It was 20 years ago today that the number one player in the world of women’s tennis, Monica Seles, was stabbed on-court during a quarterfinal tennis match in Hamburg with Magdalena Maleeva . To this day it still surprises me that a bigger deal wasn’t made of this attempted murder of a top athlete in her prime. Was it because this top athlete was a woman? Not American? Her ethnicity?
Ask yourself this: if God forbid, Michael Jordan, Jeff Gordon, Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras, Ken Griffey Junior, Chris Evert, Lance Armstrong, Serena Williams, Dwight Gooden, Roger Clemens, Jerry Rice or John Elway, got stabbed, on their meteoric rise to the top of their sport, do you think the media would have made more, less, or the same deal out if it? My opinion is that in all cases it would have garnered more attention at the time of the incident. And more attention long after.
Before the stabbing, Seles was dominating women’s tennis and was starting to take command of her rivalry with Steffi Graf. Graf, a legitimate champion and an all time great herself, was also robbed of the fair chance to regain the number one ranking and swing the balance of that rivalry back in her favor without the assistance of the stabbing.
Of course Graf was in no way connected or responsible, in fact she was shook up by the event herself. But she still benefited from it. Seles was a dominant number one in the world at the time and won a Roger Federer like 8 of the previous 11 grand slam events.
The assailant, Günter Parche, who did this was an obsessed Graf fan who wanted her to return to number one. Graf had won two slams during the Seles run, and oh by the way won the next four, after the attempt of Seles’ life took her out of the game to recover. Parche got his wish.
By comparison to Seles’ 8 of 11, Tiger Woods once won 7 out of 11. Could you imagine if this happened to him during his reign? Or if someone from Detroit stabbed Michael Jordan, so the Pistons could have won another championship or two? Or maybe a NY Knick fan doing it so the Patrick Ewing led Knicks could have won one?
Seles was only nineteen at the time. Nineteen! It took her over two years to recover physically from the stabbing and return to the tour. However, in my opinion, all of the grand slams won for at least the following six years, after this vile event, unfortunately need to come with an asterisk.
Her issues with depression post the stabbing are documented. Seles suffered injuries and never regained her physical form.
It is reasonable to infer her career would have unfolded vastly differently had she not lost time away from the tour. I can’t say different obstacles may not have presented themselves, but most of the ones that did would not have, but for the stabbing.
Seles won one major, the Australian Open, after her comeback. Her career total of grand slam wins is nine. This still places her in the top ten all-time list for female singles champions. Graf is number one with 22.
Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert sit tied with 18 at number two. I’m inclined to think that both Seles and Graf would have finished with between 14 and 19 had this crime never taken place. But we’ll never know for sure, if one or both, would have finished with more, or passed fellow all-time greats Navratilova and Evert.
In March of 2012, the Tennis Channel ranked the 100 greatest tennis players. A list that combined men and women. Graf is listed as number 3 and Seles as number 19. That degree of separation seems unjust.
On this 20th anniversary of this disturbing event, I think it is time we acknowledge and remember just how great Seles was. How she, the players during, and even before and after, were robbed.
No conversation of the best to ever play the women’s game should take place without Seles being a big part of the discussion. To do so would be to deprive her of her rightful place in history and give the German man who committed the attack, and served no jail time after being found guilty, one more victory he did not deserve.