In an interview with NDR, Sportschau and SZ, a former and a current tennis professional raise serious allegations against a high-ranking tennis official and coach. It is about sexualized violence and alleged abuse of power. As a consequence of the allegations, former Wimbledon winner Michael Stich is calling on the German Tennis Association (DTB) to question his entire system.
“In the beginning he touched his back, stomach, and then he worked his way down to his buttocks”this is how Maximilian Abel describes it in an interview with NDR, Sportschau and Süddeutsche Zeitung: “It was very uncomfortable and I thought, what the heck is he doing there.”
The one Abel accuses with this description is Dirk Hordorff, his former coach and the vice president of the German Tennis Association (DTB). Abel says Hordorff is said to have committed psychological, sexual and physical violence on him for years.
In the 1990s, Abel was one of the best junior players in the world. At the time, he was considered the German tennis star of the future and, as a young professional, played against Roger Federer, among others. But during his career, Abel is said to have been a victim of abuse of power and sexualized violence. Exactly one year ago he described these allegations in a letter – addressed to Dietloff von Arnim, President of the German Tennis Association (DTB).
Feeling the muscles in the locker room
Maximilian Abel, who is now 41, has known the man against whom he is making the allegations since he trained as a child at the Hessian Tennis Association’s facility. They met there for the first time on the sidelines of the training. When Hordorff said to Maximilian Abel in the mid-1990s that he wanted to feel his muscles and see if the boy was fit, he obeyed and went into the changing room with him, says Abel.
Later he visited Hordorff in his apartment. There he was supposed to do push-ups naked and was massaged. Hordorff was neither his trainer, physiotherapist nor masseur during this time. Steffi Graf’s former tennis coach, Klaus Hofsaess, thinks that’s inappropriate: “Nobody does that.”
relationship of dependency and power
In order to be able to compete in top-level tennis, it is advisable to have financial support or so-called Wild Cards available for tournaments. Abel remembers that Dirk Hordorff got him that. And he promised to train him for free until he was among the top 100 players in the world. A dependency and power relationship was created that Hordorff exploited.
Maximilian Abel in 2012
He remembers one event in particular, says Abel – from May 2003, during the ATP tournament at Rothenbaum in Hamburg. “You lied to me”, his then coach Hordorff accused him of. Contrary to his assertion, he did not pick up tennis strings to string his racket.
As punishment – as Abel describes it in an interview with NDR, Sportschau and SZ – he had to undress on the instructions of the trainer and lay naked on the hotel bed “in dog position” have to go. Dirk Hordorff took the belt out of his pants. “Then he pulled through 20 times”, says Abel. 20 lashes on the bare buttocks. When Maximilian Abel looked back, he said he saw his trainer have an erection. “I was shocked, felt like shit”says Abel.
Abel is in prison, his statements are consistent
Abel is in prison today, not the first time. The reason: credit card fraud. He financed drug and alcohol excesses and his gambling addiction with stolen money, including paying prostitutes with it. He is currently serving more than seven years in prison. Maximilian Abel knows: As a convicted fraudster, his credibility is in question. For some he is “notorious liar”.
Since 2003, Abel has confided in at least four people and two interest groups. Reporters from NDR, Sportschau and Süddeutsche Zeitung spoke to these people and were able to see letters to them. The impression: Abel’s statements are consistent and do not differ from each other.
And according to the research, Maximilian Abel was not the only one who should undress in front of Dirk Hordorff. Reporters from NDR, Sportschau and SZ spoke to more than 30 people from the tennis scene – with current and former players, coaches and officials. Some of them say they have had experiences similar to Abel’s.
“He wanted to treat me like a slave”
One of those affected is tennis pro Sriram Balaji from India. A grant from the Indian Association enabled him to spend about three months at the Hessian State Association in 2010. The player remembers that Dirk Hordorff, then president of the Hessian state association, came into his room at least once a week after a quick knock. Then Balaji, who was 20 at the time, was supposed to undress – first down to his underpants, later completely.
“He touched me all over my body, just not my genitals”, says Balaji, who is still active on the ATP tour today, in an interview with NDR, Sportschau and SZ. He felt very uncomfortable, but told no one about it. So he thought it was normal in Germany.
He also stayed one night in Dirk Hordorff’s apartment and was supposed to sleep there naked on the sofa, says Balaji. Hordorff humiliated him on the tennis court and pulled his ears in front of other players: “I felt like he wanted to treat me like his slave.”
Dirk Hordorff did not personally comment on requests from NDR, Sportschau and SZ. However, a law firm commissioned by him said the allegations were “simply not applicable”. The events described did not take place.
Hordorff is a well-connected mastermind
Dirk Hordorff is still considered well connected in the national and international tennis scene and a powerful puller who also supports young talent financially. He was Rainer Schüttler’s trainer and manager. Long-standing world number one Novak Djokovic attended his training camp as a young player. Hordorff is said to have invested in the Serb’s career.
Players, coaches and officials describe Hordorff as a man of power who cleverly uses his large network and threatens opponents with lawsuits. An open letter sent to the Hessian Tennis Association in 2020 states that it is following up with players, coaches and parents “Gutsherrenart”: “His behavior is authoritarian and designed solely to maintain or gain power.”
How to reach us
The NDR department Investigation researches sexism, MeToo and sexualised violence in sport. You can reach the editorial team at [email protected]. At WDR, the Sport inside editorial team researches these topics. You can reach the editors at [email protected].
Michael Stich demands consequences
Due to the allegations against Hordorff, former Wimbledon winner Michael Stich is demanding consequences. “Someone like that has no position for me in the DTB”said Stitch. Hordorff’s behavior as described was “completely out of the question, a no-go that has no place in competitive sports”. The German Tennis Association should make a clear cut and have to question its entire system. It is also about preventing “that something like this will happen again in the future”.
DTB: “Misconduct not proven with certainty”
In response to Maximilian Abel’s letter, the DTB commissioned a commercial law firm to conduct an investigation in the summer of 2022. That investigation is now apparently complete. The DTB announced this at the request of NDR, Sportschau and SZ. The investigation comes to the conclusion that “that the allegation of misconduct cannot be proven with certainty”. However, the member of the Executive Committee will not be exercising his office until further notice.