Mats Wilander, Australian Open 1988

By Rex Bellamy, The Times, January 25, 1988

Mats Wilander took four hours and 28 minutes to beat Pat Cash 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 yesterday in an exhilarating climax to the first Australian championships played in the new National Tennis Centre at Flinders Park. Wilander became the first player since Ken Rosewall to win the men’s title three times and the only overseas player ever to do so. The final was a great match. It also had a satisfying, if slightly peverse outcome. A week ago most people fancied Wilander’s chances less than those of Ivan Lendl or Cash – the men who, with Stefan Edberg, grabbed last year’s Grand Slam titles. “It’s a long time”, Wilander said, “since I saw the four top guys so intense about winning a Grand Slam tournament.” And when Cash beat Lendl in a semi-final for the second year running, it seemed that the dramatic convention would insist on an Australian champion in the brave new world of Flinders Park. It almost happened. Cash came within two points of winning.

But Wilander fooled them all: and did so with a beautifully-crafted, unflinchingly resolute performance. Nor did the public seem to mind. They were mostly behind Cash, a Melbourne man, whose fighting heart accepts no compromise between a VC and a blanket. But they like Wilander, too, partly because he has a more engaging, less peevish personality and partly because of his tennis. They know him well. They should do – this was the fifth consecutive Australian title won either by Wilander or another Swede, Edberg.

Wilander also had a noisy and demonstrative following: young Swedes with faces daubed in the national colours. Australians responded in kind. The sunlit, packed stadium raised images of some tribal festival. The roars of 15,000 voices rang and rang across the Yarra River, the Melbourne cricket ground, and the tower blocks of the city. Even the silences were punctuated by the strange sound of wind gurgling through the amplifying system.

Yes, it was windy. Often cloudy too. And the match was twice interrupted by rain: for 33 minutes when Wilander was 4-1 up in the second set (which he lost) and for 18 minutes when Cash had a break point for a 4-0 lead in the fourth set. Yet those breaks added fuel to the excitement rather than dousing it. They were conversational pauses in a feast we had no wish to finish.

For the first set and a half (and often thereafter) Wilander played what he thinks may have been the best tennis of his life. Cash was not serving well enough to earn himself easy volleys. Wilander’s service returns were superb – they remained so – and with nimble cunning he contained, teased and frustrated the net -rusher. Often Wilander went to the net himself, once startling the incoming volleyer by advancing to meet him. Wilander’s technical soundness and tactical variety were exemplary. One spectator kept shouting “Get him, Pat.” He might as well have asked the fish to hook the fisherman. There was nothing Cash could do from the baseline, especially with a shaky forehand, and for a time there was not a lot he could do from the forecourt. Then came the first break, in which the rain transformed the court into a shining green pool.

When play resumed, Wilander volleyed too often – and not well enough to avoid damaging counters. By contrast Cash began to serve well and also found a better length with his approach shots. That meant he had higher volleys to play, and plenty of chances to exploit his astonishing quickness in the forecourt. At times his racket seemed impassable. What a match we had then. Each man in turn moved from the shadows into the sunlight and back again. They were cold-eyed, almost baleful, emitting waves of willpower before every point. Cash took the second and third sets but Wilander, who served consistently well, then won eight games out of nine. Cash seemed to be tiring. Wilander was probing his forehand and Cash was no longer as quick to respond.

Urged on by the crowd, Cash somehow pumped himself up again. The fifth set was a marvel in that, having given so much for so long, the players produced a set gloriously dominated by dazzling, hard-won points – rather than errors. The crux came when Wilander, with incredible physical and mental resilience, kept himself in a rally he twice seemed to have lost. That gave him a second chance, which he seized, to break 7-6. He held his service to love for the match.

“I played pretty well”, Cash said, “but Mats was too good on the day.” Somebody asked Wilander if he felt he had ruined an Australian party. “Such a great match,” he said, “couldn’t ruin anything.”

In 1988, the Australian Open moved from Kooyong to Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) and became a hard court event. January 11, 1988 was the first day of play at the new stadium.

Play begins at the Australian Open at the new $60 million Australian National Tennis Center at Flinders Park in Melbourne with American qualifier Wendy Wood winning the first match played in the new stadium court, later to be known as Rod Laver Arena, beating number 14 seed Dianne Balestrat of Australia.
Wood, 23, defeats the top-ranked Australian woman 6-2 4-6 8-6, registering her first professional match victory. Balestrat, 31, and an Australian Open finalist in 1977, says she has some difficulty adapting to the court – the synthetic Rebound Ace – used for the first time at the Australian Open after a switch from grass courts.

Pat Cash, the number 4 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion, plays the second stadium court match and is greeted with boos and shouts from a group of anti-apartheid protestors who, in protest of Cash playing in South Africa the previous year, also throw tennis balls on the court before being escorted from the stadium. Cash is fined $5000 for swearing at a linesman in the final game of his 7-5 6-1 6-4 win over 20-year-old Thomas Muster.

Also on the day, Yannick Noah, the number 5 seed staves off two match points before overcoming Roger Smith of the Bahamas 6-7 5-7 6-4 6-2 16-14 in 4 hours 51 minutes, the longest recorded match at the time at the Australian Open.

Source: On this day in tennis history by Randy Walker

Show Court 3 - Nalbandian v Smeets

– The tournament was held for the first time in 1905 and was contested on grass from 1905 through 1987.

– The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships, became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969.

– The tournament has been staged twice in New Zealand: in Christchurch in 1906 and Hastings in 1912.

– Five australian cities have hosted the tournament: Melbourne (54 times), Sydney(17), Adelaide(14), Brisbane(7), Perth(3). The 1971 Open was the last time the tournament would be played outside Melbourne.

– Last Aussie players to win the Australian Open are Mark Edmondson in 1976 and Chris O’Neil in 1978.

– In 1982, for the first time in tennis history, a player wins two Grand Slam titles in the same calendar year, at the same tournament and against the same opponent: on December 13, 1982 Johan Kriek repeats as Australian Open champion, defeating number 2 seed Steve Denton 6-3 6-3 6-2. The two players played in the 1981 Australian Open final that is played on January 3, 1982, Kriek winning 6-2 7-6 6-7 6-4.

– In 1988, the tournament moved from Kooyong to Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) and became a hard court event. The move to Flinders Park was an immediate success, with a 90 percent increase in attendance in 1988 (266 436) on the previous year at Kooyong (140 000).
Mats Wilander is the only male player to have won the Australian Open on both grass (1983 and 1984) and hard courts (1988).

– On January 21, 1990, at the Australian Open, John McEnroe becomes the first player since 1963 to be disqualified from a Grand Slam tournament for misconduct. Leading Mikael Pernfors 6-1 4-6 7-5 2-4, McEnroe is disqualified by chair umpire Gerry Armstrong after breaking a racquet and insulting the supervisor.
The last player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam for misconduct had been Willie Alvarez of Spain, in the 1963 French Open, 17 years earlier.

– The Extreme Heat Policy was introduced in 1998 after consultation with players. It comes into play when daytime temperatures hit 35 degrees and the heat stress level reaches 28.
Officials considered closing the roof for the final in 1993 due to a temperature of 104 degrees (40 °C), but Jim Courier threatened to boycott the match unless the roof remained open.

– Prior to the 2000 tournament, the Centre Court was named Rod Laver Arena to honour tennis legend Rod Laver, the only player in tennis history to have captured two Grand Slams (in 1962 and 1969).
Besides tennis, Rod Laver Arena hosts motorbike super cross, conferences, concerts and ballets.

– In the first round of the Australian Open 2000, Marat Safin became the first player ever fined for lack of effort at a Grand Slam. Under the Grand Slam “best effort” rule, the 19-year-old Muscovite was fined $2,000 for failing to make an appropriate effort in his 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1 loss to South African qualifier Grant Stafford.

– In 2003, the Show Court One was renamed Margaret Court Arena to honour Australian great Margaret Court.
With a capacity of 6 000 seats, it is the largest capacity fully outdoor court used at the Australian Open. Future improvements to the Arena include a capacity expansion of 1500 seats, to total 7500, as well as the installation of an retractable roof for the 2015 Australian Open.

– The highest ever day/night attendance in Grand Slam history was recorded during the first week of Oz Open 2010, with 77 043 fans attending on Saturday 23th January.

– The women’s singles winner is presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. The men’s singles winner is presented with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.