Terror on the Court: The famou...

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Terror on the Court: The famous return of Monica Seles

Off The Ball
Off The Ball

04:10 28 Feb 2019

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In 1993, Monica Seles was the top player on the women's tour.

Born in Yugoslavia in 1973, she started playing tennis at the tender age of five and turned professional in 1989, reaching the semifinals of the French Open where she lost to Steffi Graf, one of her great opponents throughout her career.

She was just 20 years of age in 1993; the youngest ever French Open winner at 16 years of age with eight Grand Slam singles titles to her name. She had also made it to the final at Wimbledon in 1992.

She was the undisputed world number one.

And then this:

On April 30th, 1993, Seles was stabbed during a tennis match against Magdelena Maleeva in the Citizen Cup in Hamburg.

A fan obsessed with Seles' rival Steffi Graf, burst on to the court carrying a boning knife and stabbed the tennis star in the back. She was immediately rushed to hospital where her injuries took weeks to heal.

Her attacker was arrested and charged but not jailed as he was found to be "psychologically abnormal".

Seles wouldn't return to tennis for two years.

The Comeback

The former champion made her comeback in 1995, returning to the tour in August of that year following an exhibition match with Martina Navratilova.

However, the landscape had changed for Seles.

By the time she served in the exhibition match, she hadn't hit a ball on court for 27 months. She had lost her world number one ranking and her career had taken a serious hit due to both the injury and psychological affects of the attack.

In an interview in 1995, she stated: "Playing tennis was so suddenly taken away from me. For me, it was an overnight thing. I was in top shape, gamewise, everything, and then suddenly, next day, I'm way on the bottom.

"I can't say I've had too many happy times. It's been very difficult. Emotionally it's been very weird, and I've always been a very strong person on court. I always stand and fight and say, 'I'll win this point, no matter what'. And I always felt safe on a tennis court. That was taken away from me. Once in a while what happened still comes back to me. I think it always will. But the one thing I've been able to do is put it in a box. I can't change what happened. It did happen, I have to accept it and try to move on and be happy."

Navratilova pushed for Seles to be returned to the ranking she held previous to her injuries, taking co-ranking with fellow world number one, Graf. The WTA agreed to it, despite some objections from players like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario who's ranking would have suffered due to Seles return.

Seles won her first comeback tournament, the Canadian Open:

She was also vocal about security measures on court.

In the year following her attack, the ceremony for the French Open champions changed with the awards presented on the court and not in the stands while Wimbledon re-positioned the player's chairs with their backs to the Umpire and not the crowd.

Seles thought it did little to protect the players: "From the time I was stabbed, I think the security hasn't changed".

Seles refused to return to Germany to play tennis, declaring: "What people seem to be forgetting is that this man stabbed me intentionally and he did not serve any sort of punishment for it."

She continued to compete, winning her fourth Australian Open in 1996, her last Grand Slam title. She was the runner-up to Graf in '96 at the US Open and faced her last final at the French Open in '98. She remained a constant in the top ten.

In 2003, she suffered an injury and lost on her return at the French Open. She never played a tour match again.

Seles announced her retirement in 2008, ending one of the most dramatic careers to grace a tennis court. Her return to tennis was significant for a number of reasons, not least the fact that she showed enormous courage to even step out on to a tennis court again.

But that two years most certainly stalled her career. What could have been?

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