Presenting the Class of 2018: Helena Sukova & Michael Stich
Enter the International Tennis Hall of Fame
(July 21, 2018) From the ITHOF – It was a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon on Bill Talbert Stadium Court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) in Newport, Rhode Island. Eleven Hall of Fame inductees sat on a platform on the court — legends whose excellence went as far back as the ‘50s.
Saturday they welcomed the two new inductees who comprised the Class of 2018, Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic and Germany’s Michael Stich.
Sukova had called the impending induction “a fairy tale.” As she addressed the crowd, though, the meaning clear — Sukova most of all grateful to those who’d aided her ascent. From father Cyril’s role as the country’s head of tennis to mother Vera’s prominence as player and coach (Wimbledon singles finalist, Fed Cup captain) to brother Cyril, Helena’s partner for three mixed doubles titles, the devotion of those closest to her had been the genesis for Sukova becoming a superb tennis player – a relentlessly positive presence who won 14 major doubles titles.
Praising all three family members in her speech, Sukova also lauded a century’s worth of great Czech players, including such Hall of Famers as Jaroslav Drobny, Martina Navratilova and the man who’d flown from Czechoslovakia for this occasion, Jan Kodes.
“Winning in tennis always brought a special kind of excitement inside me,” said Sukova. “The final victory is a victory that cannot be described in words. Every experience is a combination of emotions and relaxation.”
While for Sukova tennis had been the family business, the sport had been very different for Stich. Skilled at both soccer and tennis in his youth, Stich was somewhat of a late bloomer. As recently as 1990, the year he turned 22, Stich’s ranking was outside the top 40. But the next summer, he blossomed, taking the Wimbledon title with wins over Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker.
Just like Sukova, Stich’s speech was marked by emotion and appreciation for many, from his coach Mark Lewis to the broader tennis community. Like so many ambitious players, Stich hated losing. But on this day in Newport, he confessed to an epiphany that changed the direction of his career. Stepping on to Wimbledon’s Centre Court, Stich saw the inspirational words from “If,” a poem by Rudyard Kipling that adorns the doorway to that court: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same.”
Said Stich, “If you walk on the tennis court, on the Centre Court, you have to accept the fact you might be losing . . . That really influenced also the career from then on. I always tried to be respectful to everyone around.”