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Home Alone
Johnette Howard
April 10, 1995
Her attacker walks free, but Monica Seles still lives in troubled isolation
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April 10, 1995

Home Alone

Her attacker walks free, but Monica Seles still lives in troubled isolation

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"There was the way he did it, the way he planned it, the idea that he put the knife in my back, pulled it out and was going to do it again. I can still sec the hate in his face that I saw when I turned around. And they say he doesn't have to go to jail at all?

"I don't understand," she sobbed, her voice trailing off until it was no more than a murmur. "I'm just...so...confused."

Before Monday's verdict, Seles's two-year absence from tennis had been blamed on her grievances about the way the court in Hamburg and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) treated her immediately after the attack. The last time Seles granted extended interviews, 15 months ago, she spoke poignantly of being a talent derailed at 19. But the most forbidding obstacle to her return to tennis has always been the spectral possibility that Parche, or someone like him, would surface again—outside a store, through a window, across an airplane aisle, in a restaurant booth next to hers.

That's the macabre fear Seles lives with. That's the unshakable anxiety that rears up unexpectedly and overtakes her. Everything will be fine for long stretches; Seles's tennis workouts and her determination to get back on tour may even peak. Then something—perhaps just sitting in a darkened movie theater—triggers a fresh rush of uneasiness. "Then she's thinking of the stabbing," says her father, Karolj Seles, "and she goes to pieces again."

But in the days before Parche's retrial began on March 21, there had been a palpable stirring in Seles's camp, and some guarded optimism that she might be preparing to return to the tour. Pressed for concrete evidence, though, associates, friends and tennis officials spoke only of "gut feelings" and "signs."

One reason for the optimism was a flurry of conciliatory gestures by Seles. For Parche's retrial, Seles submitted a six-paragraph letter citing "two years of hell" he had caused her; she had not testified or submitted a statement for his first trial. She also permitted her Nevada sports psychologist, Jerry Russel May, to detail how he has treated her for posttraumatic stress disorder since July 1993. May, who has had more than 120 sessions with Seles, told the court that Seles has flashbacks to the attack and that she has talked of feeling "like a bird in a cage."

On the eve of the second trial, Karolj granted interviews for the first time since his daughter's stabbing. In addition to softening his family's hard stance against the WTA, he startled U.S. Tennis Association officials with a declaration that Monica, a naturalized U.S. citizen since March of last year, dreams of playing for the U.S. in the 1995 Fed Cup and in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"That's great," says WTA chief executive officer Anne Person Worcester. "But I had absolutely no idea. None."

No one did, and Seles remained out of sight until last weekend. Even tennis officials who would be involved in her return to the tour say it was hard to tell whether groundwork was really being laid for her comeback, or whether the Seleses were only trying to affect the outcome of the Parche trial by briefly opening a portal into their lives. When Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King spoke with Seles, she said she was left with the feeling that Seles still loves tennis. "But she doesn't know if she'll ever be able to get over the fear and come back again," King said.

Clearly Seles had reason to fear Parche in the wait for the retrial. While the appeal was pending, Parche was free with no probation restrictions—meaning no supervision and no court-ordered psychiatric care. And once Parche returned to his home in Görsbach in the former East Germany, his obsession with Graf showed little sign of abating.

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