Monica Seles is a retired American tennis player, who many believe could have become the greatest of all time if not for the tragic 1993 incident where she was stabbed on the court by a deranged Steffi Graf fan.
Seles dominated the women's tour in the early 90s in a way that few others have done before or since. She was well on her way to breaking most tennis records before the stabbing; the fact that she still racked up nine Grand Slams despite the incident is a huge testament to her incredible abilities and mental strength.
Best finish at each of the four Grand Slams:
Australian Open: 4-time Champion (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996)
French Open: 3-time Champion (1991, 1992)
Wimbledon: Runner-up (1992)
US Open: 2-time Champion (1991, 1992)
Highest Ranking: No. 1
No. of weeks at No. 1: 178
Style of play, strengths and weaknesses
Seles was predominantly a baseline player, but she was the most unique baseline player anyone had ever seen up to that point.
Taking big cuts at the ball with both hands from either wing, Seles pioneered a style that has been almost impossible to replicate. She was naturally left-handed, but it was tough to tell that when she played on the court since her forehand and backhand looked almost identical.
She could generate tremendous power from any part of the court, and her ability to repeatedly paint the lines with her groundstrokes was second to none. She was also very quick around the court, which enabled her to track down many of her opponents' big shots and return them with interest.
Using two hands on both wings meant that Seles could hit her groundstrokes with remarkable steadiness. She could also produce very acute angles with her forehand, which pulled her opponents way outside the court. However, there was also a flip side; her reach was a little limited, which sometimes hampered her defense.
Seles didn't have the greatest serve, but her return is widely considered one of the best in history. She didn't approach the net too frequently, but hit some decent volleys on the few occasions she got there.
Significant Monica Seles records
Seles was on a rampage before the stabbing, racking up records for fun. Here are the most remarkable of those:
- Youngest ever French Open champion at 16 years, 6 months (1990)
- One of only two players (along with Virginia Wade) to win the Australian Open on her first attempt
- Most consecutive match wins at the Australian Open: 33
- Only player to simultaneously hold 3 consecutive Australian Open and French Open titles
- One of only two players (along with Justine Henin) to win 3 consecutive French Open titles
- Youngest ever winner of WTA year-end championships at 16 years, 11 months (1990)
Seles was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, to Hungarian parents. Her father Karolj introduced her to tennis when she was five, and continued to be her coach until he passed away in 1998.
In later years Seles also worked with famous Serbian talent-spotter Jelena Gencic, and she moved to Florida when she was 13. Joining the Nick Bollettieri Academy upon arriving in the USA, Seles was one of the earliest and most famous products of the sprawling training center. She felt so much at home in the USA that she eventually applied for, and got, American citizenship in 1994.
Seles achieved many firsts as a teenage phenom barreling her way through the women's tour in the 90s. In particular, her dominance over Graf at the Grand Slams was striking, but unfortunately that was also what eventually led to her doom.
Relatively lax security arrangements in those days meant that Seles was an easy target for bitter fans who resented her stranglehold over the No. 1 ranking. With Seles playing a quarterfinal against Magdalena Maleeva at the Hamburg Open in 1993, deranged Graf fan Gunter Parche arrived at the venue with the specific intention of getting Seles out of the way.
Parche sprinted to the court and stabbed Seles in the back, between the shoulder blades, with a boning knife. The attack necessitated Seles to be rushed to the hospital, where she took a few weeks to recover physically. However, the stabbing left huge mental scars on the teenager, and it took her a full two years to return to competitive tennis.
The fan got his wish; with Seles out of the picture, Graf returned to the No. 1 ranking. However, he wasn't put in jail as he was declared to be mentally unstable, and was instead sentence to psychological treatment.
The stabbing led to a dramatic improvement in security arrangements at all tennis tournaments, but for one woman the damage had already been done. Seles never regained her form fully after the attack; although she won the 1996 Australian Open, the consistency and relentless energy from her earlier days had vanished.
Hers is a cautionary tale, but also one of what-ifs. The world will never know just how high Seles would have soared if not for the stabbing; to this day, it remains one of the most tragic stories in all of sport.