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A day after bye-bye Boris, it’s bye-bye Michael

July 4, 1997

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ A day after bye-bye Boris at Wimbledon, it was bye-bye Michael.

Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion who rivaled Boris Becker for the German tennis soul _ but never quite matched him _ announced that Friday’s semifinal loss to Cedric Pioline on Centre Court at Wimbledon was his last match.

``That’s it,″ said Stich, who fell in a 3-hour, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 match. It was the best tennis of a dreary, rain-delayed fortnight at the All England Club.

Becker _ with few hints _ sprang a bigger surprise 24 hours earlier, saying this Wimbledon was his last. The 29-year-old Becker now will play only smaller events.

Stich, 28, won’t play anything.

Earlier he said he planned to retire after this September’s Davis Cup match with Mexico. But he said he changed his mind as he walked to the net, embraced Pioline, and then stood several moments talking with him.

``Basically, I made up my mind after the match right away that this was going to be my last match and I just said, `Thanks for making it so exciting.′

``I would like to play Davis Cup but I don’t think I have the will to stay fit for two more months,″ he added.

Stich, who surprised Becker in three sets to win at Wimbledon six years ago, never won over the fans as did Stefan Edberg and Becker. He was never as demonstrative, never at talkative with reporters.

Stich always considered himself more than just a tennis player and often seemed aloof to his rivals. In assessing Pete Sampras’ career, Stich revealed much about himself.

``He only thinks about tennis and nothing else,″ Stich said. ``That’s the person he is, and that’s great for him. I could have never done it. I never did it. I cared about a lot of other things in life. He is a person who just focuses on tennis, day and night, and I think that’s part of his success.″

But Stich held little back as he walked away from Wimbledon for the final time. He dabbed his wet eyes with a towel and then turned and raised his right arm for a goodbye wave.

``It was a great atmosphere, exactly what I hoped for,″ said Stich, runnerup in ’94 to Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open and in ’96 in the French Open to Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

``I would have loved to win and go to another final, but those matches are very rare. I’m very happy I was part of this one today,″ he said.

Stich, who reached his highest ATP Tour ranking at No. 2 in November 1993, is leaving because of a chronic ankle injury, a nagging shoulder problem, and tennis burnout.

``The shoulder has been bothering me for the last 12 months and I think that played a big part in my decision,″ said Stich, who is one of seven players to win at least one title every year this decade.

``But it’s also that I just didn’t enjoy being on the tour anymore. I don’t enjoy going to practice courts and working on my game.″

Stich, who fell behind 2-1, came back in the fourth and fifth sets to nearly break Pioline _ who played the match of his career.

He won the fourth set 7-5 but was broken in the first game of the final set, which spelled the end.

``I’ve seen Cedric playing a lot and I’ve played him a lot and I’ve never seen him play that well,″ said Stich, who had a 4-1 edge on the Frenchman entering the match. They’d never played on grass.

``He played volleys, I don’t know where he got them from but he found them somewhere. I don’t know what he did, but he played incredible.″

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