“Yes!” A sharp scream, then Michael Stich throws his tennis racket in the air, kneels and throws his arms up in jubilation. On July 7, 1991, a hot afternoon with over 30 degrees, the Elmshorn won the final against Boris Becker on the strawy lawn of the Center Court in Wimbledon.
The only German men’s final of a Grand Slam tournament to date is considered to be the golden hour of tennis in this country – and is a sporting event that has burned itself into the collective memory. The now 52-year-old Stich has to grin when he sees the pictures from back then: “I had a terrible hairstyle. And the pants were really too short and too tight. But I still remember that Lady Di was at the final and was very much was happy for me. “
Stich is a blatant outsider, Becker a folk hero
In Germany, the sympathies were distributed differently: The nation gathered in front of the television sets did not keep their fingers crossed for outsiders, but rather audience favorite Boris Becker. The highly emotional and spirited redhead had long been a folk hero since he was the first German and youngest player to win the most important tennis tournament in the world in 1985.
In his “living room”, as he himself liked to call the Center Court on Church Road, he has risen to become a world star and caused a real tennis boom in Germany. The duel against compatriot Stich was his sixth Wimbledon final.
From Elmshorn to the tennis throne at Wimbledon
Opponent Michael Stich, not much younger than Becker, did not decide to become a professional tennis player until 1988. He had graduated from high school, was known to be eloquent, eloquent, but a bit too over-headed and hypothermic. Not an impulsive fighter like Boris. Stich definitely had other career options if his great career hadn’t worked out.
But it went uphill fast for the Schlaks: In 1990 he won his first ATP tournament in Memphis, in 1991 he reached the semi-finals at the French Open and was in the top ten in the world. In the tennis mecca in England he then defeated Stefan Edberg dramatically and sensationally in the semifinals. Becker already suspected what was in store for him: “You don’t just beat number one in the world in a Wimbledon semi-final.”
Becker curses: “I’m playing a shit together”
When Leimener lost his first service game in the final, Stich knew that he had a chance: “From then on my nervousness disappeared immediately.” While Becker quarreled and scolded himself like a pipe sparrow (“I’m playing a shit together”), the North German stayed cool, no matter what his counterpart did. Stich moved elegantly, returned like from a textbook and won after only two and a half hours in three sets with 6: 4, 7: 6, 6: 4. This earthquake in German and international tennis came as a surprise even for referee Bryson when he announced: “Game, Set, Match Becker” …
Because Steffi Graf had also won the women’s final against Gabriela Sabatini the day before, the German triumph at Wimbledon was perfect. But Stich, Germany’s Sportsman of the Year 1991, remained in the shadow of Becker from then on, the rather mediocre relationship between the three-time Wimbledon winner and Stich was exaggerated in the media to the major sporting rivalries of the 1990s. Even though the duo won Olympic gold in doubles as a joint venture in Barcelona in 1992 – the two never became friends. On the pitch, Becker won the eternal duel with 8: 4 victories, but the relationship between the different characters only relaxed after their sporting careers.
Despite the invitation: Stich is not in the final in 2021
In retrospect, Michael Stich, director of the tennis tournament at Hamburg’s Rothenbaum from 2009 to 2018 and a successful businessman, sees his Wimbledon victory as an absolute blessing: “I am very grateful that I was able to achieve this success and that I am part of tradition and history.” However, he turned down the invitation to travel to Wimbledon for this year’s men’s final on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his triumph: “My heart is bleeding, but I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks because of Corona.”