Destiny Stiched it for Michael

Destiny has a way of finding the best course for everyone. It conspires to get what you want, and eventually bring home the prize you earnestly desire. If you hang in, things and events occur in a manner to take you to the destination.  It might not even be your good luck working on that particular day or moment, rather the opponent’s might be having a day off. You get rewarded for keeping the faith, not giving up, and harbouring the ambition.  Obduracy and steadfastness are the key traits to tempt destiny. The Alchemist referred to this ‘conspiracy of events’ in a slightly different way, but the import was similar.

Michael Stich from Germany was knocking on the right doors, and asking some relevant questions in the summer of 1991. He had reached the semi-final at the Roland Garros, where he was stopped by the eventual champion, Jim Courier. He had also reached the semi-final of the Rosemalan Grass Court Championship, a week before the All England Championship began. But was the world number six a serious contender for the title? Surely not, with Becker and Edberg in prime form! The German’s opening match was played over two days owing to rain interruptions, which he won in three sets, but he was stretched to four sets each in his next two matches. Alexander Volkov of Russia awaited him in the Round of 16 – not quite a fearsome opponent, but a tricky one, for sure.

Volkov had ousted Stefan Edberg, the then number one, from the first round of the US Open in 1991. Later he even managed to reach the semi-finals at the Open in 1993. He could be dangerous on his day, adapt at taking the ball early, and given to playing some unconventional tennis. And on that particular day in July 1991, Volkov was in quite some form. Stich was down an early break in the deciding set, and faced yet another break point. His first service was a fault, but on the second, he went for broke and ended up winning that point. He won the next two points as well and averted going down two breaks.  Still, Volkov led by 5-3 and was to serve out the set and match. He further went up by 30-15, and was on the cusp of holding two match points when something closest to ‘magic’ happened for Michael Stich.

On Volkov’s wide forehand towards Stich’s deuce side, the latter somehow retrieved the ball with a stretched forehand, and hit it towards Volkov’s backhand. As Volkov came up to the net to volley the incoming ball comfortably, the ball struck the tape above the net, and from there, sailed above the Russian’s racket to land on the side-line.  A potential 40-15 in favour of Volkov ended up becoming 30-30. Stitch did not look back from here, and made most of this reprieve. He won the next two points to break Volkov, served out at love to level scores, then broke Volkov again at love, and finally served out the match, at love again. After the lucky net-cord went his way by sailing over Volkov, Stich did not lose another point in the match, winning fourteen straight points!

He was destined, as they say, to go all the way. Next, he made short work of Courier in the quarters, and came up against the defending champion and world number one, Edberg, in the semis. Incredibly, Edberg did not face a break point in the match, yet ended up losing in four long sets. Stich’s was the only serve that was broken in the first set, but after that he pocketed the next three in tie-breakers. Incredibly enough, with the four set tie-breaker locked at 1-1, a Stich backhand return on Edberg’s serve ricocheted from the net, catching the master volley artist by surprise. (Destiny, again!). Stich won the match by 4-6/7-6/7-6/7-6.

Boris Becker, who had reached his sixth final in seven years, was an overwhelming favourite against his compatriot in the final, but was tamed rather effectively by Stich. The final score-line of 6-4/7-6/6-4 correctly reflected the dominance of Stich over Becker. The new champion had beaten the seeds first (Stefan), second (Boris) and fourth (Courier) to win the title. But for a lucky net-cord, Wimbledon would have probably witnessed fourth consecutive final between Becker and Edberg.

But that was not to be. Edberg did not play another final on SW-19. Becker did not win another Wimbledon title. Stich did not win another Grand Slam, although he did reach the finals at the US Open 1994 and the French Open 1996. Becker and Edberg did not play another match of consequence.

#SW19 #wimbledon #wimbledon1991 #allenglandchampionships #championship #grandslam #MichaelStich #AlexanderVolkov #Stich #Volkov #netcord #lucky #destiny #Edberg #becker #courier #stefanedberg #borisbecker #jimcourier #ATP #Tennis

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