Michael Stich

Born: October 18, 1968 in Pinneberg (Schleswig-Holstein)
Height: 1.93 m
Plays: Right-handed
The second-best German player of the Open Era, following Boris Becker, yet his initial years on the tour didn’t hint at this status. The ’80s and ’90s marked the period when many top players established themselves successfully from their teenage years, but Stich was an exception. Amid West Germany’s triumphs in the 1988-89 Davis Cup, which saw the emergence of Becker and Carl-Uwe Steeb (both from Baden-Württemberg, a southern region of Germany and both a year older than Stich), the man from northern Germany, didn’t feature in any rubber across eight ties. Instead, Eric Jelen and Patrik Kühnen were considered doubles specialists who might replace the leading singles players. It seemed improbable that the fifth-best German player of that era would lead Germany to its third Davis Cup (first since the reunification) title in 1993!
Stich made his mark on the tour in February ’90, triumphing in Memphis as world number 80. Although he won six matches, he didn’t defeat any particularly notable opponents; the highest-ranked player he overcame was Andrey Chesnokov [19], who wasn’t known for indoor play. “It’s a great feeling,” said Stich about securing his first title. “I don’t really know what happened out there. But I’m sure I’ll recognise what happened some days from now. There aren’t that many German players who have won Grand Prix titles. Maybe I’ll get some recognition,” he remarked. And recognition he received! A few weeks later, Niki Pilić nominated him for a Davis Cup tie in Argentina; however, Stich lost in five sets to Martín Jaite. Their second-round encounter at Roland Garros two months later, extended to 4 hours and 46 minutes, making it one of the longest matches of the year. Despite Stich’s impressive improvement in the following years, his loss to Jaite highlighted the weakest aspect of his tennis – the inability to play at his best when a match surpassed the three-hour mark; it was the most emphasized as Stich lost a Davis Cup ’95 rubber to Chesnokov squandering nine match points on serve (!) in one game – an unprecedented moment in the Open Era. In 1990, during the US Open, the German for the first demonstrated his big potential by pushing Ivan Lendl to a hard-fought four-set victory. Lendl acknowledged Stich’s pressure, stating: “He pushes and pushes, and then he sneaks in on an unusual shot. He puts a lot of pressure on you that way.” The next year they played a five-setter on the same court.
The classical serve-and-volleyer was evolving, becoming more patient and enhancing his ground-strokes. The breakthrough came in January ’91 – Stich reached two Australian finals (Adelaide, Sydney) and progressed to the third round at the Australian Open, where he faced the best server of the time, Guy Forget, losing in a tight four-set match.
Maintaining his form after the Australian events, a series of notable results, including unexpected clay-court semifinals (Hamburg, French Open), led him to the tournament of his life – Wimbledon. In a miraculous fourth-round match against Alexander Volkov, Stich turned the tables after trailing *1:3 (30/40) in the deciding set. His incredible recovery against Volkov relieved him of any pressure in subsequent matches. Stich’s relaxed demeanor contributed to his victories against three top players – Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg, and Becker in the final – not based on rankings. Particularly notable was the match against Edberg; never before had a player in a ‘best of 5’ format failed to break an opponent’s serve prevailing anyway. This novelty in the ’90s brought attention, along with another significant match versus Richard Krajicek at the Aussie Open ’92 – a tight five-setter with only three breaks of serve, a rare occurrence at the time. Stich epitomized the all-serve player, someone primarily focused on maintaining the serve. The inability to break the opponent’s serve wasn’t a concern due to the tie-break rule at 6-all.
Stich was part of a league of players in the early ’90s, including Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanišević, and Krajicek, renowned for their ability to sustain their serves on faster surfaces. He triumphed over them in gripping serve-and-volley clashes during the 1993 indoor finals (Stuttgart, Stockholm, and Frankfurt), marking a unique feat in the Open Era by winning at least 30 tie-breaks within a season. He engaged in compelling matches against other formidable servers of the time – notably against Forget at the Hopman Cup, where he hit 31 aces in a three-set match, an unprecedented occurrence at that time. Additionally, his encounters with David Wheaton in Munich ’91, and Becker at Wimbledon ’93 added to the list of his remarkable matches displaying his mindset.
The year 1993 stood out for Stich; not only was he playing exceptionally well across tournaments, but he also found himself in unprecedentedly intense situations. He played a record number of matches for his country, participating in 15 singles matches: three at the Hopman Cup (title), four at the World Team Cup (runner-up), and eight at the Davis Cup (title). He bid farewell in style, reaching the Wimbledon ’97 semifinal at just 28 years old. However, a severe injury sustained in Vienna ’95 resulted in permanent ankle issues for the next two seasons. Despite this setback, his exceptional talent shone through even on clay, eliminating Thomas Muster, the primary favorite for the title, at the French Open ’96.
Career record: 385–176 [ 179 events ]
Career titles: 18
Highest ranking: No. 2
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 1993; quarterfinal 1992)
Roland Garros (runner-up 1996; semifinal 1991)
Wimbledon (champion 1991; semifinal 1997; quarterfinal 1992-93)
US Open (runner-up 1994; quarterfinal 1991)
Masters champion 1993
Grand Slam Cup champion 1992
Davis Cup champion 1993
World Team Cup champion 1994
Hopman Cup champion 1993
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