Tennis: Wimbledon '93: Graf haunted by spectre of Seles attack: Paul Hayward sees the women's champion suffer unsavoury fan behaviour during a Centre Court win

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The Independent Online
MENACE, as much as tennis, is dominating this year's women's tournament at Wimbledon after the expulsion yesterday of a spectator who verbally abused Steffi Graf on the Centre Court and who is believed to have trailed her across Europe. Graf, who remains depressed by the stabbing of Monica Seles, has attracted more misfits and obsessives than any other modern player.

Kurt zum Felde, 29, from Frankfurt, was released without charge after being questioned by police, but was banned for the remainder of the tournament and so will be unable to intimidate Graf further as she defends her singles title. The most chilling of his interjections from the touchline was, 'Steffi, you're responsible for everything', which was taken as a reference to the assault on Seles in Hamburg.

He was also linked to an incident in the morning when Graf emerged from the practice courts in tears. Initially it was assumed that Graf's injured foot had been giving her pain, but witnesses suggested the presence of zum Felde had also unsettled the world No 1.

On the Centre Court, Graf's distress became evident 14 minutes into her first-round win, 6-0, 6-0 over the Australian Kirrily Sharpe. The defending women's singles champion raised her right hand to her face after an exchange with a spectator on the opposite side to the umpire's chair. Graf then walked across the court to complain to the umpire, the first of several such discussions during just 38 minutes of play in which Graf appeared eager to get the game over with as soon as possible.

Though the umpire, Jane Tabor from Somerset, telephoned security from the chair, zum Felde was allowed to remain in his seat and later returned to watch the first five games of the Boris Becker - Marc Goellner match which followed Graf's victory. It was 3.15pm before he was removed for questioning by police - some 35 minutes after Graf left the Centre Court, and 15 minutes before she was driven away from the grounds in a black Vauxhall Carlton.

Graf, 24, has suffered numerous other intrusions in her 10 years on the professional circuit. She has received abusive telephone calls and was once forced to watch a 'fan' slash his wrists in front of her as she played on a practice court. The German who stabbed Monica Seles during a match in Hamburg on 30 April did so because he wanted to help Graf back to the No 1 spot in the world rankings. Ironically the plot worked, and Seles has not played tennis since.

The delay in detaining Graf's pursuer reawakened fears that security on the tennis circuit is still not tight enough in the wake of the Monica Seles stabbing. Many players have declined the offer of bodyguards as they have moved between courts at Wimbledon, and Graf herself was seen walking unaccompanied through the compound before play began.

She also returned her chair on the Centre Court to the traditional position, with her back to the crowd rather than up against the umpire's chair. Seating positions were originally changed because Seles had been attacked from behind as she sat down between games. 'I don't know why they changed it,' Graf said after her win. 'I felt more comfortable this way.'

'That's up to her,' Chief Inspector Des Wyke, the police officer in charge of operations here, said when asked why Graf had declined to accept the offer of a minder. 'I don't force my men on any of the women. They only have to ask me if they want a bodyguard.' Around 270 security guards are on duty at Wimbledon, an increase of 50 over last year, and plain-clothes officers have been mingling with spectators in the front row near the players' chairs.

Concern was also expressed about zum Felde's ability to get a ticket so close to the field of play, but as a spokeswoman for the Club said: 'It's not possible to check everybody who comes through the gate for their intentions.'

Graf revealed that though she complained on three occasions about zum Felde, she did not insist he be removed. 'I just asked the umpire to tell him to please be quiet,' she said.

There was support for Graf from Martina Navratilova, the most senior woman player and nine times the Wimbledon champion. 'It's something that I've had happen to me,' Navratilova said. 'It's not nice, but you try not to sink to their level, and figure out that they're not worth your emotions. You can't screen people and ask if they're going to yell anything before you let them on court.

'I just feel for Steffi. It takes some of the pleasure out of the game. We're playing sports - but look what's happened with soccer. They have armed guards on horseback, and dogs and fences. I mean, this is what the world is coming to.

'These are just games we're playing. This is a sport. This is not a matter of life and death.'

(Photograph omitted)

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