Stich: No player is bigger than the sport

Michael Stich discusses his halcyon years on the pro tour, his productive life since then and his candid views about today’s players and controversies.

This July, Michael Stich will receive the sport’s most coveted off-court honour and join the pantheon of tennis immortals during his enshrinement into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.

Champions are people who want to leave their sport better off than when they started.”

– Arthur Ashe

At the 1991 Wimbledon, a lanky 66-to-1 pre-tournament longshot became the shock champion. In the final, Michael Stich upset three-time champion and compatriot Boris Becker by a stunningly decisive 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 score to make tennis history.

This July, Stich will receive the sport’s most coveted off-court honour and join the pantheon of tennis immortals during his enshrinement into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.

Stich’s eclectic career also featured winning the 1992 Wimbledon doubles title with John McEnroe in a five-hour final that spanned two days. And displaying his prowess on other surfaces, the 6'4" German serve-volleyer reached Grand Slam finals at the 1994 US Open on hard courts and the 1996 French Open on clay.

Stich (pronounced “Shteek”) appeared in 31 finals and won 18 career singles titles, including particularly momentous victories at season-ending events such as the 1992 Grand Slam Cup where Stich defeated Stefan Edberg, Richard Krajicek, Pete Sampras, and Michael Chang to win the title. Similarly, a year later, he closed the season with wins over Chang, Jim Courier, and Sampras to capture the ATP World Championship title.

Throughout his career, Stich was a patriotic and accomplished representative of Germany. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he teamed with Becker to take the Gold Medal in doubles. In the 1993 Davis Cup final, he won all three points against Australia to secure the title for Germany.

For the past ten years, Stich has served as tournament director for the German Open, an ATP 500 event in Hamburg. In 1994, he created the Michael Stich Foundation, a robust charity focused on programs aimed at HIV and AIDS awareness. The foundation has helped more than 50,000 children in more than 110 schools. For this humanitarian program, Stich earned the Federal Cross of Merit. 

I recently talked with 49-year-old Stich, one of the Open Era’s most knowledgeable and eleemosynary players. He discussed his halcyon years on the pro tour, his productive life since then, and his candid views about today’s players and controversies.

The Hall of Fame voted you in on the third voting. What were your thoughts and emotions when you didn’t get voted in after the first two nominations? And then when you finally did get voted in?

I remember that my former manager Ken Meyerson told me that I was nominated. I was very excited, and I remember that I was disappointed not getting voted in. The second time I wasn’t that aware I was nominated, and I figured it’s not going to happen again. Now that I was nominated a third time and got in during the last year I had a chance of getting in because they changed the rules, it’s so much more exciting.

You weren’t a teen star like Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal or your compatriots Steffi Graf and Boris Becker. When and why did you think you could become a pro, or even an elite pro?

In my junior days, I really loved playing tennis. I enjoyed the sport, the competition, and everything, but I didn’t know what it meant to be a tennis professional. In my family, being a sports professional was not something we considered a job. It was something other people do, but you don’t. My father was a classical businessman. So I never played junior tennis to become a tennis pro. In my last year as a junior, I came out of nowhere to win the German junior championship. I also won a ranking tournament.

What happened at that critical juncture?

That’s when Nikki Pilic said to me, “Come to Munich, play team matches, and give pro tennis a shot.” I said, “I don’t know,” and I finished school [college] and went into the military. After that, I decided to give it a try for two years and see what happens because I had no idea what it meant to be a tennis professional. Then I met the right people at the right time. I got the right input. I worked hard, and I still enjoyed playing tennis. I got lucky at tournaments I played. So all those things came together, and I moved quickly from 560 in the world to 120. It seemed to be very easy. After that I won Memphis, my first pro title, and I kept improving. I worked with Mark Lewis, my former pro coach, who taught me a lot. At some stage, I knew I was capable of winning the big tournaments. It just came by playing the other guys a lot and realizing they’re all just [beatable] tennis players.

Awesome twosome: Germans Steffi Graf (right) and Michael Stich with their trophies during the Champions Dinner at Wimbledon in 1991.   -  Getty Images

 

You had classic, stylish strokes, especially your serve and backhand. Who helped you develop these superior strokes?

As Germans, we play in the winter on very fast indoor carpets and outdoors on clay. We had both extremes. So we learned to adjust our games to either surface. The serve helped indoors on the fast carpet, and my backhand, especially, my backhand down the line, I learned from a former colleague I used to play doubles with a lot named Martin Sinner. He loved to played backhands down the line. In practice, I concluded that if he can do that, I can do that. I just practiced and practiced until I perfected it. I just had the luck to have the right technique in the beginning when I started playing, even though I had a double-handed backhand until I was 10 or 11. But I thought I had to do too much running, so I switched to a one-handed backhand.

What do you consider to be your three or four greatest achievements? And why?

Winning Wimbledon in tennis is the biggest tournament you can win historically. It also came at the time when the grass was a different, faster, surface than it is right now. Winning the doubles gold medal at the Olympics with Boris is just one of the biggest things you can achieve in sports in general. Winning Hamburg was huge because I had been going there since I was a kid, 6, 7 years old, and then making the qualies [qualifying events] and main draw. Winning the Davis Cup was also a great achievement. I wanted to achieve all those four goals when I started on the pro tour and realized I was good. It was like a check list. I didn’t achieve every single goal I had, but I achieved quite a lot of them.

Which goals didn’t you achieve?

I would have loved to have won more Grand Slam titles. Losing the Roland Garros final in 1996 was really painful.

What do you remember most about your upset victory over Boris Becker in the historic 1991 Wimbledon final?

Actually for me, it wasn’t an upset. Before the match I was very confident that I could win. And so I did.

I remember that before the final my coach, Mark Lewis, tried to take the pressure off me and make me stay cool by saying: “Just go on court, you have nothing to lose.” But I was aware that I never had more to lose than on that special day. You never know if you’ll ever have another chance to play a Wimbledon final. So this gave me extra motivation.

Who were the best players you faced during your 1990s prime? And what made each daunting opponents?

Pete [Sampras] was the best player. Not so much his game, although he had a great serve and a great forehand. His backhand was okay. He was not such a natural volleyer, but he was a great athlete. And he was incredibly consistent. He could raise the level of his game every time he needed to. That made him such a great champion. The most talented player probably ever was Andre Agassi. He had talents that other players, including myself, could just dream about. Even though he didn’t have the biggest serve or the best volley, the rest of his [hand-eye] coordination and movement skills were just incredible. Winning at least one title at each of the four Grand Slam events puts him up there at the top. Stefan [Edberg] was also a great champion. His style of play was quite similar to mine. Boris was another great champion. He had a great determination to win.

The 1990s was a great era for grass-court players in particular.

Grass was different then. Both the grass and also the balls were faster than today. Furthermore, the grass was partially worn down and the balls bounced lower. If Nadal had played on the grass courts at the beginning of the ’90s, I don’t think he would have been able to win Wimbledon. The style of tennis at the time, the aggressive serve and volley, the mixture of styles, made the ’90s so interesting. You had defensive players, you had aggressive players, you had serve and volleyers. It was great to be part of it and also to watch it.

What were the keys to racking up a 5-4 career record against Pete Sampras, the greatest player of the 20 century?

Well, I was just better than him. (Laughter) Pete never enjoyed playing guys like me or Goran [Ivanisevic] because we played the kind of style he played even though Pete was more consistent from the baseline than I was. Pete liked to get rhythm. He like to have an exchange [of shots]. He didn’t appreciate it if he didn’t have a chance to hit good returns or have a rally from the baseline, even though he enjoyed coming to the net. So we played the same style Pete did, and he didn’t like that because he didn’t know how to handle it as well as he did against other kinds of players. I think that’s why I had a good record against him.

Pairing up: Winning the doubles gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics with Boris Becker is just one of the biggest things you can achieve in sports in general, says Stich.   -  Getty Images

 

Why did you start your AIDS Foundation in 1994? And what has your foundation accomplished?

I started in 1994 because I wanted to give something back because of all the things I had received. I was so fortunate to do what I did. I was healthy. I earned a lot of money by following my hobby and making it my job. That sense of social responsibility to give back to others less fortunate is what motivated me to set up the foundation.

I had to learn a lot about HIV-infected children in Germany. I wanted to learn about a group of people who had a disease that is still not recognized by society. These people are still mistreated by society and not accepted by society. That unfairness always drives me. I have always wanted to take on difficult challenges and try to make a difference.

We’ve helped a lot of children. In the past 25 years, we’ve collected 15 to 20 million Euros to help the children. We’ve really done a lot of prevention work to educate people about HIV and AIDS. It’s very satisfying and gratifying.

In 1994, I was the youngest founder of a charitable foundation in Germany. I also set an example for the younger generation by showing it is possible to start and run a foundation when you are young. You don’t have to wait until you are 60 and have achieved a lot in life. If you’re lucky and wealthy, you can do it early in life.

What do you enjoy most about being a BBC tennis commentator? And what have you learned most?

I haven’t been a BBC commentator for many years now. I did it for nine years and mostly for BBC radio. I really enjoyed it because it’s different from being on television because there you have to be quiet during changeovers and be quiet during nearly everything. (Laughter) On the radio, you can be more active and more outspoken. Radio is a different medium, and it’s very challenging because the only thing you cannot do on the radio is be quiet. There’s no picture for people to look at. They have to just follow your voice. So that’s what I really learned. We had a great team at the BBC.

It taught me a lot about the media working from the other side. It taught me that sometimes there is a need for the media to get an immediate feedback from the athlete. We, as players, sometimes feel like they can wait for another half hour or an hour. But when you’re at the media site and you have certain deadlines, you don’t have that half hour or hour. So you have to be quick and also aggressive to get what you want. As a player, you become a little bit defensive when a journalist gets too pushy. On the other side, as a journalist, sometimes you need to be pushy because you need to get the information. I have more understanding for parts of the media, but not for all of it.

You served on the ATP Tour Players Council, and you have always been highly knowledgeable about tennis politics. What did you accomplish — and fail to accomplish — during your stint on the Players Council? And if you were on the Players Council now, what would you try to do?

It was very long ago. I can’t remember if I made any impact or any changes. I remember that we had discussions about prize money. We had a completely different system then. We had to designate which tournaments we would play six months in advance. We tried to change that because it was sometimes difficult to know in September, just after the US Open, what we intended to play in March. The current system has changed that dramatically.

We also tried to get more input from the players, which was an important first step. Now the influence of the players is much, much bigger, but sometimes too big, from my point of view, as a promoter of a tournament.

If I were on the Players Council now, I would try to educate the players now a little more so they understood that we have a partnership between them and the ATP tournaments. It’s not them or us. The partnership is going to work only if they work closer together with us. Prize money increases are great. But if the economics don’t allow prize money increases in the way that the players see it for each tournament, they have to be open to discussions and compromise to find solutions. I feel there is not enough communication between the players and the tournaments.

Expert opinion: Stich with Rafael Nadal. If Nadal had played on the grass courts at the beginning of the ’90s, I don’t think he would have been able to win Wimbledon, says the German.

 

Are you in favor of guarantees (appearance money) for elite players?

I’m in favor of guarantees. It rewards their success. But I would set certain limits to guarantees. Like in American sports like baseball where they have a “salary cap.” Tennis should also have a maximum amount you can earn.

For example, if the No. 1 player should ask for a $500,000 guarantee — which he is probably worth — then it should be consistent for each tournament. You cannot have one tournament promoter pay $2.5 million, while another tournament promoter can afford to pay only $500,000. There needs to be a system where the players make good money in accordance with their success; but as the prize money goes up and up and up, that is where the top players make more money in general. So the guarantees have to conform to a certain system so that each tournament knows that if I want to get the No. 8 player in the world, he is going to cost me $250,000 — no more and no less. Then I can much better calculate my costs, instead of always going to ask players, “How much do you want?”

You earned a college degree, which is rare these days for a pro player. In retrospect, are you glad you chose that route instead of turning pro as a teenager as many players do today?

Absolutely. I would not have been able to leave home at 16 years old and become a tennis professional. It was essential for my career but also for my life to have that education and spend that time at home in familiar surroundings and not go out as a 16 year old into the world and be exploited. It’s a complicated world, much more than in the ’90s.

There is not just one path. Some university players in America weren’t good enough to turn pro at 17 or 18, but they became good pros at 25 or 26. As the age of top 100 players keeps getting older and older with more than half of them over age 30, there is time to finish college. On the other hand, for Alexander Zverev, turning pro early [at 16] has gone well.

Doubles does not get the prize money and media attention it should. You won the Wimbledon doubles with John McEnroe and an Olympic gold medal in doubles with Becker. You also boasted a 14-2 Davis Cup record in doubles. Please tell me about your doubles career and what you enjoyed most about doubles and also any recommendations to help doubles reach its great potential.

That’s a difficult question because I’m talking to you as a former player but also as a promoter of a tournament. Obviously, for a tournament, doubles these days is a tough sell. In the '90s, the top players, including me, played both singles and doubles. Not all of them, but a lot of them. Nowadays, you have doubles specialists who never excel in singles.

That is the problem facing doubles players. They’re great tennis players. They’ve chosen to become only doubles players because they might not be good enough for singles. That limits their appeal to the fans because a Federer is above all the singles players, but he’s about ten levels above any doubles player because his fame is so much greater. The Bryan brothers are a great example. They’ve had unbelievable careers, unbelievable achievements. But if they had played singles and had been top 100 players in singles, their careers would have been so much more unbelievable.

What is the solution then?

I think we need many more singles players, especially some top players, to also play doubles to lift doubles to another level again. If we stick with the doubles specialists, doubles will always struggle.

The top players will never do that because they don’t want to risk getting injured or exhausted, especially at the majors. They also typically don’t have regular doubles partners.

They don’t play more matches than we did, except for the top 4 guys. But the top 4 play so much more because they play the semifinals and finals of almost every tournament. Especially Nadal and Federer. But if you take the top 20, they don’t play more than I played. I played 24 or 25 tournaments each year, and I played singles and doubles in the first part of my career. At the end of my career, I didn’t play that much doubles.

I always loved playing doubles because it raised my game. It taught me volleying. It taught me [how to handle] situations in doubles that could also help me in singles. And you can also get injured in practice. Another point is that I’d rather play two sets of doubles than go to the practice court for an hour. It’s so much more rewarding. Doubles is fun! Doubles brings out different talents and skills in you. You have to be athletic. You have to be creative. You have to be a team player and have a great understanding with your partner. All of these things make you a better player. And a lot of the younger generation don’t understand that. That’s why some of them are mediocre volleyers. A lot of the coaches also don’t understand that. I don’t understand why.

In his 2004 autobiography, Boris Becker The Player, he wrote: “Every player has his weakness. Everyone knew that Stich had only to be distracted two or three times and he’d lose control. He’d start arguing with the umpire and getting on everyone’s nerves. Little things could distract him immensely. If you tried to provoke McEnroe, you’d get the opposite effect—his play would improve.” How much truth is there in what Becker wrote?

Probably a bit of truth. I was someone who was driven by emotions on the tennis court. So if I were emotionally very stable and feeling great about myself, I played perfect tennis, and it was probably very tough for anyone to beat me. But if something before the match distracted me, or if when I went to the court I had stress with my coach; or if on the court things did not go the way I wanted them to go, then I didn’t play my best tennis. So there is a certain truth to what Boris wrote. But I think the same thing applies to 90 percent of the players. Today’s generation is a bit different because they don’t show their emotions as much on the tennis court as the previous generation. Boris, himself, was very emotional on the court. When things didn’t go right, he was moaning and complaining about everything. But he had a gift, just like Johnny Mac [John McEnroe], to turn that into a positive thing and become even more intense. With me, sometimes the intensity and the enjoyment of the game dropped, and that hurt my game, obviously.

In a 1997 interview in Bild, you said, “My problem wasn’t with Boris. My problem was that I only rarely got the recognition I deserved for my achievements. It was always Boris who, even in his worst moments, got the attention.” How much did this lack of recognition rankle you during your career? And has your view about this evolved over the passage of time?

(Laughter) During my career it disturbed me from time to time because I felt I had great achievements, and I achieved things Boris didn’t achieve. He was the most successful [male] player [in German history]. He was there on the tour before me. So he was bigger than me, and I always accepted that. There was no question about that.

I also learned that when people supported Boris, they were not against me. When I was younger, I always thought the support for Boris was pointed against me. I learned during my career that that was completely wrong thinking.

Over the years, I’m very happy that I got the respect that I did at the time. I probably could have gotten a little bit more respect. But, looking back, I don’t regret anything. I’m not sad about anything. I’m very happy with my life that I have right now. I’m also very happy with the recognition I get now for my social and charity work and all the other things I do. And I don’t need to be in the spotlight all the time or in the papers every day or so.

Germany has a potential Grand Slam champion in world No. 3 Alexander Zverev. Did you play any role in his development? What areas does Zverev have to improve to win a major?

I was very close with the Zverev family. I played with Mischa Zverev, Alexander’s older brother, for five or six year very intensively. I think I taught him a lot. I’ve known Alexander since he was five years old. He was always there. In his specific development, I didn’t have any input or any influence.

When Alexander’s manager was in Paris six years ago, he called me and said, “Can you have a look at this young German kid? I would like you to share your expertise.” I told him that I thought Alexander had a lot of talent and could become a very good player. I liked the way he moved and the way he understood the game when he was 16. That’s why I supported him and gave him a wild card at the 2014 Braunschweig Challenger, which he won when he was 17. Then I gave him wild cards at the Hamburg tournament. I was one of the first people to see something [promising] in him.

Suggesting changes: About Alexander Zverev’s game, Stich has this to say: He has to become a little more aggressive. To win Grand Slam titles, he has to make changes, such as coming to the net more and being more versatile, instead of just hitting balls from the baseline.

 

Unfortunately, I have to say his loyalty toward me was not there. And he decided not to come back to Hamburg and play our tournament last year and this year as well. We had an understanding that he would participate. So now I’m not involved at all with Alexander.

Regarding Alexander’s game, he has to become a little more aggressive. To win Grand Slam titles, he has to make changes, such as coming to the net more and being more versatile, instead of just hitting balls from the baseline. That is not good enough because a lot of other guys will read that game and be able to handle that. He also has to improve his volley if he wants to become a more complete player. His attitude should be not that I want to win a Grand Slam, but that I want to become a better player. Once he does that, he’s going to win the big tournaments anyway.

Do you plan to coach any players or work for the German tennis federation? Are there any other really talented boys or girls coming up in the German pipeline that you predict will become world-class players, or perhaps even top 10 players?

I’m not involved in German tennis at all, and I don’t have the knowledge to say anything about up-and-coming players. I’ve had offers to coach players. I would be interested to pass on my knowledge. I think I would be good at it. But I’m not willing to sacrifice the life that I have now to travel 20 weeks a year around the world and go back to the old life I once had. One of the reasons I retired was that I didn’t enjoy traveling so much.

Would you be willing to work with talented German teenagers, say 14 to 16 year olds, in some capacity?

The 14-to-16 age group would not be good because I think I would be too demanding. It would not be fair to the kids because I haven’t learned how to deal with them as a coach. But it could be an 18-year-old kid who trains near me. But even then it might be too time-consuming, considering all the other business activities I do.

In the past, I did work with Mischa Zverev and also with another German kid, Tobias Kamke. I enjoyed that. Unfortunately, at some point you always realize you’ve invested a lot, but you don’t get anything back. And that is very frustrating. Loyalty is not a common thing on the tennis tour.

What do you think of the personalities of the top 100 players today compared to your era?

In terms of personality, I miss the characters. There are very few characters now. In the ‘90s, we had many more and different characters, and we were more outspoken. They showed their character on the court more in all their different varieties.

What do you think of all the hugging between the winner and loser after matches end?

There was a time when Roger [Federer] was so dominant—seven, eight years ago, and players came off the court and said it was such a privilege to lose against Roger Federer. If I had said that to my coach, he probably would have slapped me in the face because it cannot be a privilege to lose against anyone. If you have a tough battle and you come off the court after five sets, and it was a great match and both competitors brought the best out of themselves, then you just go to your opponent and say, “Great match.” But it has become a common thing for players to be okay with losing. But it’s not okay to lose. It’s terrible to lose.

What is your evaluation of the playing level and the playing styles of today’s players?

Today’s players are great athletes, much better athletes than we were. There is no question about that. But the style of play these days is too similar. It’s just being physically strong and hitting hard from the baseline and being able to run well laterally. But there’s no tactical variety. That includes slices, drop shots, serve-volley. All those shots should be part of your strategy to outplay your opponent. Before we had great contrasts like the serve and volleyer against the great defender. That made the game so interesting in the past. That is often missing now.

Is that because the speed of the three major court surfaces — grass, clay and hard courts — has become fairly similar?

Absolutely. That has something to do with the similar playing styles. But it’s also because Rafa, Novak, Andy Murray, who are incredible athletes and champions, are the role models for the younger generation. The coaches are not creating players who are flexible and have the ability to change their playing style against certain opponents. The problem has to do with the players themselves and their upbringing, but also with the coaching. Coaches should teach players how to volley early because if they don’t, later on it will be difficult for them to volley well.

How would you, in your prime, have fared against Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic on grass, your favorite surface?

On the grass that we played on, I think it would have been tough for Rafa and Novak to beat me. Roger, who can adjust to a fast surface a little bit better, would have been much, much more difficult for me. In my prime, playing my best tennis, I would have really enjoyed playing those guys. If I played my best tennis and they played their best tennis, I think it would have been 50-50.

Twenty-five years ago, you asserted, “High-powered rackets are destroying tennis and making it really boring. When you saw McEnroe and Connors play at Wimbledon, that was real tennis. With the wide-bodies, it will get worse. If it was up to me, I would go back to the old wooden rackets and play real tennis.” Do you still feel the same way? And why or why not?

(Laughter). Did I say that? With the powerful rackets and strings and the balls being made slower than they were in the past, that’s why the guys play with such heavy spin from the baseline. The racket “sweet spot” is so much bigger, so it’s so much easier to hit the ball with heavy spin. In my last Wimbledon and during the last six months I played, I switched to a bigger racket as well because it was easier. I started with the old Fischer racket, which had probably one of the smallest sweet spots ever on a graphite racket. I probably played with the same racket head size during the last six months that Roger plays with now [97 square inches]. That enabled me to do less work. The racket was more forgiving.

Most of the guys now would not be able to play with a wooden racket. They don’t have to. That would be going back to the Stone Age. But there should be limitations on racket size. I remember that Michael Chang switched to a Prince racket that was an inch or two longer [than conventional 27-inch rackets] because he had short arms. That gave him a longer reach. Now we have the big rackets and the new strings.

But the equipment and balls evolve in every sport. When you watch soccer now, you see how the soccer ball flies when they kick it. That would not have been possible with the old leather ball.

I think tennis needs a generation of players who start playing the creative game again and are willing to take the risk of being creative, coming into the net, playing serve and volley, honing their skills on different surfaces.

Tennis should make the different surfaces different in speed. Make grass fast again. Make clay as slow as it used to be. Make the speed of hard courts something in between. That was the reason my achievement, winning on all four surfaces, was so special. Because I was able to adjust my game to every surface. These days, players rarely have to adjust their game. They just play the same.

If you look at the top 20, you have hardly any clay court specialists anymore. Most of the tournaments are played on hard courts. So let’s take Kevin Anderson, who reached the US Open final and is No. 8 in the world. It’s a great achievement. But on clay, he’s achieved very little. On grass, he’s never even made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. So he plays best on hard courts, and he can basically play on hard courts throughout the year.

Over a seven-year period, you played 17 Davis Cup ties and compiled an excellent 35-11 overall (singles and doubles) record. In the 1993 Davis Cup final, you won all three points against Australia to win the title for Germany. The ITF Board will vote this August on the World Cup of Tennis, a new 16-team, 10-day event at one venue. If the World Cup is approved, French Davis Cup captain Yannick Noah said it would mean “the death of the Davis Cup,” the world’s most famous and prestigious annual international sports competition. Is Noah right? What is best for tennis: the Davis Cup or the World Cup? And why?

I absolutely agree with Yannick. The Davis Cup is one of the most prestigious, traditional team competitions in the world of sports. It has an incredible history. If you look back at the past, at the ‘90s, we all played Davis Cup. It was not a question about the timing on the tennis calendar or playing too much tennis. It was just about representing your country. Davis Cup was one of the most important events in our tennis lives.

If the younger generation doesn’t see that and gives Davis Cup less importance, that’s their problem. But it’s not the problem of the competition. Every player has to ask himself: Do I have to play a certain number of tournaments? Can I fit Davis Cup in? Well, we all fit the Davis Cup in. And we had a tough schedule with a lot of tournaments to play. But we wanted to do that. If you want to do that, it’s possible to do that.

If the World Group had 8 teams, instead of the current 16 teams, that would result in one round less each year. Would that satisfy some of the top players?

I don’t think so. Because it’s not a scheduling problem. It’s about the general idea of Davis Cup and its importance to the players these days. There are players who believe Davis Cup is important. And every top player doesn’t have to play every single tie. You can be injured; you might have a tough schedule; or you need to look out for your ranking because you had a bad four weeks. It’s not the players that make the Davis Cup. It’s the Davis Cup that makes the players.

That was always the history of the Davis Cup. If you look at the history of the team that Boris played with, the biggest success all those players had at a young age was winning the Davis Cup for Germany. That’s what they’re all known for — except for Boris. No one else would remember the tournament wins they had. But they all know they were part of Davis Cup history. If you ask Boris, he would say Davis Cup was extremely important to him.

What are you most proud of achieving during your years as the director of the German Tennis Championships, an ATP 500 event, in Hamburg? Despite the fact that no top 20 players entered in 2017 due to its poor place on the tournament calendar, you attracted more than 60,000 spectators. This is your last year as director. Why did the German Tennis Federation end its cooperation with you?

For the last question you have to ask the German Tennis Federation. I have been the director for 10 years, including this year. I think we did a great job because when we took over the Championships, it had a high financial deficit every year. We took over the tournament from the federation. We made it into a viable event again. We’re playing it for the 112 time in Germany, in Hamburg this year. So we have an incredibly long history and tradition. I’m very proud of keeping that tradition alive and well. The tournament has been part of my life for 40 years. I’m proud that I can say that I saved the tournament and it’s still there. We preserved the tradition. We’ll see if that is the case next year because we have a new promoter. The German tennis federation has its own ideas. It will be very sad to see the tournament leave Hamburg.

Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1957, said it was from sports that he learned all he knew about ethics. What ethical lessons and values have you learned from sports?

Respect. Trust. Accepting the fact that there is always someone better than you, which is also an important lesson for life. Even though it’s an individual sport and you have to take care of yourself, you should never forget to look left and right. If you’re a sportsperson, you should follow Rudyard Kipling’s famous words above the players’ entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same….” Then you have the right to walk on the Centre Court.

You have to show dignity for the sport. As I said about Davis Cup, no player is bigger than the sport. The sport makes the players — and not vice versa.