Former tennis star Michael Stich can look back on an impressive career. Not only known as the only German professional tennis player who has won each German tournament at least once, his portfolio comprises of athletic highlights such as winning the men’s singles title in Wimbledon in 1991. Today, he is choosing a quieter life far off from the spotlight.
Eighteen ATP singles- and nine ATP doubles titles, Olympic doubles champion in 1992, winner of the prestigious Davis Cup in 1993 and of the World Team Cup in 1994 – the list of Michael Stich’s sporting highlights is long. During his sporting career from 1987 until 1997, he has become one of the big names of tennis, but that doesn’t mean that he has his head in the clouds. When we meet him in Hamburg, he comes across as a guy with a down-to-earth attitude who is very thankful for what he has achieved. “I’m really happy that I did things the way that I did them and am entirely content with my path of life,” he smiles. What many don’t know is that Michael Stich never wanted to become a professional tennis player as a child. “I have always loved sports and tennis but never with the goal of making it my job. It was more a product of chance.” What started off as a hobby, soon became a much bigger thing.
When he became youth champion in his last year of the youth league, two coaches approached him to suggest giving it a try to play professionally. With the support of Nikola ‘Niki’ Pilic, a retired Croatian professional and former mentor of Novak Djokovic, Stich’s journey started to take its course in the direction of international success.
The Wimbledon feeling
As a member of Wimbledon, Michael Stich still visits the tournament annually. While Wimbledon has substantially changed since 1991, the tradition and history has remained the same. “The old Court 1 where I won the doubles with John McEnroe in 1992 or the old changing rooms don’t exist anymore but I still love visiting Wimbledon because of the tradition. Thankfully, that special Wimbledon feeling hasn’t changed.” He tells us that other personal career highlights include the ATP World Championship in Frankfurt or winning the Olympic gold medal alongside Boris Becker. “But the most important emotional victory was the one here in Hamburg at Rothenbaum,” Michael explains. That’s why he kept loyal to the International German Open Tennis Championships. Promoting the event and acting as tournament director since 2009, Michael associates almost 40 years of his life with this event. “I’ve visited it when I was a child, have seen big players from the audience and have myself played there. The emotional bond is the main reason why I’m still part of it.”
Even though it might seem it, tennis doesn’t actually fill that big of a part in Michael’s life anymore. Playing himself very occasionally, he now has other priorities. “I know that many want to see me as a tennis coach and this would appeal to me as regards content. The time requirements, on the other hand,wouldn’t at all. I’ve travelled enough during my career and today, I simply enjoy being home.” Home is Hamburg for him and his wife with which he celebrated his tenth wedding anniversary this summer. Michael is a true North German who was born in Pinneberg, now lives in Hamburg and likes to visit the island of Sylt. “I love the ocean, the people’s mentality and the climate. I have lived in the mountains in Salzburg and yes, the mountains are nice but nothing can replace the North Sea. I simply belong here.”
Today, he spends his time focusing on charity projects such as the Michael Stich Foundation, which he established in 1994. Raising awareness about HIV and aids, the project seeks to fulfill childrens’ everyday life wishes, such as a CD player or a school bag. Conducting prevention work with schools in Hamburg, the foundation sends doctors to schools to talk about HIV and aids. Through this, over 50,000 children were reached in more than 110 schools. “We constantly seek to expand the project and reach more and more schools across Germany. The illness still doesn’t have much significance in our society and children, as well as adults, still get excluded. They still suffer from a deadly disease even though medicine has developed significantly. I want to help these children and make them smile again.”
Michael further supports projects for children and teenagers in need, such as TRIBUTE TO BAMBI where he acts as a council member. “It’s important to me that we are aware of our responsibility. I’m so lucky that I can freely divide my time and choose projects myself. I want to give something back to society.” No wonder the list of Michael’s honours is long and includes the Federal Cross of Merit or the 2015 Courage Award. We want to know what we can expect of Michael Stich in the future. He laughs: “One shouldn’t expect too much from me as I’m usually a bit below the radar.” Whatsoever, what he wants to do is to work on new projects and events with his foundation. “I want to give full meaning to the projects that I’m doing at the moment. There surely will be future projects which I will want to do but I like to live in the here and now. This is exciting and challenging enough, right?” One personal goal of his, however, is to take a ship to the North Pole to gaze at the polar sea, the northern lights and the impressive nature. “I don’t regret a thing. Maybe I could have won more Grand Slam tournaments or put even more stress on tennis, but in the end I am the person that I am today because I have lived my life the way I did.”
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF I PHOTOS: CAROLIN THIERSCH, JANN HUSTEDT