Tennis: Stich savours week's wealth

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL STICH held the Compaq Grand Slam Cup aloft at the Olympiahalle here yesterday, ending American domination of the event exactly three weeks after his German compatriot Boris Becker's birthday triumph against Jim Courier, the world No 1 from Florida, in the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt.

The difference was that Stich's dollars 2m ( pounds 1.3m) prize money for winning four matches, culminating in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory against Michael Chang in the final, was almost double Becker's for winning five.

Earning at a rate of dollars 59.7 per second, including breaks for refreshment at the changeovers, would appear extravagant, even allowing for the buoyancy of the German mark. It cannot be good for the sport that Stich was able to accumulate almost five times as much in a week here than the pounds 240,000 for winning the Wimbledon men's singles title last year.

Stich agreed that there is no comparison between the two accomplishments. 'I would be much happier winning Wimbledon, getting dollars 10,000, than winning this tournament, getting dollars 2m,' he said. 'As long as the money is there - and not just in tennis, but in other sports, like golf and Formula One - you can't blame anybody for taking it. But the Grand Slams are always going to be the most important tournaments, no matter how much money you pay, or whatever happens.'

Stich and Chang have each made a total of dollars 2.45m from the Grand Slam Cup, Stich from two appearances (he was a semi-finalist last year), Chang having qualified on each of the three years the event has taken place.

Chang has yet to win the trophy, having lost in straight sets in the semi-final to the inaugural winner, Pete Sampras, and fallen in straight sets to David Wheaton in last year's final. As also happened on that occasion, Chang came to the final the day after an exhausting five-set semi-final.

Last year, he overcame Ivan Lendl from two sets and a break of serve down. On Saturday, he survived the serving power of Goran Ivanisevic on the fastest indoor court in the game to win in 3hr 39min.

What was anticipated as a finely balanced final between the 6ft 4in serve-volleying Stich and the 5ft 8in counter-punching Chang failed to materialise. They had played each other twice previously, the German winning in two sets on a hard court in Memphis, the American levelling the series in two sets on a carpet in Antwerp last month. Yesterday, Stich, none the worse for spending nearly three hours on court defeating Sampras in the other semi-final, was rarely challenged by Chang, and consequently escaped the possibility of additional pressure from the home crowd.

After saving four break points in the third game, Stich successfully attacked Chang's serve in the sixth and eighth games to take the opening set in 43 minutes. The German then conceded only four points on serve in the second set, evidently unimpressed by Chang's attempts to unnerve him by creeping inside the baseline to receive.

Chang's resilience can never be underestimated, however much his cause appears to be lost - as he showed in detaining Stefan Edberg for 5hr 26min in the semi- finals of the United States Open - and he made a brief revival here after losing his serve in the opening game of the third set.

The American created two break points in the fourth game and managed to convert the second of them with a cracking forehand drive. Chang's arm pumped the air, but was unable to put the necessary power and accuracy into his subsequent serves. Stich immediately assembled three break points with a high backhand volley, and Chang double-faulted.

Stich broke again, for 5-2, and not even a double-fault, which gave Chang a break point in the final game, delayed him long before he hit the jackpot with a typical forehand volley. Chang did not offer fatigue as an excuse. 'I might have been a little bit slow today, but I don't think that was a major factor,' he said. 'I don't think I played as well as I did yesterday, but, then again, Michael played quite well today.'

A runners-up cheque for dollars 1m is not a bad consolation prize.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) Semi-finals: M Chang (US) bt G Ivanisevic (Croa) 6-7 6-2 6-4 3-6 6-3; M Stich (Ger) bt P Sampras (US) 7-6 7-6 3-6 7-6. Final: Stich bt Chang 6-2 6-3 6-2.

Britain's team of Mark Petchey and Chris Wilkinson were beaten 2-1 by the No 1 seeds, Sweden, in the semi-finals of the European team championships in Trieste, Italy, on Saturday.