The world of women’s tennis is full of legendary players. Serena Williams will go down as perhaps the greatest of all time. Meanwhile, Steffi Graf had a run of dominance few other players can match. Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, and Billie Jean King all routinely make top-10 lists as does the great Monica Seles.
Unfortunately, Seles is just as remembered for her tennis skills as she is for a terrifying on-court stabbing. Yet Seles was undoubtedly one of the greatest talents of the early ’90s. Let’s look back at her career, the upsetting 1993 stabbing, and what she’s been up to since retiring.
The tennis career of Monica Seles
Seles was born and raised in Yugoslavia, although her family’s ethnicity is Hungarian. Seles went pro in February 1989 at the age of 15. She won her first career title just a few months later, beating the legendary Evert, who was nearing the end of her career. A short time later, Seles played in her first Grand Slam tournament.
At the tournament, Seles ultimately fell during the semifinals round to No. 1 ranked Steffi Graf. Nonetheless, she’d announced her arrival in high style, and finished the year ranked No. 6 in the world. Seles got off to a slow start the following year, before reeling off a 36-match win streak.
From 1990 to 1992, Seles established herself as perhaps the most dominant player in tennis. She won seven of her nine total Grand Slam Titles in those two years, while ranking No. 1 in 1991. During that year, which was perhaps her most accomplished, Seles reached the final round of all 16 tournaments she completed, while winning 10 times.
The 1993 stabbing
Seles seemed poised to continue dominating women’s tennis well through the ’90s. After all, she was just a teenager on the cusp of her physical prime. All of that promise derailed in 1993, however, at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany. During Seles’s quarterfinal match against Magdalena Maleeva, a crazed man ran out onto the court and stabbed Seles between the shoulder blades with a boning knife.
The blade only penetrated about half an inch, and the wound healed within a couple of weeks. Yet the stabbing left a far more lasting psychological wound on Seles. She became something of a recluse. Recently Seles admitted that, in the aftermath of the stabbing, she gained a lot of weight through emotional eating. Two years went by before Seles returned to the court.
Meanwhile, the man who stabbed her got off with a relatively light punishment. The German courts found him to be psychologically abnormal. Instead of serving a jail sentence, he received two years of probation and psychological treatment. For many years, Seles criticized the way the authorities handled the case, vowing she would never return to Germany.
Although Seles played for 13 more years after her 1995 comeback, she was never quite the same player. Finally, in 2008, Seles announced her professional retirement from tennis. Since then, Seles has remained busy with a variety of pursuits. In 2009, she published a well-received memoir titled Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self. She later wrote two young adult novels as well.
Seles has also done a lot of work within the world of mental health advocacy. In particular, Seles has spoken often about the Binge Eating Disorder she developed in the wake of her stabbing. She has also developed a passion for rescue dogs, having adopted several of them over the years.