The mysterious death of a tennis star: what happened to Horst Skoff? | NDR.de – Sport

Status: 15/04/2022 09:00

Austrian tennis player Horst Skoff died in Hamburg in 2008 under dubious circumstances. What really happened then? And how was Horst Skoff really as a person?

by Andreas Becker, Hendrik Maassen and Anne Armbrecht

It was on June 6, 2008, around 12.30, the emergency services called. A prostitute explained that Horst Skoff collapsed in a former gym after taking drugs. Skoff was resuscitated on the spot and died at the hospital a day later. Due to the dubious circumstances and injuries to the face, the negligence of a third party in the death could not be ruled out in the first instance. It shows the investigation files from that time.

Skoff was a tennis star in Austria. He was only 39 years old. The official cause of death was later heart failure. But for some of his companions, his death is still inexplicable. Unanswered questions gave rise to speculation – the family still does not rule out a murder.

Full throttle on the tennis court – and private

People around him describe Skoff as a charming and colorful character, a dreamer and an extremely loyal friend. At the same time as someone who understood to enjoy life despite his career. “Just like he gave full throttle on the tennis court, he often gave full throttle privately,” says Skoff’s former manager Walter Lutschinger.

Born in Klagenfurt in 1968 and raised in the nearby countryside, Skoff soon made a name for himself in the sport. At the age of 15, he won the Orange Bowl, the most important youth competition in the world. He moved to Vienna’s performance center and trained with the best in the country. Soon he himself was one of them. But it did not work easily with the ambitious talent.

Former coach Bresnik: “Particular maturity and fearlessness”

“Horst was actually always a tough, tough guy,” his former coach Günter Bresnik recalls. The coach, who briefly coached Boris Becker and later the Austrian top player Dominic Thiem in his career, tells NDR about Skoff’s early offense, but also an unusually gifted player who has a “special maturity and attitude” on the pitch, also “fearlessness”. “showed.

Tennis popular in Austria thanks to Skoff

In his home country, Skoff helped shape a tennis generation. At that time, Austria was promoted to the Davis Cup World Group for the first time. More than 40,000 people came to the matches in Vienna’s Prater Stadium.


Horst Skoff (r.) And Thomas Muster 1988.

Also because during this time two other talents besides Skoff with Thomas Muster and Alexander Antonitsch got their international breakthrough.

Skoff was one of the most popular athletes in his country at the time. His former Davis Cup teammates did not want to comment on the NDR. However, his former opponent Udo Riglewski describes the player Skoff as a “fighting machine”, a passionate player who “kept his heart on the field”.

Winner against Becker and Wilander

Skoff won four ATP singles tournaments during his career and was at one point number 18 in the world rankings. At the tournament in Hamburg’s Rothenbaum in 1989, he beat triple Wimbledon champion Boris Becker in the semifinals. In the Davis Cup, already plagued by seizures, he won a spectacular match against Swedish Mats Wilander, then number two in the world: six hours and four minutes, one of the longest matches in Davis Cup history.

Brat career end

But great successes and bitter defeats alternated steadily in his career. Publicly – also unlike his colleagues – the image of a man who enjoyed the Viennese nightlife fell in a sporty way.

The public welcomed Skoff’s affairs. Rumors of parties and drinking even before important matches gave rise to the impression of wrong priorities. The once famous star, stamped as a failure.

It fit into the picture when his career ended abruptly after an allegedly rejected doping test with a lifetime quarantine – at the age of just 29. A lawsuit against the ban was successful. But Skoff could not find his way back to his old strength. In 1999, his career finally ended.

Plans for a tennis youth center

The transition to a life without fame did not seem to come easily for Skoff. First he retired to Carinthia to work in agriculture. Then, without fortune, he tried his hand at coaching. He planned a tennis youth center. But the search for investors for his junior project proved difficult. In 2008, he flew to Hamburg to meet potential donors.

Sadomaso party and surplus of drugs

On the evening of June 5, Skoff landed in Hamburg. According to police investigation documents, he met Dominatrix Roberta and the prostitute Gabi at the airport. They went to a sadomasochistic party together, but moved on quickly. They found a somewhat more private setting in an old sports studio at Hammer Steindamm.

Dominatrix Roberta, who breaks his silence in the NDR interview after many years, reports in detail the following evening. They would have dressed Skoff in women’s clothes and put pins on him. “I don’t think he knew exactly what his fetish was,” she says. “It was just about there being one woman or more women. It doesn’t matter. And he uses drugs and just has this kick.”

cocaine “in large quantities”

cocaine, she says. “In larger quantities. Well, I found a lot.” Once during the night he had an epileptic seizure. “He said, ‘Oh shit,’ and he took it to heart. And then he collapsed.” In hindsight, Roberta says, she probably should have said at some point, “Now it’s over.” The fact that she did not do so haunts her to this day. For a long time, she says, she could only sleep with the light on.

Doctors are fighting for Skoff’s life

The ambulance arrived, Skoff took to the hospital. Doctors fought for Skoff’s life for almost two days. He did not reach it. The family was told that Skoff had died of a heart attack, says his half-brother Bernhard Boschitz. Police started an investigation anyway.

Horst Skoff's funeral 2008 © imago images

Horst Skoff’s funeral in 2008.

Finally, the archives said: “Mr Skoff died very likely as a result of acute cocaine poisoning.” Examination of the hair revealed that Skoff “had abused cocaine extensively in the months leading up to his death.” There are no signs of third party negligence.

His half-brother still has a hard time believing that. “I think this ability that I have always envied him, about not being afraid of anything or anyone,” he says, “I think it eventually ended with his downfall.”

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