Besotted fan's attack on Seles stuns Graf

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The Independent Online
STEFFI GRAF, the German tennis star, said at a tearful press conference yesterday that she was 'totally stunned' by Friday's knife attack on her rival, Monica Seles, at a Hamburg tournament.

The man who plunged a knife into Miss Seles's back was driven by an obsession for Miss Graf and said that his aim was to pave the way for her return to the number one spot in the world rankings.

After visiting her rival in hospital, Miss Graf said: 'It was almost impossible for us to talk together. We both felt totally stunned. Monica was clearly in pain - not so much physical as mental. After a while, neither of us could speak.'

Miss Graf went on to a convincing 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Jana Novotna, the Czech, taking her to the final of the contest in which, but for the stabbing, she would almost certainly have met Miss Seles.

In a statement to the police, the attacker - named simply as Gunter P, a 38-year-old metal worker form the east German region of Thuringia - denied wanting to murder Miss Seles. His aim had been to injure her and keep her out of the game for a while. Miss Seles took over from Miss Graf at the top of the women's tennis rankings in 1991.

The tournament doctors, however, said the butcher's knife - with a 12cm (5in) blade - had narrowly missed Miss Seles's lungs. 'Monica had a lot of luck,' the doctors said in a statement. 'With this weapon she could have been killed.' The wound was about 1.5cm (a half-inch) deep.

Doctors said that although Miss Seles's injuries were not serious, she might not resume playing tennis for at least four weeks - possibly ruling her out of the defence of her title in the French Open beginning on 24 May.

Dankmar Lund, spokesman for the Hamburg police, said the attack was 'a premeditated act'. He added: 'The attacker had already spent several days at the tournament sizing up the venue before picking his moment to strike.'

The memory of that strike - which drew a sharp shriek from Miss Seles and sent her reeling to the ground - was still vivid at the Hamburg Citizens' Cup tournament in which the world number one had been making her comeback after a two-month lay-off due to heavy flu.

'It is absolutely disgusting that this happened at all - but especially in Germany,' said one spectator at yesterday's semi-final between Miss Graf and Ms Novotna, at which tighter security measures were clearly evident. 'Of course, it could have happened anywhere and to anyone, but once again it makes our country look bad.'

That was certainly the view of some 100 Serbian protesters who gathered outside the tournament's main gates chanting 'Monica, Monica' and bearing placards proclaiming 'Shame on you Germany'.

Miss Seles is an ethnic Hungarian from the Serbian province of Vojvodina, Miss Seles, who continues to describe herself as coming from Yugoslavia. She has received a number of death threats over the past couple of years.

When news of the stabbing broke, many assumed it had a political motive. Although the protesting Serbs continued to insist on deeper and more sinister implications, the police insisted there was no evidence of poltical motivation and that Gunter P acted in what he thought were Miss Graf's best interests.

Further reports, page 3

(Photograph omitted)