Berlin Wall

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Read Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Manuela Maleeva reactions at that time.

By Michael Janofsky “New York Times” November 14, 1989

For three days last week, Steffi Graf tried to telephone a friend in West Berlin, only to be greeted by his answering machine and its ebullient message.

“Sorry, I’m not here,” she recalled his voice saying. “I’m out partying and won’t be home for a while.”

Graf laughed in the retelling and sounded almost jealous, as if there could be better places to be this week and more important things to do than playing for the Virginia Slims championship at Madison Square Garden. Partying with her friend at the Berlin Wall, for example.

“For everyone, I think it’s something to do,” she said almost wistfully. “I would love to have done it, just to be a part of the moment.”

Like millions of other people around the world, Graf has watched the recent changes in East Germany with joyous and stunned amazement. The best player in women’s tennis and the No. 1 seeded player in the Slims Championships, she has found the scenes of East Berliners exploring West Berlin that much more poignant because of her connection to fans in both republics.

More than a third of the mail to her home in Bruehl, West Germany, she said, is from East Germans. Once in a while the message inside has been more pointed, reflecting the harsher realities of life where many restrictions apply.

One letter, she remembered, came from a teen-age player who wanted badly to compete in West Germany.

“She asked me if I could help her in any way,” Graf said. “She also said that once in her life, she would like to be able to see me play somewhere.”

East Germany’s absence from international tennis may account, to some degree, for Graf’s wide popularity there. Unlike the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries that routinely produce world-class players, East Germany has chosen not to compete at an elite level. None of the major professional tours this year included an East German player. Nor did one compete in the Seoul Olympics last year, when tennis returned as a medal sport for the first time in 64 years.

Graf recalled one player, an Eastern European champion of another generation, who retired in frustration, never having tested his skills against players of non-Warsaw pact nations.

“Playing 20 years in the same country,” Graf said, “he had no more motivation.”

Martina Navratilova, a native of Czechoslovakia who became an American citizen in 1981 after defecting, remebered that player, Thomas Emmrich, even better.

“He was my boyfriend in 1971 or ’72,” she said. “He beat all the junior players in Czechoslovakia. He beat people who beat Bjorn Borg at that age. But he never had a chance to play on the outside. They were not allowed, period.”

Navratilova, who is seeded second this week, said she expected that to change, and not just because of the sudden political developmentsin East Germany. She predicted that because tennis has won a permanent place on the Olympic program, East Germans sports officials would begin to emphasize it and develop top players as they have in other sports.

“It’s that simple,” she said. “I think the world will now see a wave of East German tennis players.”

Navratilova described herself as “euphoric” over recent events in Eastern Europe, saying, “the winds of change are here.” They have blown less vigorously in other Eastern European countries but still with enough power to create hope.

Manuela Maleeva, a 21-year-old Bulgarian who is seeded eighth in the championships, said that the developments in East Germany were only slightly more exhilarating than changes in her own country, where Todor I. Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s president since 1954, resigned on Friday.

“That was unexpected,” Maleeva said, adding that she could not be sure how it would affect Bulgarian citizens.

“I think it will take quite a few years until things really start to change,” she said. “But I’m happy something is moving. When the same person is in power for 35 years, it felt like things would stay the same forever.”

Like Graf and Navratilova, she has watched in amazement as East and West Berliners celebrated at the Wall.

“They were all so happy,” she said. “it was unthinkable even a month ago that someone could walk on the Berlin Wall, and now they’re destroying it. It’s really something.”

Boris Becker

Boris Becker, looking bored during Djokovic second round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber:

Boris Becker

Becker won the Bercy tournament three times in 1986, 1989 and 1992. He was also finalist in 1990 and 1995.

Former world number one Amélie Mauresmo, now Andy Murray’s coach:

Amélie Mauresmo

Amélie Mauresmo

Amélie Mauresmo

Michael Chang watching Kei Nishikori’s second round win over Tommy Robredo, with his wife and eldest daughter. Roland Garros champion in 1989, he reached the semifinals at Bercy 3 times (1991, 1994, 1999).

Michael Chang

Wawrinka’s coach, Magnus Norman. He never got past the second round as a player, but he was Robin Soderling’s coach when he won the title back in 2010.

Magnus Norman

Magnus Norman

Sébastien Grosjean, during Richard Gasquet’s victory over Denis Istomin. He captured the biggest title of his career here in 2001. Only two other French players won the Bercy title: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008, and Guy Forget in 1991.

Sébastien Grosjean

Nicolas Escudé, coach of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He won the doubles title with Fabrice Santoro in 2002.

Nicolas Escudé

Tennis greatest entertainer Mansour Bahrami. I had the pleasure to see him once again at the Optima Open last August.

Mansour Bahrami

Arnaud Di Pasquale:

Arnaud Di Pasquale

Also seen (but no pics, sorry): Davis Cup captain Arnaud Clément, Bercy tournament director Guy Forget, and former Bercy tournament director Cédric Pioline.

Sadly, my all-time favorite player Stefan Edberg was not in Paris with the Federer team, but at least I managed to see Marat Safin:

POPB

Enjoy our Bercy 2014 coverage on Tennis Buzz.

Chris Evert

By Neil Amdur, World Tennis, December 1989

By remaining true to herself, Jimmy Evert’s little girl gave new meaning to the word champion

For two decades she was Our Girl, Chrissie, Chris America, The Girl Next Door. She amazed us with her carriage, consistency and cool. And as she matured before our eyes, from a relatively shy 16-year-old Cinderella to the princess of women’s tennis, Chris Evert‘s style became the standard for others to emulate.

Great champions are measured not only by their titles but by their impact: Did their presence influence and enrich the sport? Arnold Palmer popularized golf for millions. Muhammad Ali designed new dimensions for the dweet science. Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers stretched marathons from agony to ecstasy.

Few people have been scrutinized more on and off the field than Evert. Sure, she won Wimbledon? And Forest Hills, Flushing Meadows and Paris. But in 1974, it was “The Love Double” – Chrissie and Jimmy. Then came Burt and his “Babe”, a frolic in the Ford White House, a fairy-tale wedding with a British Knight, separation, divorce, and a mile-high romance with current husband, Andy Mill. And each time Evert added tournament titles and fresh story lines, her faithful wondered whether she was truly happy – or little girl blue.

It may have been destiny that brought Evert to tennis in 1971. It was the perfect time. Even with the most successful sports marketing program in history, women’s tennis would not have gained the same overwhelming acceptance without her. If Billie Jean King was the pathfinder, blazing the trail for equality, Evert’s longetivity and feminine image shaped the tour’s identity. She was the surrogate daughter for many newly liberated women and gave curious, tennis-playing males a reason to speculate about “what Chrissie is really like.”

Mary Ann Eisel, the victim of Evert’s amazing comeback from six match points at the 1971 US Open, can still recall that historic occasion.

“If it hadn’t been me,” Eisel said recently, referring to the match that launched 1,000 wins, “it would have been someone else. Chrissie was so mentally tough.”

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Michael Westphal

There are moments which make you famous and immortal overnight.
In the match of his life against Tomas Smid, Michael Westphal played himself into the hearts of a whole nation in 5 hours and 29 minutes.

Becker triggered off the tennisboom

It was Friday, October 4th, 1985 in the Festhalle in Frankfurt. Whole Germany was having tennisfever. The German team was playing in the semifinal of the Davis Cup against the CSSR.
A few months before a 17 years old redhead named Boris Becker from Leimen had won the most famous tennis tournament in the world in Wimbledon and triggered off a boom of the previously seen as dusted and snobby “white sport” in Germany.

In the wake of Boris Becker other hopeful talents grow up to excellent players. This applied to Michael Westphal, who wanted to go alongside Boris Becker with the German Davis Cup team for the second time since 1970 into the final. In the Festhalle of Frankfurt there was laid a fast carpet especially for Boris Becker to help to implement this project. Boris Becker didn’t have much problems with Miloslav Mecir in the first single and put the German team into a 1:0 lead.

The Davis Cup has his own laws

Afterwards Michael Westphal and Tomas Smid entered the Festhalle for the second single. The 20 years old Westphal was the clear outsider against the routinier Smid, who was supposed to appreciate the fast carpet more than the curly head from Hamburg. The Czechoslovak, who would work later on as a coach for Boris Becker, was an established Top 20 player and the #1 of the doubles ranking in that year. But that the Davis Cup has his own laws proved to be true in this memorable match.

At first everything seemed to go perfectly for Smid, who won the first set with 8-6. Back then there was no Tiebreak in the Davis Cup, which was established 4 years later in 1989. So each set went to the full distance. This fact should give the match the special flair. After Smid had won the 2nd set without any problems 6-1 and was up a break in the 3rd not many people in the audience and in front of the TVs believed in Michael Westphal. But the curly head fought back into the match and was to serve at 5-5 in the 3rd set.

Carpet rest in the Festhalle of Frankfurt

What happened then probably nobody has seen before in a tennis match. What happened? Westphal served, went to the net, made a lunge with his right feet in order to volley, slipped and pulled out a whole width of the green carpet. But he hold the balance, played the point at the net and even won it. He could be glad that nothing bad happened to him and that he came through this unscathed.

The match was stopped and the carpet new sticked. This unexpected break meant the turning point of the match. The last rally got repeated, but from this on Westphal could cope better and better with Smid, who didn’t benefitted from the carpet rest. Westphal won the 3rd set 7-5 and at the latest then mesmerised the whole audience and half of the nation in front of the TV with his fighting spirit. At 4-4 in the 4th set the mishap with the carpet happened again. On the way to the net Westphal catched his foot in the carpet and pullet it oud. The match was stopped once again in order to refit the carpet.

Game, set and match Westphal 6-8 1-6 7-5 11-9 17-15

The match got more intensive minute by minute. Michael Westphal fought till he drops, won the 4th set 11-9 and forced Smid into a deciding 5th set. The audience celebrated each point of the German as it would already be the matchpoint. The 5th set was on a knife-edge and became longer and longer. The audience in the Festhalle meanwhile had lost track of time and the millions of people in front of the TV were in anticipation of the sensation from the German player.

And so it happened. Supported by the audience Michael Westphal wrestled Tomas Smid down shortly before midnight in an epic long 5th set with 17-15 and put the German team into a 2:0 lead.
Germany had a new tennis hero! With 85 games it is until today the single with the most games ever played in the history of Davis Cup world group.
In the end of the semifinal it was a 5-0 win for the German team and the second time the Germans reached the final of the Davis Cup.
Michael Westphal was luckless in the final against Sweden and lost both of his singles. Germany lost 2:3 and had to wait for the first win of the “ugliest salad bowl of the world”.

HIV virus slumbered in the body of Westphal

As heroic the performance of Michael Westphal had been against Tomas Smid, as tragic his further life went on. Barely one knew that the HIV virus slumbered in his body. When he was 16 years old he should have contracted himself with the immune disorder from a drug-addicted female classmate. His tennis career was over sooner as it had begun. His highest ranking was #49 in March 1986.

From then on it went steadily downhill in the ranking. People accused the bon vivant from Hamburg to have a lacking opinion of his job as he seemed to enjoy his private life more than his job. “I need to have fun at tennis”, Westphal defended himself towards his critics.
In 1989 the immune disorder broke out, which had a debilitating effect on him and made many comeback attempts impossible. He suffered from loss of hair, skin allergies and had to take heavy meds. The huge support in his life was his girlfriend Jessica Stockmann who later married his friend Michael Stich and accompanied him in his most difficult and last hours.

Death at the young age of 26

In the night to June 20th, 1991 Michael Westphal died in the university hospital of Hamburg at only 26 years old. Only 10 years later Jessica Stockmann revealed his HIV infection. “I promised him to be silent for 10 years and to fight against AIDS”, she said, who established after the death of Michael Westphal together with Michael Stich the Michael Stich charity, in order to campaign for children with the HIV virus and draw attention to the fate of Michael Westphal.

What will be remembered of Michael Westphal? A role model, whose fighting spirit lives on in the bestowal of the Michael Westphal Award to people who render outstanding services to tennis and the fact, that players without a tournament victory and a high ranking can be immortal in the Davis Cup.

Article by Christian Albert Barschel for sportal.de, translated by Eden.

Vitas Gerulaitis

Excerpt of Jimmy Connors‘ autobiography The Outsider:

A friend remembered

Vitas Gerulaitis was 17 and I was 19 when we first met, after he met the Riordan circuit.
We hung out a lot together through the 70s and 80s. When I won the US Open in 1978, I went out for a celebration dinner at Maxwell’s Plum in Manhattan. Vitas drove up and parked right in front of the restaurant, and let me tell you, he was hard to miss: Vitas was the only guy around tennis – or around most places – who drove a yellow Rolls Royce. He got out of the car with two cute young girls who couldn’t have been a day over 18, waltzed in, and sat down to congratulate me. He was the only one who did that. He was all class.

What the public saw was the real Vitas: the dazzling smile, the free-spirited guitar-playing rocker, the over-the-top playboy lifestyle. Yet he was also one of the most decent guys I’ve ever known, and everyone liked him.
Although he had his own crowd that included Borg and Mac, Vitas and I were close, and it was a no-bullshit friendship. It was an open secret that Vitas had a big problem with cocaine, and it led to his retirement from the game at the end of 1985.
Without the discipline of tennis to hold him in check, Vitas’ habit intensified dramatically. It’s the reason I asked him in 1989 to travel with me to Europe for five months. I might not have been his closest buddy, but you don’t abandon people when the going gets tough. As much as I hated drugs, we were buddies throughout the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.

My friend Vitas was only 40 years old when he died. He was very close to his mom and his sister, he was a good son and brother and always looked after his family. Patti and I went to his funeral, at St Dominic, in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and joined 500 other people – including Mac, Borg, Billie Jean King, Tony Trabert, Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, Fred Stolle, and Mary Carillo – to mourn our friend. Out if respect for Vitas, the governor closed the Long Island Expressway when they took his casket from the church to the cemetery.

Vitas brought a lot to tennis – not just his athletic style of play but also his rock-star sex appeal, which added a new dimension to the tour. He was a wild and flamboyant but also a great champion, winning the Australian Open in 1977 and reaching the finals of the French Open and the US Open. He was a Davis Cup participant and winner of 25 Grand Prix tournaments.
Is any of that recognized by the tennis establishment? No. Vitas had a Hall of Fame career, but apparently he didn’t have a Hall of Virtue career, but who does? It shouldn’t be the case but his outstanding record and major contribution to the sport have, sadly, been overshadowed by his issues off the court.
I miss him.”