Davis Cup 1985: Sweden defeat West Germany

For the first time since Fred Perry led Britain to four successive victories in the 1930’s, a European nation retained the Davis Cup when Sweden defeated West Germany 3-2 at the Olympiahalle in Munich. The year was immensely satisfying because it saw the consolidation of the finest and most powerful all-round Davis Cup team since Neale Fraser was able to call upon the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe in the early 1970’s. Hans Olsson‘s men are a true credit to tennis, not merely for their abundant and varied skills but for the refreshing spirit of camaraderie and sportsmanship that they bring to a game badly in need of it. In marked contrast to Gothenburg 12 months before, when the referee, Alan Mills, had to consider defaulting Jimmy Connors, Patrick Flodrops, the French referee in Munich, found himself pleasantly under-employed. Olsson was not so very far from the mark when, in reply to a flippant question about the need for code of conduct agreements, he replied “My boys are so good they don’t even need umpires”.

For Boris Becker, too [the Davis Cup in 1985] had become a whirl of triumph which remained quite untarnished by West Germany’s defeat in Munich. He could, it is true, have done better in the doubles but his performance in both singles, first in beating Stefan Edberg on the Friday, and then in keeping the tie alive for the Germans by outplaying as solid a competitor as Mats Wilander on the Sunday, were performances that required an extraordinary level of determination and self-belief. But not even Becker could beat the Swedes on his own. Proving their amazing versatility and depth of talent, Olsson’s team were able to shrug off the loss through illness of Anders Jarryd, their no. 2 singles player and doubles expert, and still win on a German-made carpet that was really too fast for good quality tennis. It was a tribute to the skills of all the players that we saw anything other than one-shot rallies.

Olsson’s remark after beating Australia in Malmo –

“Germany can choose whatever court they want; I have the players for it”

– was not the statement of an over-confident captain. It was merely the truth. With Wilander beating Westphal in the first rubber despite the young German’s 19 aces; Wilander and the brilliant Joakim Nystrom taking advantage of Maurer‘s service weakness to win the doubles; and Edberg overcoming his nerves (and another 22 aces from Westphal) to prove that he now has the character to match his talent, Sweden’s right to retain the Cup was never questioned either by impartial observers or even by the Bavarian crowd who devised a new form of noisy support for their players by clapping rhythmically between every point. The best team won, and, to their credit, the Germans were the first to recognise it. Now they have beaten such stalwart opposition on an alien court, with a new no.2 singles player and a reserve doubles team, it is difficult to see how anyone is going to take the Cup away from the Swedes in the foreseeable future. But in Davis Cup who knows?

By Richard Evans, World of Tennis 1986

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.