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Monica Seles

In 1992, she won the French, Australian, and U.S. Opens. In 1993, she suffered a defeating blow at the hands of a crazed tennis fan. In 1999, she’s smarter, wiser, and back in the game.

Sometimes the decision to boomerang is not a decision at all. Sometimes it’s a calling — an indisputable compulsion to reclaim what was once abandoned, lost, or stolen.

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For Monica Seles, that golden ring was nothing less than total mastery and domination of her sport – a lifelong goal that was stolen from her on April 30, 1993. It was then, at a tournament in Hambourg, Germany, that a spectator named Gunther Parche stormed the courts and stabbed Seles in the back. With that violent act, Parche temporarily halted Seles’s tennis career and forever altered her approach to and impression of the game.

The physical wounds healed quickly, but Seles did not immediately recover. Quietly, slowly, and painfully, the 20-year-old world champion decided not to return to tennis. However temporary or unwelcome it was, Seles’s retirement signified an abrupt change of direction for the young athlete, who had claimed three consecutive Grand Slam titles at the French Open in 1990, 1991 and 1992; three victories at the Australian Open in 1991, 1992 and 1993; and two victories at the U.S. Open in 1991 and 1992.

While on sabbatical from tennis, Seles’s Number One ranking was revoked by the World Tennis Association. She told the press she couldn’t even practice hitting tennis balls without suffering flashbacks and mental anguish. And then, on Oct. 13, 1993, her attacker Parche was cleared of attempted murder charges. The ten o’clock news flashed photos of a tear-streaked Seles at the courthouse, and her return to the sport appeared less likely than ever.

Several months later, the former child prodigy was dropped from the WTA rankings because she failed to play the required number of tournaments in a twelve-month time period. Meanwhile, Seles was undergoing psychiatric counseling and learning to love tennis once again. The day in 1995 when she turned up in the spectator section at the French Open was another turning point. It was then that Seles announced she would boomerang after all.

On July 29, 1995, more than two years after the attempt on her life, Seles returned to tennis with an exhibition match against Martina Navratilova in Atlantic City. Her return was not wholly triumphant, but it was a step forward. And Seles continued to progress in the right direction: She won the Canadian Open and qualified for the U.S. Open finals.

But she had one more hurdle to surmount. On May 14, Seles lost her father — her only coach and her biggest supporter — to cancer. Her fans feared the worst — that Seles would buckle under the weight of such heartache and hardship by leaving tennis forever. Their fears were forever quieted when Seles, wearing her father’s gold ring on a chain around her neck, defeated top-seeded Martina Hingis to reach the French Open finals for the first time since 1992.

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Finally, it seemed, the boomerang had come full circle and the healing had begun.

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