Tennis: Durable Stich is stuck on winning: Germany's Davis Cup

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL STICH proved to have the ability and the durability to win the Davis Cup for Germany as a perfect riposte to Boris Becker, who had chosen to take his racket and ball home.

Australia had acknowledged before the final that they were relying on Stich to show signs of fatigue after his recent grand prix successes almost as much as they were depending upon an inspired performance by their own players. Stichability ruled. The 1991 Wimbledon champion was unrelenting, holding the trophy aloft yesterday after competing for more than nine hours over the three days.

The absent Becker, who raised the German game to an unimagined level and was the focal point of the nation's two previous Davis Cup triumphs, in Gothenburg in 1988 and Stuttgart the following year, can be assured that the baton has passed into worthy hands.

Stich was fresh enough to produce a sprint finish, requiring only an hour and 40 minutes to beat Richard Fromberg 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to give Germany an unassailable 3-1 lead.

The hugs and high-fives resumed after Marc Goellner made it 4-1 by defeating Jason Stoltenberg 6-1, 6-7, 7-6 in the 'dead' rubber. Neale Fraser contributed a solemn note by announcing his retirement as Australia's captain after 23 years. The 1960 Wimbledon champion led his country to four of their 26 triumphs.

Stich, having toiled for five sets on the slow red clay in wearing down Stoltenberg on Friday and then shared the load with Patrik Kuhnen for four sets in winning Saturday's doubles against Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, loosened up and used the exhibition centre here for its intended purpose.

Fromberg, it has to be said, was ripe for a quick kill. A day's rest was hardly sufficient for a complete recovery from his Friday night heroics in defeating Goellner in five sets after the German had failed to put away five match points, three of them in the third set. One sensation was really all that could be expected from the Tasmanian, who had gone into the tie nursing a strained muscle in the region of his ribcage.

Allowing for that, Stich's performance was impressive by any standards. He knew he had Fromberg's measure, having defeated him in their three previous meetings, each time on clay, including a five-setter at the Barcelona Olympics. And he was determined to make an even bigger impact on the German public than when winning the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt a fortnight earlier.

Fromberg gleaned a mere 11 points off Stich's serve, and four of these came in the fourth game of the second set. Any possibility that Fromberg would actually scramble into the match at this stage evaporated when he directed a forehand wide on his first break point and was beaten by a Stich volley on the second. The German then hit a couple of aces to put Fromberg back in his place, where he remained.

The sight of Stich in a salvaging mode, albeit fleetingly, provided an interesting interlude after he had dominated to the extent of leading by a set and 2-0 after only 40 minutes. The third set was a replica of the second in terms of the score and the similarity of Fromberg being broken in the first game and again in the seventh. But, as in the opening set, only three points slipped the security of Stich's serve.

Though Fromberg was able to put a racket on the majority of the German's potent deliveries (Stich hit 11 aces), keeping the ball in play was another matter. Even when this was achieved, unforced errors contributed to the Australian's growing sense of futility.

'It wasn't so difficult today,' Stich said. 'I played very, very well and Richard seemed tired after his other match.' Niki Pilic, the German captain and Stich's coach, was effusive. 'Michael played like a world champion,' he said, without fear of contradiction.

DAVIS CUP FINAL (Dusseldorf): Germany bt Australia 4-1 (German names first). Yesterday: M Stich bt R Fromberg 6-4 6-2 6-2; M Goellner bt J Stoltenberg 6-1 6-7 7-6. Saturday: Stich and P Kuhnen bt T Woodbridge and M Woodforde 7-6 4-6 6-3 7-6. Friday: Stich bt J Stoltenberg 6-7 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-3; M Goellner lost to Fromberg 3-6 5-7 7-6 6-2 9-7.

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