Friday, April 30, 1993 has been described as ‘tennis’ darkest day’ and the tragic events at Tennisstadion am Rothenbaum, Hamburg on that fateful afternoon changed the course of tennis history. In her quarter-final match at the second-level Citizen Cup, world number one Monica Seles, 19, led Magdalena Maleeva 6-4, 4-3 and looked well on her way to her twenty-third singles title in a row as she sat down at the changeover between games.
However, as she did so, she was approached from behind by a stocky, balding man – later identified as Gunter Parche, an unemployed German machinist – wielding a ten-inch boning knife. After a brief hesitation, Parche raised the knife, with both hands, and plunged it into Seles’ back. Seles yelled in pain, but managed to take a few steps away from he assailant, as he attempted to strike again, before being helped to the ground by tournament officials. Parche, meanwhile, was subdued by other spectators and security staff.
Thankfully, the blade only penetrated an inch or so and, despite requiring surgery, the wound healed in a matter of weeks. Even so, scarred emotionally as well as physically, Seles did not return to competitive tennis until 1995. When she did, she won just one Grand Slam singles title – compared with the eight she won before the stabbing – at the Australian Open in 1996, before officially retiring in 2008.
Parche, 38, later said that his attack was motivated by his desire to see former world number one Steffi Graf return to the top of the rankings. Obviously deeply disturbed, he was sentenced to only two years’ probation, plus psychological treatment, having been charged, not with attempted murder, but with the lesser offence of grievous bodily harm.