was staying for Wimbledon, numerous threats over several years alluding to the political situation in her native Yugoslavia. They had been nothing more than threats.

When the attack occurred on April30, 1993, it came with the speed and silence of a stealth bomber -- and for a moment she never knew what hit her.

It was the 5-inch blade of a serrated steak knife wielded not by someone who hated her enough to kill but rather a fan of No. 2-ranked Steffi Graf, a fan so obsessed that he wanted to put the No. 1-ranked Seles out of action.

The 19-year-old Seles was playing in the quarterfinals of the Citizen Cup in Hamburg, Germany, her first tournament after a viral infection sidelined her for more than two months. She led Magadelana Maleeva 6-4, 4-3 and had gone to the sideline for a break.

Despite the presence of two nearby security guards, heavy-set, disheveled Guenter Parche, a 38-year-old lathe operator, reached from the sideline seats and stabbed Seles between the shoulder blades.

She screamed, stood up and took several steps, then gently fell in the arms of a tennis official. "At first, everything seemed calm. Very calm," said Toni Waters-Woods of Tampa, a Women's Tennis Association official at the stadium. "People were trying to figure out what it was. She jumped up and ran near the net, holding her back over her shoulder. You thought maybe it was a back spasm."

Lisa Grattan of St. Petersburg, a WTA tour director since 1991, was among the first to reach Seles, who asked if she was bleeding. Grattan told her she would be okay, reminded her to breathe easily and held a towel to the wound to stem the flow of blood. And when Seles burst into tears, Grattan held her head and tried to comfort her.

"I was sitting right across from where it happened," Grattan said. "I heard a scream and I looked over there. It looked to me like he just hit her. I thought, "What the hell is he doing?' She got up, then she grabbed her back, (and) I knew she was hurt."

Not badly. The inch-deep slit cut some muscle tissue but it missed her spinal cord and did not injure her lungs. Although doctors said Seles could resume competition in about three months, the emotional trauma of the attack kept her off the tour for more than two years.

Parche was convicted of causing Seles grievous bodily harm, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Because of diminished responsibility, he could have received a maximum of 3 years, 9 months. The prosecutor had asked for a sentence of 2 years, 9 months. Parche received a two-year suspended sentence.


-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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