Thirty years have passed since a crazed Steffi Graf fan stabbed tennis star Monica Seles on court in Hamburg, but witnesses can still recall the attack, describing it as “like a horror movie”.
On April 30, 1993, Guenter Parche, an unemployed German with an unhealthy obsession with Graf, walked onto the court at Hamburg’s Citizen Cup, where Seles was playing Magdalena Maleeva, carrying a boning knife.
Parche plunged the knife between Seles’s shoulder blades, later telling police he wanted to “hurt Seles so much that she couldn’t play tennis for a long time.”
Christoph Werle, a scoreboard attendant at the tournament, told Germany’s Welt on Saturday that the attack was “like a horror movie.”
“I screamed, which could clearly be heard on TV. I could no longer formulate a clear warning.”
Werle’s shock meant he was unable to warn the world number one, but his scream “made Seles move forward slightly to see me. That was potentially life-saving, because Parche couldn’t stab as deeply.”
‘T-shirt was red’
Winfried Roehl, a spectator, ran onto the court to grab Seles after seeing “her t-shirt went red”.
“I saw the knife laying there. I thought, shit, if this is deep, it doesn’t look good.”
Parche told police: “I couldn’t bear the thought that anyone could beat Steffi”.
Seles was just 19 when she was stabbed and already with eight Grand Slam titles was on track to become one of the best the sport had ever seen.
Seles battled bouts of depression and eating disorders after the attack, returning to the court two years afterwards but vowing to never play on German soil again.
Despite winning another Grand Slam in 1996, to bring her total to nine, she never fully recovered from the mental anguish of the attack.
“This guy changed tennis history, I have no doubt about that. Monica would have won so much,” tennis great Martina Navratilova said after Seles’s career ended.
Graf, who had been dethroned by Seles as world number one, went on to win all the three Grand Slam events remaining in 1993. The German would win 11 of her 22 major titles after the attack.
Parche lived the remainder of his life in a single room in a nursing home in the central German village of Nordhausen.
The attacker passed away in his sleep in August 2022, but news of his death only became known in late April.
The ongoing legacy of the attack is a far greater committment to security at tennis tournaments.
Former German player Barbara Rittner, who took part in the 1993 tournament, said “the security presence has increased enormously, especially on court”.
According to Berlin’s Tagesspiegel, the annual WTA tournament in Stuttgart now has 150 security officers on duty at all times, a change from in the past where “only ten police officers were on site” who “took a bit of a holiday to watch a bit of tennis.”
‘All about money’
Graf visited Seles in hospital in the days after the attack. The Yugoslavian-born American later said she was “dismayed” that the tournament continued, saying she realised “it’s all about the money.”
Physiotherapist Madeleine van Zoelen accompanied Graf to the hospital, saying the German player “felt it was her fault, because he was a fan of hers.”
“Steffi and Monica spoke little, both cried. Steffi didn’t know what to say, nor did Monica, but sometimes you don’t have to say much.”
Despite the violent nature of the attack, authorities in Hamburg only imposed a suspended sentence on Parche, which Seles later said she was unable to comprehend.
“He stabbed me on purpose and was not even punished for it. I never really got over that” Seles said in the years after Parche’s sentencing.
“I can’t understand why this person did not have to atone for his crime.”
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