Tennis: Seles' future thrown into doubt after knife attack: The stabbing of Monica Seles at a tournament in Hamburg yesterday poses serious questions about her career. John Roberts, Tennis Correspondent, reports

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The Independent Online
THE stabbing of Monica Seles during a tennis tournament in Hamburg yesterday is bound to raise doubts about her participation at Wimbledon in June, or at any other championships. Aside from her medical condition - doctors in Hamburg said she could expect to be fit enough to play in a month - is the psychological effect the incident will have on the world's No 1 women's tennis player from the former Yugoslavia.

Seles was stabbed in the back during a break in play during her match with Magdelena Maleeva in the Citizen Cup. A spokesman would not comment on the reason for the attack by a 38-year-old German man, but German police later appeared to rule out any political motivation.

Seles, 19, was born in Novi Sad, Serbia, a former Hungarian city. Her ethnic roots are Hungarian. She left her homeland in her early teens, when her potential as a tennis prodigy was evident, and went to live in the United States.

It was there that she trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which produced Andre Agassi, the Wimbledon champion, among other leading players.

She left the academy before winning all the major championships with the exception of Wimbledon, but still resides in Florida. It is anticipated that she will seek United States citizenship, but for the moment she travels on a Yugoslav passport.

Since the war in the former Yugoslavia, Seles, and her parents, have taken care not to be involved in any controversy about the political situation. During the French Open in Paris last year, the Croatian Goran Ivanisevic, who was to go on to be runner-up to Agassi at Wimbledon, made plain his views on the war and also made comments about Seles's silence on the subject. She should at least, he said, have spoken out against the fighting. Ivanisevic's comments generated great media attention, with one tabloid using his comments to label her a 'traitor'. He later softened his public comments about Seles.

During the past 12 months, while Seles has continued to win Grand Slam championships and other honours, less has been seen of her family at the courtside of the world's major arenas, though her mother and father still attend most of her matches.

A vivacious personality, Seles has been involved in several controversies during the course of her tennis career. In one of her early appearances at the French Open, she threw flowers to the spectators while her opponent, Zina Garrison, waited with no little irritation to begin their match.

The following year Seles withdrew from the Wimbledon championships at the last moment and without explanation. The mystery was allowed to deepen for weeks before a leg injury was mentioned. When Seles reappeared on a tennis court it was to play in an exhibition tournament in New Jersey, for which she and the teenage American, Jennifer Capriati, were paid more for turning up than was on offer in prize-money. The episode ended with Seles being fined dollars 20,000 by the Women's Tennis Association for taking part in the unofficial event.

By forsaking Wimbledon, Seles denied herself an opportunity of accomplishing the Grand Slam. She had already won the Australian and French championships and went on to triumph at the United States Open. The affair also cost her a lot of goodwill.

Last year, when approaching Wimbledon having again won the Australian and French titles, Seles was apprehensive about the response she would receive from the spectators at the All England Club. Her chief problem turned out to be the media. Reporters with 'gruntometers' were there to record her every sound from the moment she stepped on court. Seles had long had a reputation for making loud noises when striking the ball, especially in precious situations during difficult matches.

The media gimmick took a serious turn when successive opponents, Nathalie Tauziat, of France, and Martina Navratilova, the nine-times Wimbledon champion, complained to umpires that they could not judge the pace of the ball because of the sounds she was making.

On reaching the final against Steffi Graf, the defending champion from Germany, Seles remained silent during the entire match and, even allowing for the splendid play of her opponent, she was evidently as dispirited as the score, 6-2, 6-1, indicated. The defeat ended Seles's winning sequence of 41 matches in Grand Slam tournaments. It was only the 26th defeat of her professional career and only her third of the year. Her confidence was restored in time for her to successfully defend the US Open title in September.

Seles's success has been rewarded with more than dollars 7m ( pounds 4.76m) in official prize-money alone, a sum multiplied many times over by earnings from sponsorships and endorsements. Many observers dislike her mode of tennis, not only the grunting but the execution of strokes by hitting the ball while holding the racket with both hands whether on the forehand or backhand side. Others have found fault with her manner off the court.

An extrovert, she frequently dresses up for the interview room after winning a major final, and has a tendency to end most of her sentences with a giggle. Last year's innovation was to turn up at the French Open having dyed her hair black.

Others view her exuberance as natural for a girl of her years and consider it preferable for her to display such obvious enjoyment of her talent. They would argue that she has added much needed sparkle to the women's game. We must trust that yesterday's events do not alter this.

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