Chris Evert

By Steve Fink, World Tennis magazine, December 1989:

I met Chris Evert on the day she reached her first Grand Slam final in Paris 16 years ago, when I interviewed her for this magazine. We became good friends, and I found myself immersed in her career.
She soon realized that I was regarded by the sport’s inner circle as her Boswell, as the primary source of information about her record, and she knew that my recollection of her matches was invariably sharper than her own. Throughout her career she would defer to me at press conferences from Palm Beach to Wimbledon whenever she could not answer a question about herself.

But my involvement with her went much deeper than that. I attended both of her weddings, sat with her family at many of her critical contests in the major championships, and spoke with her frequently before, during and after tournaments to offer council.
Given those circumstances, and the highly unusual of our alliance, I made it a practice, with few exceptions, not to write about he. The conflict would be clear-cut, and I saw no reason to abuse proximity of my position. But this is the time to relax journalistic binds a bit and offer my intimate assessment. Hers was a unique journey through the seventies and across the eighties, and to understand how Evert impacted her era, there is only one place to begin.

In September 1970, at the age of 15, Evert planted the first true seed of her greatness by toppling the world’s No.1 player Margaret Court 7-6 7-6 in the semifinals at Charlotte, North Carolina. Only weeks earlier, Court had completed the Grand Slam by winning the US Open at Forest Hills on grass, but on the clay of Charlotte the Fort Lauderdale prodigy erased the rangy Australian. It was unmistakably a sign of what was to come.
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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.

Boris Becker, Wimbledon 1985

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

Becker, like Edberg has been around for a long time but is still young. It was not until 1989 that each emerged as a player obviously capable of winning major championships on any surface: to be explicit, on the extremes of grass and clay. In 1989 either could have become the first serve-and-volley specialist to win the French title for more than 20 years. Neither will be content with what he has already achieved, impressive though that is. Their form during the next few years will depend partly on fitness (each has had problems, largely arising from the physical stress the ‘big’ game imposes) and partly on their hunger for success. Ambition is not a constant condition of the human spirit. The flow of even the strongest river is subject to variations of rainfall on the watershed.

So far, Becker’s record has been the more spectacular and has also had wider repercussions? Like Bjorn Borg in Sweden and Guillermo Vilas in Argentina, he became a national hero whose example fired his compatriots and caused an enomous expansion in tennis interest: among players, public, court and equipment manufacturers, sponsors, and a variety of entrepreneurs.
Becker’s triumphs, swiftly followed by those of Steffi Graf, were almost as exciting for television viewers in East Germany, where tennis has been an undeveloped minor sport. Given Becker, Graf and the game’s restoration to Olympic status in 1988, we may assume that what is at present East Germany will be a productive area of growth for tennis in the 1990s.

Becker’s influence has also been considerable – and benefical – in a more senitive area. Germany needed a heroic figure commanding world-wide respect and he took on that role as if born to it. His first Wimbledon championship came 40 years after the end of the Second World War and 45 years after a German bomb had fallen on to a corner of the competitors’ centre court seating area. There was a spice of irony in the fact that Becker’s tennis on that same court dominated television, radio, and newspapers and magazines in his homeland. For most of us the War was only an older genreation’s vague, receding memory, a faint shadow in the mind. But to the German-speaking peoples it remainded a slightly touchy subject. Young though he was, Becker was aware of that: and aware, too that the new Germany needed a paragon? He responded as if all his 17 years had been spent in the diplomatic service. On court, he was an immensely Teutonic sportsman: fair-haired and blue-eyed, big and strong and a fighter to the core. Off court, he was all charm and tact and low-keyed common sense, recognizing the ‘Blond Bomber’ and ‘Blitzkrieg’ headlines as no more than facile metaphors. In short, Becker made Wimbledon history and at the same time did an impressive public relations job for Germany.

Becker’s home is a little more than six miles from Graf’s. They have known each other since childhood, when they often used to hit together and, later, played in the same tournaments. By the age of 12 he was an unusually promising footballer but gave up that game in favor of tennis. At 15 he was West Germany’s junior champion and, in the first round of the boys singles at Wimbledon, was beaten by Edberg – the top seed, who was almost two years older. At 16 Becker left school to play full-time. His potential had been recognized by the national federation’s coach, Gunther Bosch.
Since their childhood at Brasov, which lies at the foot of the transylvanian Alps, Bosch had been associated with Ion Tiriac, an uncommonly smat man with an intimidating presence. Tiriac played Davis Cup tennis for Romania from 1959 to 1977, by which time he knew everybody an all the angles. As coach, then as manager and entrepreneur, he was – and remains – a cute businessman. Tiriac went to Leimen, guaranted Becker’s parents a fat income, and took charge of the lad’s career. Bosch became Becker’s personal coach.

Thus was Becker under new management, so to speak, from 1984 onwards. In April of that year he qualified for Luxembourg’s first grand prix tournament, which was additionally memorable for the fact that there was a dog show in progress and players shared a hotel with thoroughbreds – sometimes audibly restive during the night. On court, Becker’s ferocious hitting raised images of Ivan Lendl. He had two match points against Gene Mayer. Becker qualified for Wimbledon, too, but tore some ankle ligaments when hotly engaged with Bill Scanlon and was carried away on a stretcher. By the end of that year he was already 6ft 2in tall and weighed 12st 8lb (he has since put on about half an inch and half as stone). Just the build, in fact, to take on Wimbledon and the world. Tiriac and Bosch were doing what they could to improve his quickness and agility.

Just before the 1985 Wimbledon, Becker won the Stella Artois tournament at Queen’s Club, suggesting that he could be a future Wimbledon champion. The future was now. Becker beat Hank Pfister in Wimbledon’s first round and observed that he was looking forward to ‘not being a nobody’. Joakim Nystrom and Tim Mayotte in turn took him to five sets and almost beat him. Then Becker got lucky. He did not have to play any of the top three seeds, because Kevin Curen tore through John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in straight sets and Henri Leconte‘s fireworks display reduced Ivan Lendl to dazzled helplessness. By the time the final came round, Curren, who had already done enough to win most Wimbledons, did not have quite enough left. By contrast Becker was still strong, still dreaming the dreams of the young. He was having the time of his life and let us know about it: by joyously punching the air with his fists and giving his celebrated impression of a man cycling down a cobbled street without a bicycle. He was not only the first German champion, the youngest champion, and the first unseeded champion: he was also four months younger than the winner of the boys’ singles, Leonardo Lavalle. Moreover, Becker did it again in 1986, this time with more ease. His last two victims were Leconte and Lendl. Again, neither McEnroe nor Connors crossed his path.

Becker has often said that, as a tennis player, he was born at Wimbledon, that he feels at home there. The tournament changed his life and made him a celebrated millionaire. True, he had to shoulder a championship’s increased responsabilities to the game and did not always welcome the attention he attracted, the erosion of his privacy. ‘But it’s worth paying the price’, he admitted. It has often been suggested that Wimbledon is the easiest Grand Slam tournament for a man to win, because grass permits violently short rallies that make only limited demands on a player’s experience and tactical versatility. On the other hand a Wimbledon championship is the most coveted prize in the game and carries enormous prestige. It follows that, to some extent, Becker achieved too much too soon. He was like a man standing on the top of the Everest and realizing that he had yet to learn the craft of mountaineering.

Becker learned but it took him three years to win another Grand Slam title. Let us remember that, although twice Wimbledon champion, he was only 18 years old – still growing up in the midst of sudden fame and fortune.
In January of 1987, during the Australian championships, Becker’s natural need for more independance – moe time to go his own way, enjoy the company of his girlfriend, and find out what it was like to live an approximation of a normal life – led to a split with Bosch, who was unwilling to accept the part-time role Becker now demanded of him. But Tiriac was always there and Becker could easily pick him out, beneath clouds of cigarette smoke. And by the end of 1987 Franck Dick, a British athletics coach, was making Becker a better all-round athlete and Bob Brett, an Australian coach from the Harry Hopman school, was beginning to make Becker a better tennis player. gradually, Becker came to terms with manhood – and with the kind of tennis played on surfaces far more prevalent than grass. The Davis Cup competition helped, because Becker knew that he was playing for a team, a nation, and simply had to produce the goods – whatever the surface. And he did produce the goods.

The 1988 Davis Cup triumph was followed by a year in which it all came together. On the slow clay of Paris, Becker was narrowly frustrated but proved that he was ready to pass that most difficult of all tests for any player from the serve-and-volley school. And the Becker who regained the Wimbledon championship was a far more mature player than the the Becker of 1985 and 1986. He made a little more history too. In the first set of the final Edberg was taken by storm and scored only 10 points. It was the first 6-0 set in a men’s singles final for 40 years. Moreover, Steffi Graf won the women’s title the same day. Never before had Germands won both singles championships at Wimbledon – and Becker and Graf were to repeat the feat in the United States championships two months later, though Becker had saved two match points (one with the fortuitous intervention of a net cord) in a second round match with Derrick Rostagno.
It was the first time a German had won the US men’s title. Becker is unning out of firsts but will keep coming back for more: especially if his knees and ankles and the soles of his feet are spared an excess of the pounding they get on courts that are both hot and hard.

Becker is a commanding figure and an awfully powerful player. There is a hint of arrogance in the chin-up, icy glare he gives his opponents in the moments between rallies. Off the same toss, he can win any of three sevices: flat, kick, or slice. His forehand is equally fearsome. Becker flings his racket at the ball as if he never expects to see either again. Often, no volley is needed. A similar blazing speed can be evident when he puts top-spin on his backhand, which he usually hits with underspin. His volleys, whether punched or caressed, are like the cursory last spadefuls of soil on the graves of rallies. The pattern of his assault is varied, but the persistent strength of becker’s hitting keeps his opponents under terrible stress. On top of all that there is the bounding athleticism: the huge leaps for overheads, the spectacular falls as he hurls himself into wide volleys, and the quick ease (remarkable in such a big man) with which he moves in behind his service or an early-ball approach shot. And his unquenchable fighting spirit permeates the court like some electric curent.
At the age of 22 Becker began 1990 as the best player in the world.

Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1988

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

For the obvious reason that he is still a young man, capable of striding along the summits for many more years, ths can be no more than a half-term report on a graceful, classic exponent of the ‘big’ game. Unless memory lies, Mal Anderson has been the only other player of comparable class who, in the past 30 years or so, has served and volleyed with as much elegant facility as Edberg. In 1968, in Hamburg, I spent a long time watching Anderson. The serve and volley routine can be hard to take. It lacks charm. But Anderson’s instinctive ease of movement and racket-contol somehow gave that routine the uncomplicated allure of a Strauss waltz. So it is with Edberg. This is not to suggest that Edberg is the most efficient modern graduate of the serve-and-volley school. One refers only to the natural flair with which he does his thing. Unlike such heavily muscled contemporaries as Becker and Pat Cash, Edberg brings an aesthetic quality to the three-shot rally. His emergence is a striking eminder that Bjorn Borg‘s playing method – that of a baseliner with a two-fisted backhand – inspired no more than a transient trend in Swedish tennis. That method was Borg’s, not Sweden’s.

The main features of Edberg’s game are his mixture of services (many players find the second ball more difficult to handle than the first), his volleying, especially the cross-court backhand, and his backhand service eturns, which often explode down the court like shells. His forehand is a comparatively second-class shot for a first-class player: seldom threatening, and often wayward when his confidence is low. But Edberg’s command of the backhand and the top-spin lob gives him weapons enough for counter-punching from the back of the court. He is happiest in the forecourt, bending like a sapling in a gale as he springs this way and that and tucks away the volleys – whereupon he often gives a little hop of satisfaction at a point well won.
His general demeanour, though, is one of sad, dreamy languor. Often, he looks only half-awake. But this embodiment of a sight is a dangerously deceptive as those tall, quiet gunfighters familiar from Western movies. Edberg seems reluctant to hurry but, when he does move, the action tends to be swift and short and terminal. One can picture Edberg casually blowing the smoke out of the barrel and instantly going most of the way back to sleep.

He is that kind of man: by no means the aggressive, pushy type, but stubbornly resistant to being pushed. Edberg likes a peaceful, comfortably stable life. Gentle and unassuming, reserved and laconic, he is a private man who enjoys company as long as it is not too demanding. No fuss, if you please. He is among those who apply to themselves the principle that everybody is important but nobody is very important.
Physically, Edberg is a long-limbed, willowy 6ft 2in (which Rod Laver considers may be the ideal height for a tennis player) and weighs around 11st 7lb. He has an arresting and attractive court presence and when that handsomely composed but gloomy mien is enlivened by one of his slow smiles, the mothering instinct wells up in ladies of all ages.

Edberg has a London apartment, in Kensington, but his home is the industrial home of Vastervik on the Baltic coast. He played tennis from the age of seven, took up the game full time at 16, and in the following year, 1983, won the junior Grand Slam. This invited less attention than the 17-year-old’s form in the now defunct Bournemouth tournament. He had to qualify but then reached the semi-finals by beating the cerebral and charming Balazs Taroczy, a specialist on such slow surfaces. Edberg told us that he was a policeman’s son and took up tennis because his mothe wanted him to. His Bournemouth form, plus the comment about his mother, was the first hint we had that he was something special but needed help in fuelling the fires of ambition.

For a few years he was none too sure of himself, none too sure what he wanted out of tennis, and none too sue if the ultimate prizes were worth the effort. He was lucky in that the European representative for Wilson’s, the company who made Edberg’s rackets, turned out to be a congenial friend and, before long, assumed the more constructive roles of manager, coach, and – most important of all – motivator. Tony Pickard had, in fact, turned up in Sweden almost five years before Edberg did. That was in 1961, at Bastad, where Pickard made his Davis Cup debut for Britain. As a player Pickard did not have quite enough talent to match his self-assurance. He soon discovered that it was the other way round for Edberg.

The biggest problem, was to get him to believe in himself. It took nearly three years.

Pickard, almost 32 years older than Edberg was exactly what the young man needed: a wise, witty, avuncular extrovert who knew when to nag Edberg and when to leave him alone.

At 18 Edberg made his Davis Cup debut, playing a spectacular role as Anders Jarryd‘s partner in two remarkable doubles wins. At 19 he confirmed his growing reputation as a tough, resilient competitor by winning the Australian championship. He saved two match points against Wally Masur and beat Ivan Lendl 9-7 in the fifth set. A week after his 21st birthday Edberg produced further evidence of his guts and his belief in himself when he retained the Australian title by beating Melbourne’s local hero, Pat Cash, in a five-set final contested in fierce heat. Between them, Edberg and Mats Wilander won that Australian title for Sweden five years in a row. No other overseas nation has done that.

The next big triumph for Edberg came at Wimbledon in 1988, when he recovered from two sets down to beat Miloslav Mecir in a semi-final that provided an enthralling contrast in playing methods – and then played a glorious match to beat Boris Becker in the first men’s singles final to begin one day and end the next. That year, too, Edberg came from behind to beat Mecir 9-7 in the fifth set of a decisive Davis Cup match.

In 1989 Edberg played the finest clay-court tennis of his career to each – and almost win – the French final. Becker was too strong for him in the Wimbledon final. But it takes a player of exceptional talent and competitive maturity to advance to the French and Wimbledon finals in the same summer. During the era of open competition (1968 onwards) the only other men to manage it were Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe – formidably distinguished company for a player who, for a time, had seemed to be vulnerably diffident. With Pickard’s help, Edberg learned the truth of a couple of lines in Shakespeare:

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win

Boris Becker Wimbledon 1985

Excerpt of Boris Becker‘s autobiography The Player:

“I’m serving for the championship. five steps to the baseline. My arm is getting heavy, wobbly. I look at my feet and almost stumble. My body starts to shake violently. I feel I could lose all control. I’m standing at the same baseline from where I served to 1-0 in the first set. 5-4; the end is getting nearer. I have to find a way to get these four points home.

My opponent, Kevin Curren, piles on the pressure. 0-15. 15 all. 30-15. 40-15. I want, want, want victory. I look only at my feet, at my racket. I don’t hear a thing. I’m trying to keep control. Breathe in. Serve. Like a parachute jump. Double fault. 40-30. How on earth can I place the ball in that shrinking box over there on the other side of the net? I focus on throwing the ball and then I hit it.

The serve was almost out of this world, or at least its results were. This victory was my own personal moon landing. 1969 Apollo 11, 1985 Wimbledon 1. Back then, Neil Armstrong jumped from the ladder of the space capsule Eagle into the moondust and transmitted his historic words to the people of the world: ‘That’s one small step for man, one great leap for mankind.’ But I couldn’t muster words to meet the occasion. I could only think, Boy oh boy, this can’t be true.

The tension disappeared instantly and I felt slightly shaky. My heart was beating fast. I left crying to the others, though: my coach Günther Bosch, my father and my mother. ‘With the passion of a Friedrich Nietzsche or Ludwig van Beethoven,’ wrote Time in its next issue, ‘this unseeded boy from Leimen turned the tennis establishment of Wimbledon on its head.’

Although my Swedish colleague Bjorn Borg was only seventeen when he entered the Wimbledon arena, he didn’t win until three years later. John McEnroe started at eighteen but didn’t hold the trophy until he was twenty-two. Jimmy Connors was twenty-one; Rod Laver, one of the greatest of our time, twenty-two. I was just seventeen years and 227 days old; I couldn’t legally drive in Germany. I cut my own hair, and my mother sent me toothpaste because she was worried about my teeth. ‘Boy King,’ lauded the British newspapers. ‘King Boris the First.’ Meanwhile, King Boris was in the bath enjoying a hot soak. Back then, a physiotherapist was beyond my means.

From that day on, nothing in my life remained the same. Boris from Leimen died at Wimbledon in 1985 and a new Boris emerged, who was taken at once into public ownership.

Goodbye, freedom. Hands reaching out to you, tearing the buttons from your jacket; fingernails raking over your skin as if they wanted a piece of your flesh. A photograph, a signature – no, two, three, more . . . Love letters, begging letters, blackmail. Bodyguards on the golf course and on the terraces at Bayern Munich. Security cameras in the trees of our home, paparazzi underneath the table or in the toilets. Exclusive — see Becker peeing.

And everything I did had consequences. One word of protest would lead to a headline. An innocent kiss would appear on the front page. A defeat and Bild would cry for the nation. A victory and the black, red and gold of the German flag was everywhere. Our Boris.

The experts would write that it was my willpower and the ‘boom boom’ of my serve that got me through. But it isn’t explained away so easily. On that day of my first victory at Wimbledon, forces were involved that went beyond mere willpower. Instinct made me do the right thing in the decisive moment, even if I didn’t know I was going to do it. My heart was big, my spirit was strong, my instincts were sharp – only my flesh was sometimes weak. And no one can get out of their own skin.”