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JIM MURRAY

For Seles, Return to No. 1 Would Be Poetic Justice

August 29, 1996|JIM MURRAY

Tennis star Monica Seles in her book, "Monica--From Fear to Victory:"

"I remember thinking things couldn't be better; that the decision to enter the late-April Citizen Cup tournament in Hamburg in order to prepare for the French Open had been right. My whole family was there. . . . It was sunny, beautiful . . . almost perfect.

"There was only one worry: I thought I might not be in good enough shape to play. After a long virus that had kept me off the courts . . . I was feeling weak.

"I had requested a strong security team from the tournament director . . . following an earlier problem in Germany involving a man who attempted to serve me court papers. Each morning at 6:45 a.m., a team of four men was supposed to meet me at the gates. . . . Every day, the team was at least 10 minutes late. On Wednesday they didn't arrive till 7:40 a.m. 'So sorry,' they said when they reached the court. 'We overslept.'

"I won my match that night. On the way back to the hotel my driver [a German student] told me he thought we were being followed. 'Put your seat belt on, Monica, I'm going to try to lose him.' For the next half-hour we sped along the Autobahn at breakneck speed. The small dark car . . . stayed on our tail.

"We went back to the courts Thursday morning. . . . This time only one of my four guards showed.

"I walked toward the tunnel that led to the lockers. There was a man in the stands to one side of the passageway. He was wearing an Arthur Ashe baseball cap. I thought how nice it was to see Arthur remembered in Germany, too. I looked up and smiled, and the man smiled back. 'I've seen that guy before,' I recalled, as I walked in the dimly lit tunnel. 'He was in my hotel lobby yesterday.'

"The match didn't begin till 5 p.m. . . . The first set was tough. I was down 0-3 in the second set . . . I struggled until we were tied 3-all. There was one more game before the changeover. I took the game and was up, 4-3. I went to my chair for the 60-second break.

"I put my towel over my face and leaned forward to block out distractions. . . . 'Just a few more seconds and it'll be time to get up,' I thought. And then, there was this incredible pain in my back.

"It was sudden, sharp--a burning point in the left that radiated pain across my back and down my right side. There was a scream more animal than human. . . . I hardly recognized [it] as my own. . . . I looked back over my left shoulder and saw a man in a baseball cap holding a bloody knife in both hands. He raised his arms above his head to strike again. In that split second, I recognized his face from the hotel, remembered him from the empty stands."

Thus, in chilling detail, in her new book does Seles begin the story of the most terrible night in her life at the Hamburg Citizen Cup in 1993.

A German national named Gunther Parche was arrested for the wanton attack, the stab in the back. He made a statement to the police:

"Before I begin my testimony, I want to say I am a great fan of Steffi Graf. I follow her entire career. I have, for example, been sending her money every birthday since the borders were opened.

"Then in 1990 Steffi Graf lost to Monica Seles in the German Open. My world collapsed around me. I could not bear the thought of someone beating Steffi Graf. . . . I was really upset when Monica Seles won the French Open.

"I had definitely decided to injure Monica Seles in such a way she would no longer be able to play tennis. . . .

"I was constantly wondering how I could get to Monica Seles. Today, I already had the knife in a green shopping bag. Finally, I came to the decision to do it right there on center court. As I have already said, I used the break in play at 4-3 in the second set. I got up from my seat in Row 9 and went off to the right. Then I went down the stairs . . . and turned directly left. . . . I put my hand into the shopping bag and grabbed the knife with both hands. I turned to the right and stabbed Monica Seles from about shoulder height.

"This act was her punishment for the past three years. It really upset me that Monica Seles was above Steffi Graf in the world tennis ranking. I think I will probably get 15 years imprisonment. When I get out of prison Steffi Graf will obviously no longer be playing tennis. . . . For me, it is now over and done with. . . . This act was just [Seles'] punishment for the past three years. . . . "

Gunther Parche didn't get 15 years in prison. He didn't get any years in prison. The German judge did everything but give him his knife back. Two years' probation with no restrictions, no mandatory therapy.

Parche didn't serve time for his crime. But his victim did. Seles lived in a cave of her fears for two years, dropping out of tennis and often giving herself over to inexplicable bouts of weeping, and deepening depression and dread.

"I spent the next two years in the jail he was supposed to inhabit," Monica writes.

The judge blamed the media and "star hype" for poor Gunther's fixation.

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