NEWPORT, R.I. – When Michael Stich was a teenager, he had to choose a sport – soccer or tennis.
It seems he made right choice now that he has a home in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
The 49-year-old German and Helena Sukova were inducted on Saturday during a ceremony on Newport’s grass court, the only members of the class of 2018.
“I played till I was 18,” Stich said during a news conference. “There was a little bit of a decision between soccer and tennis, but I preferred tennis because I didn’t have to deal with 10 other guys messing up on the pitch. It was only up to me to mess up.”
Stich captured his only Grand Slam singles title in 1991, beating countryman Boris Becker, also a Hall of Famer, at Wimbledon. He was a U.S. Open finalist in 1994 and runner-up at the 1996 French Open.
He joined Becker to win gold in doubles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“It was always said that we didn’t get along,” Stich said. “Obviously, as we were rivals, we could get along. I think we benefited a lot from each other because we always wanted to be better than the other player,” he said. “We proved it to ourselves and to everyone else that it was possible to follow our goal.”
Sukova captured a combined 14 Slam doubles titles – nine in women’s and five in mixed. She was runner-up in singles at four majors – twice each at the Australian and U.S. opens.
“For me, the most important (thing) was playing the singles,” she said. “I didn’t really like to practice, so doubles was perfect.”
The 53-year-old Czech reflected on her biggest singles win, beating Martina Navratilova at the 1984 Australian Open to end her string of 74 consecutive match victories, including six straight Slam titles.
“I had like three press conferences every day after that,” she said. “Before that, I barely had one.”
Hall of Famer Jim Courier jokingly told the crowd that he checked his record against Stich before heading from his New York City home.
“I almost turned around when I saw I only won five of 12 matches against him,” he said.
Stich said that when he was 6 years old his family took him to the tennis club.
“They couldn’t leave me at home,” he said. “They had to take me.”
And that’s how his love of the game began.
“I had a tennis wall to play against,” he said. “I got a racket and ball and they said: ‘Spend two hours here and we’ll pick you up later.“’
It was time well spent.
“The beauty of his game,” Courier said, “is what really sticks with me.”
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