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Monica Seles: a tennis prodigy who was prevented by tragedy from being the greatest of all time

The story of Monica Seles is one of the saddest that has ever taken place in the world of sports. Born in Yugoslavia in 1973, she emigrated to the United States at a very young age to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional tennis player. Her effort and talent took little time to bear fruit, very little in fact.

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At the age of 16, in 1990, she became the youngest woman to win Roland Garros. At 17, she was already number 1 in the world. By the time she was 19, she had already won 22 WTA titles and lifted eight Grand Slam trophies (three Australian Open titles, three Roland Garros titles and two US Open titles, plus a Wimbledon final). Absolute madness. To put it in perspective, when Serena Williams turned 19 in September 2000 she had only won one major title. Seles was destined to become the greatest Grand Sam winner and arguably the greatest tennis player in history.

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However, her wonderful projection as an athlete was cut short forever on Friday, April 30, 1993, a day that not only changed Monica’s life but also the history of women’s tennis. Seles was playing the Hamburg tournament, a few weeks before Roland Garros. She was beating Bulgaria’s Magdalena Maleeva 6-4, 4-3 in the quarterfinals. It seemed like just another quiet afternoon, but at 18:50, everything turned into a dramatic movie. While she was drinking water during the break and drying her sweat with a towel, she was stabbed in the right shoulder blade.

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Confused and overcome with terror, she stood up. She was immediately helped, but dropped the glass she was holding in her left hand and collapsed on the brick dust track. A few meters away, security officers were reducing the assailant, Günter Parche. The motive that led that deranged man to attack her was absurd: he wanted to get her out of the way so that his favorite player Steffi Graff could shine again.

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The wound was not life-threatening, but it destroyed her mentally. Seles suffered from anxiety attacks and depression, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and overweight. “That changed my career irreversibly and damaged my soul,” she acknowledged. She did not play again until 1995 and although she won another Grand Slam (in 1996) she was never the same.

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