Thursday, 8 May 2014


Most people would never have heard of Michael Westphal from Germany, a Davis Cup player in the 80's who played along side the great Boris Becker. October 4, 1985 in Frankfurt Germany will go down in history as possibly one of the all time greatest come from behind victories , not only in Davis Cup but in World tennis in general. The  semi final between Germany and Czechoslovakia was a classic , despite the eventual one sided score line. Becker had dispatched of Miloslav Mecir relatively easily in the opening rubber but the second match was  an epic, to say the least.
Michael Westphal was ranked 54 with very few wins to his name, his opponent was a man who's credentials were of significance. Thomas Smid was ranked 17 in singles and in 1984 was ranked 1 in the World in doubles and was the US Open doubles champion in 1984 with Australian John Fitzgerald. He also won the 1986 French Open men's doubles title with Fitzgerald again , 14-12 in the fifth set against Sweden's Jarryd and Edberg. This Davis Cup match appeared on paper to be lopsided , it was for the first two sets.
Smid took a two sets to love lead by a score line of 8-6, 6-1 and appeared headed towards an easy victory, Westphal had other ideas . In a true show of grit and determination the German took the next three sets by the score of 7-5, 11-9, 17-15 in 5 hours and 29 minutes.
What made the match even more remarkable was that there was a delay mid match as Westphal literally dug up the carpet as he went in for a volley , it was as though it wasn't glued down. (this is worth a look on you tube, one of the most bizarre incidents in World tennis). 
Germany went on to win this tie 5-0 and played Sweden in the final but Westphal's luck had run out. He was beaten by Mats Wilander in the first rubber and by Stefan Edberg in the fifth and deciding match but not before raising German hopes with a first set win . He narrowly lost the second set 5-7 before Edberg ran away with the match in the fourth. 
Westphal though had more on his mind than playing tennis and although the information is unclear he developed the HIV virus  somewhere into his career.
 Westphal died in 1991, however until 2001 his death was in fact a mystery to World tennis. His girlfriend , who later married German Wimbledon Champion Michael Stich promised to keep the real issues for Westphal's illness and death a secret for an undisclosed period of time. Stich and Westphal were also good friends.
In the 80's the Sports reports on TV were a lot more thorough than what it is today. I remember vividly watching the extended highlights of the Davis Cup final of '85 as my Swedish idols were playing, Wilander, Nystrom, Edberg. I was glad they won but I always remembered the efforts of Michael Westphal from Germany. Imagine what it would've been like for him to not only be playing in the shadow of a famous countryman like Becker but to be playing under a more pressing issue.
This is a story of someone who rose to stardom with very few victories on the pro tour but who owned a heart as big as the best when it came to playing for his country. Michael Westphal deserves a movie to be made about his life and Davis Cup heroics under both mental and physical duress due to his health issues. He wasn't a house hold name , but he left an impression on World Tennis......

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