From 1991 to 1993, Monica Seles won 22 titles and reached 33 finals out of the 34 tournaments she played. She compiled a 159–12 win-loss record (92.9% winning percentage) during that time, including a 55–1 win-loss record in Grand Slam tournaments. FIFTY-FIVE AND ONE.
And then somebody stabbed her. A deranged Steffi Graf fan literally STABBED her. With a nine-inch boning knife. On the court.
Yes, it was a big deal 19 years ago, and the incident has not been forgotten. But people seem to forget how good Monica Seles was before this brutal public attack on her life.
Seles, born in Yugoslavia to Hungarian parents, was only 14 when she turned pro in 1988. The tennis prodigy was a bona fide superstar and held the No. 1 world ranking leading up to the stabbing in 1993. Some of her career highlights and statistics before the incident include:
• 231–25 record (90.2% winning percentage)
• 30 overall titles
• 3 consecutive Australian Open titles
• 3 consecutive French Open titles (youngest winner ever at 16 in 1990)
• 2 consecutive U.S. Open titles
• 1 Wimbledon finals appearance
At the time of the stabbing, Seles was the greatest female tennis player in the world. But it bears repeating: She was only 19, just getting warmed up in her glorious career.
By then she already had eight Grand Slam titles and a 4–1 Grand Slam final record against Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Seles may have been the most dominant athlete in any sport at that time, but her success was cut short because a lunatic named Günter Parche stabbed her during a match.
Take a moment and think about how crazy that is.
A young woman on her way to becoming the greatest player to ever play her sport was cut down before her prime in the most absurd way. That would be like if Tiger Woods was beaten with a golf club on the course in the late 1990s, or if Michael Jordan took a sniper’s bullet at the United Center in the early 1990s. Or, to make a simpler tennis comparison, imagine if a crazed Pete Sampras fan stabbed Roger Federer in the back in the mid-2000s, halfway through his record run.
Seles healed shortly after the stabbing, but she didn’t maker her comeback for more than two years. She returned in 1995 and enjoyed success until her last match in 2003, but she clearly wasn’t the same dominant force she once was. Sadly, the world will never really know the type of talent that was lost forever 19 years ago today. Even Seles admitted during her Tennis Hall of Fame induction speech in 2009, for better or for worse, that her career was two phases: before stabbing and after stabbing.
The craziest part of the story? Parche, who really wanted to see Graf retain the No. 1 world ranking (and possibly hated Serbs), received not one day in prison for his premeditated crime. The man who “destroyed my life,” as Seles told a German court, received a two-year suspended sentence.