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For Stich, It's Game, Set, Career

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 5, 1997; Page F07

WIMBLEDON, England, July 4 -- Michael Stich had not planned for it to end here, on Centre Court at Wimbledon, in the first week of July. With shoulder problems a constant nightmare, Stich knew he would finish his career at the end of this, his 10th season. He had announced it.

Today, all of that changed. In what was the finale to a brilliant Wimbledon run, Stich lost to Cedric Pioline, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, in a semifinal full of heart and guts and precipitous moments.

Stich knew it was a match -- and a tournament -- that far better summed up his career than any performance he might have the rest of the year. So he decided to say goodbye on the court where he had achieved his greatest success.

"You know, I think I can be very proud of what I've achieved and definitely I'm going to recall this match today, playing on a very torn-up Centre Court, and just everything that happened this year," said Stich, 28, whose sole Grand Slam title came at Wimbledon in 1991 when he beat fellow German Boris Becker for the championship.

"It was very similar to '91, when I won the tournament, and I played good tennis. And I'm very happy I had that experience once more, to be able to compete on a very high level."

After a rough start this year, Stich seemed to be playing in a time warp here, his serve sharp, his play smart, and his fitness what it had been earlier in his career.

He beat Jim Courier in the first round, and he beat No. 14 Tim Henman, one of the hottest players at Wimbledon, in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

Today, Stich's most triumphant moment came on set point in the fourth set, when he broke Pioline for the first time. Stich usually uses his serve to his advantage, but today Pioline's service games were varied and unpredictable and incredibly effective. And Stich's serve was not as dependable as he hoped it would be.

The fifth set started with Stich getting broken by his own double fault. He had two break points with Pioline serving at 4-3, but he failed on both, sinking to his knees in despair when a backhand sailed wide.

Two games later, Pioline served out the match and jumped into the air. Stich, smiling, spoke quietly with Pioline at the net before giving his conqueror a hug.

"I would have loved to win, but he played his part, and he played great and kept me going as well," Stich said.

"He brought the best out of me, and that's really what I was hoping for in this match -- that you really feel that atmosphere and it's going to be this close."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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