Tennis champion Monica Seles was stabbed in the back by a spectator Friday during a match in Germany, but the 19-year-old star miraculously escaped serious injury, authorities said.
The No. 1 women's player was stabbed while she was resting between games during a quarterfinal match in the Citizen Cup tournament in Hamburg. A burly man leaned over the spectators' railing and plunged a 10-inch boning knife between her shoulder blades, police said.
Television footage showed a screaming Seles staggering onto the court, clutching her blood-soaked blouse before collapsing into the arms of tournament officials who rushed to her aid.
The assailant was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards and taken to police headquarters, where spokesman Dankmar Lundt said the man was being interrogated. His identity was not immediately made public.
Lundt later told a German television station that the attacker is German, the Associated Press reported.
"He said he was a Steffi Graf fan," Lundt said. Graf is second to Seles in world rankings.
"He didn't want to kill Seles, only injure her to hinder her from playing," Lundt added.
Lundt said the man appeared "confused" and may be mentally disturbed, the AP reported, and witnesses said he had been drinking.
Lundt said in an earlier telephone interview that the attacker gave his age as 38 and said he was from the formerly Communist eastern part of the country. He told police that his identity papers were in a locker at the railway station.
"There were no threats against Ms. Seles beforehand," Lundt said, nor was there any report from witnesses that the assailant said anything to the teen-ager before stabbing her at 6:50 p.m. (9:50 a.m. PDT).
Seles, an ethnic Hungarian born in Serbia, has received death threats in the past related to ethnic warfare now raging in what used to be Yugoslavia, AP reported, quoting Ana Leaird, director of public relations for the Women's Tennis Assn. in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Hamburg tournament physician, Peter Wind, said at a news conference that Seles "had a lot of luck" and that the knife, which penetrated one-half to three-quarters of an inch into her back, barely missed her spinal cord.
No vital organs were damaged, Wind said, but Seles was being kept overnight at the University Clinic in Eppendorf for observation and treatment of shock. Her parents were with her.
Wind said the wound would heal within two weeks, barring complications, and that Seles would probably be sidelined for up to three months while injured muscles heal, meaning she may not be able to defend her title in the French Open starting May 24.
The German sports news agency SID reported from the Hamburg-area hospital that doctors had said Seles "is not in pain and can speak."
Reuters, the British news agency, quoted spectator Peter Schulze, who was standing a few yards from where Seles was sitting at side court, as saying: "He held the knife with both hands as he stabbed her in the back. There was a thud as he stabbed her."
During the Wimbledon tournament last July, British police reported a bomb threat against an unnamed tennis player, and British newspapers identified Seles as the target. Seles later revealed that she had received death threats in the mail while in London.
Seles, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., was the top seed in the $375,000 Hamburg tournament, her first in nine weeks. She blamed a lingering illness for her absence from the women's tour.
She was leading Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 4-3, when the attack occurred.
Tournament organizers said the semifinals would proceed as scheduled today.
Seles' family emigrated to Sarasota when she was 13. Her cartoonist father, Karolj, taught her tennis by drawing Tom and Jerry on tennis balls.
Seles worked with Coach Nick Bollettieri at his tennis academy in Sarasota and burst into prominence on the pro scene when, as an unheralded 15-year-old, she defeated fourth-ranked Chris Evert in a clay-court event at Houston in 1989, only weeks after turning pro.
She reached the semifinals of the 1989 French Open, the first Grand Slam event in which she ever played. The Wimbledon tournament and the Australian, French and U.S. opens make up tennis' Grand Slam. In 1990, Seles defeated No. 1-ranked Steffi Graf for the French Open title and quickly established a pattern of domination on the women's tour.
In 1991 and 1992, Seles played seven Grand Slam events and won six of them, the only blemish on her record a defeat by Graf in the 1992 final at Wimbledon.
Seles began this year, her third as the top-ranked woman, by winning the Australian Open--it was her eighth Grand Slam title--for the third consecutive year.
Seles won her first 15 matches of the year, then lost to Martina Navratilova in the final of the Paris Indoor on Feb. 21 and did not play again until this week.
Times staff writer Thomas Bonk contributed to this story from Los Angeles.
TENNIS REACTION: Incident expected to affect players' accessibility. C1
The Tennis Court Attack
Tennis champion Monica Seles was stabbed during a match in Hamburg, Germany. Here, according to witnesses, is the sequence of events:
1. SELES TAKES BREAK: She is sitting down, facing the court between games
2. ATTACKER STRIKES: Seles is knifed in the back by a man in first row
3. SELES JUMPS TO FEET: She screams, walks onto the court, then collapses
4. SUSPECT SUBDUED: Security officials pin alleged attacker to the ground
5. SELES TREATED: Medics remove the tennis star by gurney
THE INJURY: Knife wound in the upper back, near the neck
THE WEAPON: A 10-inch boning knife