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Worries Still Haunt Seles After Attack : Tennis: Her father says stabbing almost two years ago has left former player concerned for her safety as retrial begins for the man who assaulted her.

March 21, 1995|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARASOTA, Fla. — The father of tennis star Monica Seles said Monday that his daughter still steals glances behind her, fearful of the man who stalked her and stabbed her in the back on a tennis court nearly two years ago.

Breaking a 15-month silence, Karolj Seles said his entire family will monitor the retrial of Guenter Parche, which begins today in Hamburg, Germany, and hope for justice.

"He has taken everything from her," the elder Seles said through an interpreter. "She has lost everything. Her life has gone to pieces, her family's as well. She lost confidence in herself and other people. In one sentence: She has lost everything."

The focus of intense curiosity and speculation, Seles has not returned to the tennis tour since the stabbing on April 30, 1993. Seles, who once aspired to be an actress, rarely has been seen in public. Although the 1 1/2-inch deep wound healed long ago, the incident's psychological damage--inflicted upon an intensely private person--has yet to recede, her father said.

"Emotionally, she is like a roller coaster," Seles said of his daughter, now 21. Seles' family emigrated to Sarasota from Yugoslavia when she was 13.

German prosecutors were dissatisfied with the two-year suspended sentence meted out last October, so Parche, 40, will be retried in a higher court, in accordance with German law. Parche, who is German, served two months' probation after being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm. He could have been sentenced to five years in prison.

The District Court judge justified the sentence by finding Parche had a diminished ability to distinguish right from wrong. It is believed that psychiatric evaluation was a condition of probation.

Parche, an unemployed lathe operator, admitted to an obsession with German star Steffi Graf, who was second to Seles in the world rankings at the time. After stalking Seles for days at the Citizen Cup in Hamburg, Parche leaned over a rail during a changeover in a quarterfinal match and plunged a 10-inch boning knife between Seles' shoulder blades.

Seles screamed and staggered onto the court, clutching her bloody blouse, then collapsed. Parche was wrestled to the ground and removed by police, whom he told he wanted to injure Seles only so that Graf would overtake her in the rankings. Because of Seles' injury, Graf did eventually become No. 1.

Even though the stabbing had more to do with a fixation on Graf than with animosity toward Seles, the incident sent a chill through Seles' family. Even before the stabbing, the Seles family had a reputation on the tennis tour for being obsessed with security. Monica, a Hungarian born in Serbia, had received death threats relating to the ethnic wars in the disintegrating Yugoslavia.

Parche's light sentence caused international outrage, including a sharp rebuke from Graf. After the verdict was announced, Parche was free to go, but asked to spend the night in jail because he feared retaliation.

Seles issued a statement at the time saying she was "shocked and horrified" that Parche, whom she called an "assassin," would not serve time in jail.

"He gets to go back to his life," her statement said, "But I can't because I am still recovering from this attack, which could have killed me."

Doctors said the wound to Seles' upper back was very close to the spine and that had she not been leaning forward at the time Parche lunged, her injury would have been far more serious.

"I hope that justice will prevail and that Guenter Parche will be punished for the crime he has committed," Karolj Seles said. "It's strange to me. I cannot understand what his motives were to do such a thing to a 19-year-old girl who is just playing tennis and hasn't done harm to anyone. He stopped Monica's career with the help of a knife."

Seles, who spoke Hungarian and some English, said he does not want revenge, only justice.

"Every person has a right to be forgiven," he said.

Seles would give no hint of a timetable for his daughter's return to tennis, although he said he was eager for her to get back on the tour. From 1991 to the time of the stabbing, Seles had won eight of nine Grand Slam events and had amassed more than $7.5 million in prize money. She has now fallen out of the rankings.

Seles has sued the German Tennis Federation, seeking $10 million in loss of earnings. The suit claims the federation should have done more to protect players at the tournament.

"The German federation must protect the players," Karolj Seles said. "They should have done something at the time. It's not enough to do something now. It changes nothing."

The attack on Seles has heightened security awareness at all WTA Tour matches. During changeovers, two security guards flank the players, facing the crowd. Players now seldom wander tournament grounds unescorted.

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