What makes a death tragic

Michael Westphal - tragic death of a tennis star

Status: 08/17/2020 9:40 a.m.

He was the great German tennis hope in the early 1980s, Davis Cup hero in 1985 and the first known AIDS death in professional sport.

On June 19, 1991, Michael Westphal died. He was only 26 years old. The cause of death has long been speculated in public. It wasn't until a decade later that his long-time partner revealed the secret.

Late start - steep climb

Michael Westphal was born on February 19, 1965 in Pinneberg, Schleswig-Holstein. He started playing tennis quite late, at the age of nine. The curly hair is quickly considered to be the greatest German talent, playing for Klipper Hamburg in the Bundesliga.

VIDEO: Westphal turns pro at 17 (1 min)

After completing secondary school, he left school at the age of 17 and opted for the professional tour.

Always by his side - girlfriend Jessica Stockmann

A beautiful couple - a happy, young love. At the tennis tournaments Michael Westphal is accompanied by his girlfriend, who later became actress Jessica Stockmann. The two move to glamorous Monaco as teenagers. They are inseparable for nine years - until his death.

Stockmann: "At first it was very closed"

Westphal is a cautious person towards strangers, remembers Stockmann.

VIDEO: Ex-girlfriend Stockmann about Westphal (1 min)

Westphal made the breakthrough

In 1984, "Westus", his nickname, achieved a world rankings among the top 100 for the first time. He played his first ATP final in Livingston (USA) and beat Boris Becker in Munich, among others.

Career highlight: record game in the Davis Cup

October 4, 1985, Frankfurter Festhalle: All of Germany is in tennis fever after Boris Becker's Wimbledon victory. The German team plays in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup against Czechoslovakia.

VIDEO: The record match Westphal - Smid (1 min)

Shortly before midnight: game, set and victory Westphal - 6: 8, 1: 6, 7: 5, 11: 9, 17:15 against the favorite Tomas Smid. The 20-year-old German leads his team into the final and fights his way into the hearts of the fans. 85 games in one match - record in the Davis Cup to date.

Sports crash - health problems

The big victory is followed by a rapid descent. In March 1986 the German tennis men were completely unexpectedly defeated in Mexico in the first round of the Davis Cup. Westphal loses both of his singles, falls from grace and falls out with the association. His motto "There are other things in life than tennis" becomes a boomerang.

The Hamburger loses one match after the other in 1986 and is eliminated 13 times in the first round. The result: Crash in the world rankings to 285th place. The tennis professional is struggling with health problems. Westphal is tormented by a puzzling virus.

Illness is a mystery

Westphal is examined intensively, but no one can make an exact diagnosis at first. Friends and colleagues are at a loss.

VIDEO: The onset of the disease (1 min)

Glimmer of hope on Hamburg's Rothenbaum

April 1989 - Michael Westphal starts a comeback at the traditional German tournament in Hamburg, plays through to the quarter-finals and is optimistic that he will be able to build on his old performance again.

VIDEO: Comeback at Rothenbaum (1 min)

The body is on strike

But the appearance at Rothenbaum remains his last great sporting success. Westphal struggles with heart problems, gets hair loss and suffers from skin allergies. The 1.91 meter tall athlete loses weight to 55 kilograms. What illness plagues the tennis professional? A phone call gives hope at first, but sad certainty follows.

VIDEO: The diagnosis: HIV positive (2 min)

Taboo disease AIDS

The 1980s: The panic of HIV and AIDS is widespread. Hardly any other disease is stigmatized like this and evokes such strong emotions - including exclusion of HIV-positive people who have the courage to be open.

VIDEO: "The Aids War", WDR documentary 2011 (1 min)

The promise

Stockmann and Westphal keep the tennis professional's illness a secret. The fear of stigmatization is great. It wasn't until ten years after the death of her friend that Stockmann revealed the truth. Westphal is said to have been infected with the HI virus during an affair.

VIDEO: Westphal hides his illness (1 min)

"He fought a lot"

Klaus Hofsäss and Andreas Maurer remember the encounters with their sick friend.

VIDEO: Storytelling Michael Westphal: Friends (1 min)

Westphal dies on June 19, 1991

200 family members and friends come to the funeral service at the cemetery in Hamburg-Ohlsdorf, including the entire Davis Cup team around Boris Becker.

VIDEO: Funeral service for Michael Westphal (1 min)

Mourning for Michael Westphal

Jessica Stockmann and ARD tennis commentator Hans-Jürgen Pohmann remember Westphal, who was only 26 years old.

VIDEO: Mourning for Westphal (1 min)

Michael Westphal: A shadowy existence

The Pinneberger Michael Westphal was denied the great tennis career. A Davis Cup game made him famous in 1985. He died of AIDS on June 19, 1991. more

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Sports club | 05/08/2016 | 11:15 p.m.