SI Vault
The Return
S.L. Price
July 17, 1995
For two years Monica Seles has suffered in silence on the sidelines of the game she loves. Now she's ready to get back onto the court—and to discuss the demons that have beset her
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July 17, 1995

The Return

For two years Monica Seles has suffered in silence on the sidelines of the game she loves. Now she's ready to get back onto the court—and to discuss the demons that have beset her

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Seles was 19 at the time of the attack, a winner in seven of the previous eight Grand Slams she had entered. Never has such a dominant athlete been derailed in so bizarre a fashion. After Parche stabbed her with the nine-inch boning knife, Seles sat on the Hamburg court gasping as he was taken away. She had seen the blood, and now strangers who couldn't speak English were forcing her to sit up when all she wanted was to lie back and get some air. Finally Zoltan pushed his way through and took her hand, Zoltan told her everything would be fine. After long, mystifying hours at the hospital, Monica began to calm down. Then the door opened and a woman walked in. "I just want to show you the evidence," the woman from the police said. And she opened her hand, and there was the knife.

"It had a greenish handle," Seles says, and she opens her hands nine inches apart, the edges of her fingers describing the curve of the knife in the air. "Very long and sharp. The policewoman said, 'It's a boning kitchen knife.' [Parche] said when he was living with his aunt, he would cut sausages with it...and this lady from my agent's office was translating the German, and she said the word sausages. And he's cutting my back..." Her voice trails off, then rolls back again, stronger.

"And then they bring in my bloody shirt," Seles says, teeth gritted very like the moment when her racket hits the ball. "That's when I lost it. I said, 'What is this?' And it hit me again."

Her body came back first. It was the easiest part to rebuild. After basic rehabilitation at the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, Colo., Seles began hitting tennis balls. By Oct. 14, 1993—the day Parche received a two-year suspended sentence after his first trial—she was working out under the guidance of Bobby Kersee and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and harder than she ever had. She tried to pretend the stabbing never happened—"It was a dream, and nobody won the French in '93 or Wimbledon in '94." Word began circulating of a comeback. She thought of playing the '94 Australian, or returning the next month. Why not? She had seemed to bear up well during Karolj's December operation for stomach cancer. She felt good.

Then came the Christmas holidays of 1993, her first break since beginning rehab. Suddenly, Seles had time to think. Suddenly, life was, she says, "darkness everywhere."

"I had been practicing so much," Seles says. "I was practicing and rehabilitating, and I didn't have time to sit down and say, Am I O.K. or not?' Then I had this time, and all these memories started coming back. What happened April 30? All these fears came back, and it just went into this tailspin, spinning and spinning and the ball was getting bigger and bigger so that I couldn't sleep at all. I would be up all night in my room, just sitting. In the dark or light, I didn't feel comfortable leaving the house. Total depression. I was just reliving that moment. And the knife..."

Even now it isn't easy for Seles to look in a mirror and see the half-inch-long scar stitched just a centimeter from her spine. But in the winter of 1993-94, looking at it was torture. She wandered from room to room, didn't smile. Her mood would rocket up and suddenly down; she would be at dinner, and someone would smile and tell her how much she was missed. "I would have to go into the bathroom and cry and say, 'Why am I not playing?' Then I come back and everybody sees me teary-eyed: Poor Monica. I didn't know how to deal with it."

In February 1994 Karolj and Zoltan sat Monica down and insisted she get help. She began seeing Nevada sports psychologist Jerry Russel May, who treated her for post-traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes Seles would talk to May daily by phone. Sometimes she would fly to Reno. She spoke to other victims, of rape, of stabbing. She remembered details of the incident: At his trial Parche spoke of seeing her at the hotel. "He was thinking of giving me flowers and, I guess, cutting my hands off," Seles says. "But he felt that would've been too risky." She asked herself again and again what she had done to deserve Günther Parche. She was sure that somehow, some way, it had to be her fault.

"Why was it me?" Seles says. "I didn't think at age 19 I would have to deal with this: I was playing, and suddenly I wasn't playing, and it changed my daily life. And all these emotions I didn't know I could feel. How do I want to live my life? You have to decide: If you live till 90 living this way, do you really want to live? Why do I have to face these questions? This is supposed to be fun, and here I am thinking about life-or-death issues. This guy stabbed me, he's out there, he can come to any tennis tournament, any place. And he's still obsessed. What will it lake for him not to do it again?"

It took seven months for Seles to begin piecing together a life outside of tennis. Betsy Nagelsen, tennis commentator and wife of IMG founder Mark McCormack, would stir Seles from the couch, make her jet-ski and water-ski and keep moving. She read books by Faye Resnick and Pope John Paul II. She began taking French lessons. A lefty, like rock hero Hendrix, she took up the guitar, a sleek Fender Stratocaster. She would go to a Sarasota bookstore and sit, alone, for hours, thumbing through art books. She took up pool.

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