Nobody will ever take away Michael Stich’s 1991 Wimbledon crown. But Alexander Volkov nearly brought the German’s dream run to a halt in the fourth round.
“That was basically the deciding match for me to win Wimbledon,” Stich told ATPTour.com.
The sixth seed had an interesting first week at the All England Club, as he wasn’t able to finish his first-round win against Dan Goldie until Thursday due to rain. After beating Diego Nargiso and Omar Camporese in four sets each, the German knew Volkov could potentially be a tricky opponent.
“He was a tough player to play. He could have played terribly, but if he was on and he was feeling the ball good, he was tough to play on grass because he took the ball very early. He was not a great server and not a great volleyer,” Stich said. “He wasn’t great at any stroke in particular, but he had a very good all-court game if he was on. He played very unconventionally… if you didn’t play your best and he was playing well, it was that little fraction of one ball here, one point there that could have made the difference.”
That was exactly the case in their Wimbledon battle on the original No. 2 court, known as the “Graveyard of Champions”. Volkov was up a break early in the fifth set, and Stich did not feel he was playing well.
“I had a break point against me to go down a double break,” Stich said. “I missed the first serve. I had a second serve and just thought, ‘What the hell?’ I just went for that second serve, I won that point and I won that game.”
Even so, Volkov took a 5-3 lead and served for the match. He was just centimetres from earning match point on his own racquet.
“I hit a forehand passing shot that hit the top of the tape and just went over his racquet. He was at the net, and it landed on the sideline,” Stich said. “Then I got the break and, I’m not sure since it’s almost 30 years ago now, but I think I didn’t lose a point afterwards. I won my service game, I broke him to love and then I served out to love again and won 7-5 in the fifth.”
Stich won the match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals. But if his passing shot hit the net a fraction lower or ricocheted just a bit wider, he very easily could have lost the match.
“As I was not happy with my performance, you get to that stage where you think, ‘Just go for it, what the heck.’ You’re not playing your best tennis anyway, you might just lose, so you [know you] might need that bit of luck to turn the tables,” Stich said. “You still always believe you can change the course of the match, even if you’re not happy with your own performance. But maybe it needs something like that netcord to make that happen.
“As everything happens in fractions of a second, especially on grass where you don’t have much time, you don’t have so much time to think about it… Things have to come together, you have to be very focussed and as always, you always need that piece of luck in sports to be successful in the end.”
Stich immediately focussed on avenging a Roland Garros semi-final defeat against Jim Courier in the last eight, but it didn’t hurt mentally that he’d escaped a tough battle against Volkov.
“Definitely in your subconsciousness it creates something like, ‘You should have been out, but you’re still here so just relax!’” Stich said. “When I was relaxed and I felt good about myself, then the timing was right, the timing was good, and things seemed to be easier for me.”
Stich beat Courier in straight sets, defeated Stefan Edberg in four despite not earning a break point, and then triumphed against countryman Boris Becker to claim his lone Grand Slam trophy. Defeating three of the top four players in the FedEx ATP Rankings from the quarter-finals on was an impressive feat for the German. But it was surviving against Volkov that allowed him the chance to do so.
“If you take the whole match, he probably should have won,” Stich said. “But then again, luck comes into play, and it just was not to be for him.”.readfullarticle