Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Remembering German Tennis Star Michael Westphal, Who Succumbed to AIDS in 1991 at Age 26

German tennis player Michael Westphal is probably best remembered for his epic 6-8, 1-6, 7-5, 11-9, 17-15 win over Czech Tomas Smid in the 1985 Davis Cup semifinals -- when the carpet repeatedly came unglued during play. 

How no one's neck was broken remains a mystery ...

But sadly, he is also known as being the first (and only active) professional tennis player to die of AIDS, a fact his girlfriend at the time, Jessica Stockmann, waited a decade to share. The AIDS Memorial Instagram page paid tribute to Michael today, the 27th anniversary of his death. Didn't realize Stockmann had later married Westphal's friend and fellow player Michael Stich (who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer) or that they had started an AIDS foundation in their fallen friend's memory. 

Learn more HERE

Shortly before the retired legend Arthur Ashe died of AIDS in 1993, he formed a namesake foundation to combat the disease. It later became the Arthur Ashe Learning Center.

Although it doesn't "matter," I've often wondered how Westphal contracted HIV. His sexy '80s porn star looks -- he reminded me of Johnny Davenport -- have always had me hoping he was on our team. (Can you believe we STILL don't have an "out" male player on the tour?) But a poorly translated article I found online today offers what I can only describe as a "suspicious" explanation:

HIV virus slumbered in the body of Westphal 
As heroic the performance of Michael Westphal had been against Tomas Smid, as tragic his further life went on. Barely one knew that the HIV virus slumbered in his body. When he was 16 years old he should have contracted himself with the immune disorder from a drug-addicted female classmate. His tennis career was over sooner as it had begun. His highest ranking was #49 in March 1986. 
From then on it went steadily downhill in the ranking. People accused the bon vivant from Hamburg to have a lacking opinion of his job as he seemed to enjoy his private life more than his job. "I need to have fun at tennis", Westphal defended himself towards his critics.  
In 1989 the immune disorder broke out, which had a debilitating effect on him and made many comeback attempts impossible. He suffered from loss of hair, skin allergies and had to take heavy meds. The huge support in his life was his girlfriend Jessica Stockmann who later married his friend Michael Stich and accompanied him in his most difficult and last hours. 
Death at the young age of 26 
In the night to June 20th, 1991, Michael Westphal died in the university hospital of Hamburg with just 26 years. Only 10 years later Jessica Stockmann revealed his HIV infection. "I promised him to be silent for 10 years and to fight against AIDS", she said, who established after the death of Michael Westphal together with Michael Stich the Michael Stich charity, in order to campaign for children with the HIV virus and draw attention to the fate of Michel Westphal.  
What will be remembered of Michael Westphal? A role model, whose fighting spirit lives on in the bestowal of the Michael Westphal Award to people who render outstanding services to tennis and the fact, that players without a tournament victory and a high ranking can be immortal in the Davis Cup.

Confirming this, I see The New York Times referred to his cause of death at the time as being a "virus he had suffered from for two years." Although his death is a tragic footnote in sports history, it's nice to see he did not die in vain thanks to his loved ones' ongoing HIV advocacy.

Please reach out HERE if you know more about the life and death of Michael Westphal. He was really something.

. . Michael Westphal (February 19, 1965 – June 20, 1991) was a German tennis player who died of AIDS in Hamburg, Germany. He was 26 years old. Westphal represented Germany in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, making it as far as the quarter-finals. The right-hander reached his highest Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) singles ranking of World Number 49 in March 1986. In 1989, Westphal began to display the symptoms of having acquired HIV according to then girlfriend Jessica Stockmann, pictured above. Westphal's weight plummeted to 55 kg and he rarely appeared in the public. . "I promised to remain silent for 10 years and fight AIDS," said Stockmann later. Only in 2001 did she reveal the secret behind Westphal’s death. Together with Westphal's friend Michael Stich, whom Stockmann married in 1992, they launched a foundation in 1994 committed to helping HIV positive children. #whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #endaids #neverforget
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