TENNIS: Seles still in limbo with attacker back in court

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The Independent Online


reports from Key Biscayne

As far as Monica Seles is concerned, the ball is in a court of law. From her home in Sarasota, Florida, the former world No 1 awaits the result of the re-trial in Hamburg of Gunther Parche, the German who walked free after curtailing her career with a stab in the back almost two years ago.

The Seles family's feelings on the eve of the hearing in a higher court, which starts today, were summarised by the player's father/coach, Karolj. "I trust," he said, "that justice will win this time."

Another case is pending, in which Seles is suing the German Tennis Federation for at least $10m (£6.6m).

Parche, a Steffi Graf fanatic motivated by the desire to end Seles' reign at the top, received a two-year suspended sentence in October 1993 for the assault, which took place during a changeover in a match between Seles and the Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg on 30 April 1993.

Graf, who is here defending her singles title at the Lipton Championships, also hoped that the court would deal with Parche "harder than last time".

Seles' lawyer, Gerhard Strate, apparently advised his client to attend the re-trial. It seems unlikely that she will, though her father may make an appearance. Monica did not attend the original trial. Nor was her medical record provided, which is why the judge, Elke Bosse, ruled that her wound would have to be regarded as a minor injury.

Whether a different outcome in the retrial, brought on appeal by Seles and the prosecutors, would encourage the 21-year-old to return to the game is another matter. Though there are rumours that she will play next month in Houston, the scene of her first professional title in 1989, and Fila, her sportswear sponsor, have indicated that she will compete at the Italian Open in May, confirmation has not been forthcoming.

Karolj Seles, persuaded to put his name to an article in the New York Times, mused: "When will Monica return? That is the question. Unfortunately, my daughter is incapable of answering it, even after a silence of almost two years.''

He did, however, offer a degree of enlightenment on the affect the attack has had on his daughter: "So far she has lost two beautiful years, two of her best young years, which she can never replace and bring back. Monica was a laughing, cheerful girl. This cheerfulness has disappeared from her face. It's hard for us as parents to see this, but for her it's the hardest.

"Over the last two years, I have worked very hard for Monica. I can see that she would like to come back. She loves tennis. But I also know the demons she's fighting in her life as a consequence of the stabbing.''

He does not disguise the bitterness he feels about the original case. "I trusted that the assailant would answer for his deeds before a German court, that it would bring the appropriate verdict. I was stunned, as I believe that people around the world were stunned, when I learned that the Hamburg court ruled to set the assailant free. This was terrible news to our family.

"Parche planned this for many years, carried out the attack, and he even expected to pay for his crime. He himself said in court that he fully expected to be in prison for 15 years. After such a decision, isn't Judge Bosse afraid to look the German public and the world in the eye?

"The stabbing will remain with Monica as a sad memory, a reminder, and nothing can compensate for this."

Seles, who was born in Novi Sad, in the former Yugoslavia, has been based in Florida since the age of 13 and took United States citizenship a year ago. During four years as a professional she won every major title with the exception of Wimbledon and accumulated $7.4m in prize-money.

She has said that she does not want to be remembered "as the one who grunted or the one who was stabbed", but the sport continues to pass her by.

The No 1 status sits uneasily on the shoulders of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who was defeated in the third round of the Lipton yesterday by the American Marianne Werdel Witmeyer, 6-2, 7-5.

Werdel Witmeyer, ranked No 33, lost to the Spaniard in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Yesterday, the Californian's potent groundstrokes proved decisive.

Mark Woodforde continued the Australian sequence of upsets with a 6- 3, 6-4 win against Jim Courier, the seventh seed, in the third round. Michael Chang, the third seed, also dropped out of Pete Sampras's half of the draw, beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 by the Dutchman, Jan Siemerink.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39