Class of 2018
World No.2 in singles (1993)
World No. 9 in doubles (1991)
Grand Slam Results
2-time major champion, 2-time finalist
Overall Record: 550-287
Singles Record: 385-176
Doubles Record: 165-111
Member of the German Davis Cup Team 1990-1996
Member of the Championship German Davis Cup Team 1993
Overall Record: 35-11
Singles Record: 21-9
Doubles Record: 14-2
1992 Gold Medalist in Men’s Doubles
Michael Stich: Speak Softly, Wield A Big Stick
July 7, 1991. Michael Stich had just won Wimbledon. That in itself was an amazing accomplishment. A year earlier, he’d been ranked 80th in the world. It had only been Stich’s second professional singles title. And by the way, how did you pronounce that name? Not “Stich” as in “rich,” but “Shteek” -- as in “peak.”
Even more incredible was how Stich had earned tennis’ most treasured trophy. Coming into that year’s Wimbledon fortnight, the sport’s two superpowers were defending champion Stefan Edberg and Stich’s fellow German, Boris Becker. Between them, they had won five of the last six Wimbledon singles titles, Edberg twice a champion, Becker three times. These two skilled attackers had also met in the last three Wimbledon finals, Edberg winning two, including a five-set thriller in 1990.
In the semis, Stich took on Edberg. This was gunslinger tennis at its finest, a battle between two adept net-rushers that persistently triggered a simple question: Who would blink first? In a match that featured only one service break, Stich was repeatedly one small step better than the cool Swede, winning a nail-biter, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, to earn a spot in the finals versus Becker.
As the entire world knew, Becker’s premise was that Wimbledon’s Centre Court was more than a tennis court, but his sacred domicile. Coming into the final, Stich had played on that hallowed spot just twice. Becker: 26 matches, his only losses on Centre Court a pair of finals versus an experienced and inspired Edberg. Surely Stich, in his first Grand Slam final, would feel the cumulative weight of taking on the king in his castle.
Not a chance.
In just over two hours, Stich had won tennis’ most prominent tournament, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4. Said Stich following the match, “I got the feeling I could touch every ball I wanted to.”
Of course, Stich’s entire life would change. Visibility. Opportunity. Fame. Fortune. Stich, too, wondered. “What is a star?” he asked that afternoon in London. “I hope I’m not going to be a different person to my friends and my family. I just hope I can stay and be like I am.” As the rest of his career demonstrated, the comments were quintessential Stich: accomplished and aware, low-key but emphatic.
All this from a 22-year-old who well into his teens regarded tennis as his second sport.
Born on October 18, 1968, Stich came of age in Elmshorn, a suburb of Hamburg. Though he’d first started tennis at age six, for much of Stich’s childhood, tennis took a back seat to soccer. Tennis was something he played for fun, but not always with a particularly high level of engagement or even good manners. As Stich said years later, “I behaved really bad, and so everybody said, ‘O.K., that guy’s never going to win anything.’”
In the summer of 1985, though, the 16-year-old Stich was quite impressed to see Becker, a mere 11 months his elder, capture the Wimbledon men’s singles title. Becker’s landmark first major victory cascaded in the form of an inspirational shockwave. A year later, Stich had cast soccer aside and ascended the tennis rankings to become become Germany’s best junior.
Stich turned pro in 1988 and began to inch his way up the ranks. Who knew how far he could go? One major believer was Nikki Pilic, a former top ten pro who was also the German Davis Cup captain. As Pilic noted in 1991, “I said when Michael was 400 in the rankings that he had the potential to be in the top 50 . . . He is intelligent. He has great talent, good hands, good eye, great touch. Though he is big, he is not slow.”
Full Range of Skills
All of those skills caught the world’s attention when Stich won Wimbledon. He was very much the personification of the complete, all-court player. A long and lean 6’ 4”, Stich struck the ball forcefully off both sides with liquid-smooth efficiency, his forehand and backhand at once compact and crisp. The same held true at net, where Stich’s imposing presence smothered many an opponent. And then, most elegant of all, the Stich serve, a delivery as fluid and elegant as such greats as Pancho Gonzales, Pete Sampras and, most recently, Roger Federer.
It should be noted that Stich competed against an exceptionally wide range of playing styles. There were power servers -- Sampras, Becker, Richard Krajicek, and Goran Ivanisevic. There were nimble netrushers – Edberg, Tim Henman, John McEnroe, and Patrick Rafter. There were forceful baseliners – Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, and Thomas Muster.
Against all of them, Stich didn’t merely counter. He commanded, often at many a high-stakes occasion. Most notable, of course, was the ’91 Wimbledon title run. Three years later, on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows, Stich reached the finals of the US Open, only at the end losing to a sizzling Agassi. In ’96, on the clay of Roland Garros, Stich took out the holder, the gritty Muster, and once again made it to the last day before being beaten by another in-form baseliner, Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Big Wins on Big Occasions
At the ’92 Grand Slam Cup, a significant season-ending event, Stich empathically showed off his stylistic versatility, beating Edberg, Krajicek, Sampras, and Chang to win the title. A year later, he won the ATP World Championships, his five match wins including victories over future Hall of Famers Chang, Courier, and Sampras – the latter by the roller-coaster score of 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-2. All told, Stich reached 31 ATP World Tour singles finals, taking 18 titles. In 1993, he attained a career high singles ranking of number two in the world.
There also came remarkable team efforts. Imagine what kind of physical and mental skill it must take to win doubles titles in the same summer on two different surfaces with such distinct partners as John McEnroe and Boris Becker. But that’s what Stich did in 1992. First, a Wimbledon run with McEnroe, capped off by a final that was played over two days and lasted a minute past five hours, Stich-McEnroe fighting off two match points to beat the American duo of Richey Reneberg-Jim Grabb by the amazing score of 19-17 in the fifth. Less than a month later, this time on the red clay of the ’92 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Stich paired with Becker to win the gold medal – a run that included a win over the accomplished native sons on their home soil, Emilio Sanchez and Sergio Casal. The next year, in the Davis Cup finals, contested on clay in Dusseldorf, Germany versus Australia, Stich scored all three points, including the clincher.
In May ’97, plagued by a shoulder injury, the 28-year-old Stich announced he would soon be retiring. But that didn’t stop him from making yet another major run, this time at the scene of his greatest triumph. At Wimbledon, ranked 88th in the world, Stich won five matches, including a sharp straight set win over Henman in the quarterfinals that would prove his last ATP World Tour singles match victory.
Making A Difference Off the Court
Enjoying time away from tennis, Stich came back to the sport in 2009 as tournament director of the ATP World Tour event in Hamburg, a position Stich will retire from at the end of 2018.
Always aware of a bigger picture beyond the lines, Stich in 1994 created the Michael Stich Foundation, focused on charity programs aimed at HIV and AIDS awareness, as well as children in need. Through Stich’s efforts, over 50,000 children have been reached in more than 110 schools, an effort which earned him the Federal Cross of Merit.
It had been a remarkable and unique career – a versatile champion who played among the best over seven brilliant years and then quietly retreated to where it had all started. Such was the tennis journey of Michael Stich.
- Written by ITHF Historian-At-Large Joel Drucker
Photo: Michael Baz
Australian Open: SF 1993
French Open: F 1996
Wimbledon: W 1991
US Open: F 1994
Australian Open: QF 1991
Wimbledon: W 1992
US Open: SF 1992