Turning professional in 1989 (age 16), Yugoslavian born Monica Seles reached the semi-finals of French Open in what was her 1st Grand Slam appearance followed by 4th round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open. Impressive debut year, isn’t it?
1990 : Missing the year-opening Australian Open, Seles became the youngest ever champion (at 16 years old) of the French Open. Not surprisingly, she still holds that record. She defeated the then World Number 1, Steffi Graf, in straight sets.
Two passages took their shapes from hereon. Firstly, the blossoming rivalry between Seles & Steffi and secondly, a remarkable run of 8 Grand Slam wins out of 11 for the now US-citizen Seles.
French Open : 1990,1991,1992
Australian Open : 1991,1992,1993
US Open : 1991,1992
AT THE AGE OF 19, SHE ALREADY HAD 8 GRAND SLAM TITLES.
IREPEAT, AGE 19 & 8 GRAND SLAM TITLES!!
*Steffi Graf was at 6 Grand Slam titles at the same age
Monica Seles was on a path to do something extraordinary. The Seles-Graf rivalry was making waves across the tennis world too which was great for the sport in general.
All the frenzy and fervor came to a grinding halt on April 30th,1993 at The Hamburg Open, Germany.
Monica Seles, during a break between games, got stabbed by a Steffi Graf-obsessed fan with a knife. According to the medical reports, the knife went 1.5 cm deep between her shoulder blades. In a few weeks time, Seles was able to recover physically but the mental trauma she had to experience was unprecedented.
Seles did return to the tour in August 1995 and miraculously managed to win the Australian Open in 1996 – her 9th and sadly the last Grand Slam title.
She never recovered completely from the stabbing incident. Around the same time, her coach-best friend-father was detected with cancer. She further slipped down the mental trauma hole as she had no one to discuss her feelings with.
Another aspect which affected her immensely was the aftermath of the stabbing incident. The German federation decided to continue with the tournament hinting at a bias towards a certain German player.
Additionally, the attacker stood trial on a charge of wounding rather than attempted murder. Later on, he even escaped a prison sentence.
“The trial kept going on and on,” Seles recalls. “One trial after another. Later I tried to sue the German Tennis Federation for lack of security and lost income, and I lost those cases, too.It was hard to cope with the fact that the guy was not even sent to prison. It did not feel like justice to me.”
“I had grown up on a tennis court – it was where I felt most safe, most secure – and that day in Hamburg everything was taken away from me. My innocence. My rankings.”
Seles has chronicled her bout with depression and binge eating disorder (BED) after her stabbing, her father’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, her journey back to the game and a life beyond tennis.
When she returned to the tour in 1995, she had gained weight and was constantly reminded about it by the spectators, the press and even her ex-boyfriends.
Seles came to realise that food had been her way of deflecting that pain; the grief that had cruelly coincided with her traumatic loss of innocence on court. She fought the binge eating disorder for most part of her life and like any great champion, she found her path to victory.
In some ways, the 9-time Grand Slam champion didn’t get a fair deal for the unforeseen interruption on that hapless day of April 1993 in Hamburg, Germany.