Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg, Roland Garros 1989

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

The Roland Garros Stadium in Paris has come to be regarded as a graveyard for the American dream. Few Americans are attuned to sliding about on Europe’s slow, loose-top surfaces and patiently manoeuvring for their points. In terms of temperament and background, the nation’s leading players have mostly favoured hustle and bustle, fast action, and short points. It may be that a series of six Davis Cup defeats in Paris in consecutive years (1928-33) gave Americans an enduring, negative attitude towards the alien and hostile territory of Roland Garros. There ensued, with a hint of sour grapes, sporadic comments disparaging the French Open championships. Some Americans avoided the tournament, or regarded it merely as rigorous preparation for Wimbledon. Whatever the reasons, until 1989 only five Americans had won the men’s title, all between 1938 and 1955, and in the next 33 years only five more had managed to reach the final. It took a little Chinaman to show them how to win the toughest of all tournaments. […]

Chang‘s parents, both reasearch chemists, have done their best to merge Eastern and Western cultural values and the blend is reflected in his tennis. Moreover, Chang has been a devout Christian since 1988. He is adamant that it is for the Lord to decide whether he wins or loses: but equally adamant that he will not get a nod from the Almighty unless he bends mind and muscle with total commitment. […]

Agassi, almost two years Chang’s senior, reached the French Open and US semi-finals in 1988 and looked the obvious man to carry the American flag when Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe passed it on. Chang gave us pause for thought in 1989 but Agassi may have the more exciting future if he can tighten his concentration and, tactically, learn to respect the odds – which should come naturally to any man born and brought up at Las Vegas.
Of the other players born in 1970 or later, four could be particularly worth watching: Jim Courier and Pete Sampras, both Americans, Goran Ivanisevic (a Yugoslav from Split, which also produced Nikki Pilic, one of the most engagingly argumentative chaps to enliven the early years of open competition), and Sergi Bruguera of Barcelona, who charmed us by the manner of his progress to the last 16 of the 1989 French championships. The long-limbed Bruguera has an elegant command of spins and angles and could develop into an enchanting clay-court expert. But one never knows what the future will have to say to the young.

Back to Chang, whose mother travels with him as ‘road manager’ and also looks after the cooking and laundry, joins him on fishing trips, and teaches him Chinese. In 1987, at the age of 15 years and 5 months, Chang became the youngest winner of the US boys’ 18 singles title. This was much to the credit of his fist coach, his father, a self-taught player who had taken up the game two years after Chang was born. Later, Chang was to benefit from the acquired wisdom of Brian Gottfried and Jose Higueras. His 1987 boys’ title earned him a place in the US Championships, in which he beat Paul McNamee. In 1988 he turned professional and headed for Paris, where he was overawed and given a hiding by McEnroe. But Chang had Leconte on the ropes for two spectacular sets at Wimbledon and at Flushing Meadow he beat the seeded Jonas Svensson and came from behind to win two consecutive five-set matches and reach the last 16. Agassi stopped him.

None of this prepared us – nor, one suspects, did it totally prepare Chang – for what happened in Paris in 1989. He had been a professional for a little less than a year and had played in only four Grand Slam events. But he came from behind to beat the first and third seeds: Ivan Lendl by 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3 in the round of 16 and Stefan Edberg by 6-1 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-2 in the final. The Lendl match lasted four hours and 39 minutes, the final three hours and 41 minutes. At the risk of being too glib, one suggests that Lendl was outsmarted, Edberg outlasted.

Lendl did not take enough tactical initiatives. He seemed to think that if he kept pounding away from the baseline the lad would eventually be too tired and too inexperienced to do anything but lose. Chang did tire, too, but only in the legs – and Lendl was not cute enough to exploit blatant indications of cramp. Mentally, Chang was the sharper of the two when it mattered. Serving at 4-3 and 15-30 in the fifth set, Chang surprised Lendl with an underarm service that left Lendl embarrassingly exposed at the net. When Lendl was serving at 3-5 and 15-40 he missed his first service – and Chang wobbled forward on rubber-like legs to receeive the second ball while standing between the baseline and service line. The crowd roared at the little chap’s cheek. Lendl paused, to think about it: and then served another fault and was out of the tournament. Those two ploys by Chang were legitimate tests of Lendl’s alertness, nerves, and technical resilience; and there were no complaints from the ever-pragmatic Czechoslovakian.

The final was shorter because Edberg’s forecourt game abbreviated the rallies, one way or the other. In the first set Chang was all over him. Then Edberg took charge, finding his rythm with service, approach shot, and volley – and playing discreetly aggressive clay-court tennis to lead by two sets to one. The crux came in the fourth set. After an early break each way, Edberg had a total of ten more break points, the last of which would have left him serving for the match. But it was Chang who broke through, with the help of some good returns and, from Edberg, a few tired errors. That was how it was in the fifth set, too. Some of the spring had gone from Edberg’s legs and he was no longer quite confident enough on the forehand or quite quick enough when going to the net. But it was a classic final, an exemplary contrast between a nimble and crafty baseliner and a specialist in the service and volley.

Not that Chang could be dismissed as merely a baseliner. That was the basis of his game but he was more versatile and assertive than the likes of Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Mats Wilander, and Lendl. His groundtrokes were admiably sound, whether he was going cross-court or down the line. Given a short ball, Chang went for a winner or a penetrating approach shot – and, rather like Ken Rosewall, ghosted his way to the net as imperceptibly as a gentle breeze on a summer night. He seemed to have the knack of being in two places at once: and was impressively secure with his volleys and overheads. Chang took the ball early when returning service. As he is only 5ft 8in tall this was particularly prudent when he was challenged by Edberg’s high-kicking ball.

Chang’s outstanding qualities lay in the brain and the legs. He was always thinking and never missed a trick. His quick anticipation and sturdy legs enabled him to parry most thrusts, until his opponent made a mistake or gave him the chance for a telling riposte – a passing shot or lob, or a sudden acceleration of pace. There was logic in everything Chang did and displayed an instinctive flair for reading his opponent’s game and making astute, split-second decisions. Against Lendl and Edberg in turn he gave wonderfully precocious deadspan performances. Ruminating on Chang’s contemplative bent for fishing one felt a wave a sympathy for fish.

Chang was brought up on hard courts but may excel only on clay, as he did in 1989. He will grow stronger but is unlikely to get much taller. One cannot be optimistic about his chances of acquiring the power to win major titles on the faster surfaces.
We noted that, for all Chang’s cunning and tenacity, he was outgunned by Tim Mayotte in the 1989 Wimbledon and US championships. Like Wilander and Boris Becker, who also won Grand slam championships at the age of 17, Chang has built a big reputation on small foundations – in terms of experience, that is. But his place in the game’s history is already unique: and that has to be a comforting feeling for a God-fearing young angler who hooked a couple of very big fish while he was still settling down on the bank.

Mats Wilander and Henri Leconte, Roland Garros 1988

By David Irvine, The Guardian, Monday June 6 1988

It is perhaps an apt comment on their contrasting sense of priorities, as well as their ability (or otherwise) to play their best tennis when it matters most, that Mats Wilander, who has never been ranked number 1 in the world, now holds as many Grand Slam titles as Ivan Lendl, the world champion since 1985.

Yesterday the 23-year-old Swede claimed his sixth major singles championship, and his third on the red clay of the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, when he cut the charging Henri Leconte‘s challenge to ribbons by 7-5 6-2 6-1 in the most one-sided final since his distinguished compatriot Bjorn Borg, annihilated Vitas Gerulaitis in 1980.

Wilander, a quiet and self-effacing man who has never been fully appreciated by British audiences – his best performance was to reach the quarter-finals last year – is nevertheless the only player yet to win major championships on red clay, grass and synthetic surfaces.
But heading the computer, a favourite topic of Lendl’s, has never bothered Wilander. When he said as much, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were appalled, but his views have not changed.

“It’s always been more important to me to win the big events; that’s what really counts. To get to no.1 you have to win almost every tournament you play, and that’s not my style any more. But now I’ve won two Grand Slams in a year for the fist time, so the next step has to be the US Open and Wimbledon.”

Indeed Wilander is now halfway to completing the first Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969. “But that’s still a dream” he admitted, “although I have to recognise that the chance is there.”

Many wondered if his superb five-set victory over Pat Cash in the final of the Australian Open at the new Flinders Park stadium in January indicated that he had changed his game too much to maintain his supremacy on clay.
But Wilander, whose closest call came when he met Slobodan Zivojinovic, gave an emphatic answer to such speculation by resisting Leconte’s first-set challenge before overwhelming him.

“I was a bit worried when he served for the first set at 5-4” said Wilander, “but not, I feel, as mch as he was. When I won the first set that was it. After that he was far too tense.”
This showed in a French flood of backhand errors, while his own passing shots, hit with deadly accuracy from either side, were never better.
A low-level pass by the Patrouille de France, the Gallic equivalent of the Red Arrows, celebrated 100 years since the birth of Roland Garros and brought a sense of anticipation to the occasion which Leconte whipped to a climax as he broke Wilander to love at 4-4.
But the journey from climax to anticlimax was swift. Wilander broke back, took the set and proceeded to make Leconte look as out of place in a final as Steffi Graf had done to Natalia Zvereva 24 hours earlier.

Wilander said that although he was aware that Leconte was not regarded with the same hero-worship as Yannick Noah, he was surprised that the crowd “were not really there when he needed them most.”

Jean Borotra, who will be 90 in August, and his 87-year-old fellow musketeer René Lacoste, the losing finalist when the stadium was first used 60 years ago, presented Wilander with the trophy and the winner’s cheque for £150,000.

By David Irvine, World of Tennis 1986

Mats Wilander won the men’s title for the second time in four years. Wilander, at 17 the youngest player to become a French singles champion in 1982, confessed a conscious willingness to present himself to the public as “more interesting” than he had been hitherto. In that aim he undoubtedly succeeded. The Swede, who had not won a tournament of any sort since lifting the Australian crown in Melbourne six months previously, delighted a sell-out crowd in prising the championship from Ivan Lendl’s grasp by a margin: 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 – which accurately reflected the pattern of play. Wilander’s failures in Hamburg and Rome, where he was mesmerised by Miloslav Mecir, had suggested that his career might be in decline. McEnroe, Lendl and Yannick Noah, who had shown touches of his 1983 form in winning the Italian championship, all appeared better bets than Wilander for the men’s title. Only the Swedish press corps had absolute faith in their man, because “this is the one he really wants”. All the same, Wilander must have been mighty relieved to find himself in the opposite half of the draw to Mecir, his bete noire, and among non-Swedish journalists there was still no discernible shift in the odds on Wilander until he routed Germany’s golden boy, Boris Becker, in the second round with a display which cast an entirely different light on the 20-year-old’s attitude.

If Wilander’s positive play delighted, his frank dealings with the press proved more intriguing still. “There have been times recently when I’ve been very bored with tennis”, he admitted. “But I’ve been looking forward to the French for some months. I agree I play well in big events – I don’t know why. Maybe deep inside I’m not concentrating 100 percent at some other tournaments.” He acknowleged that the French public had disliked the way he had played in winning the title in 1982. “And so did I”, he added. “Unfortunately that was the only way I knew how to play then. Now I’m trying to change. I want to be more interesting.”

During the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf the week before the French, McEnroe had questioned Wilander’s motivation and speculated whether the Swede really wanted to be the best. “I’m trying as hard as I can to be no.1”, was Wilander’s assurance, “but if it means practising eight hours a day I’m not prepared to do that. It’s not worth it.” Wilander had a more direct answer to McEnroe in the semi-finals , where he beat him 6-1, 7-5, 7-5, matching the American for touch at the net and then destroying him with the accuracy of his passing shots.

Lendl‘s progress to his sixth defeat in seven Grand Slam finals was even more convincing than Wilander’s for at no time did he drop a set. When the crunch came, though, the Czech’s serve let him down, and once again his inflexibility left him without an alternative strategy to fall back on. His appearance – gaunt, hollow-eyed and nervous – revealed the enormous strain he felt. Wilander, though, played with almost carefree abandon, his subtle command of the conditions (seen best in the confident way he spiralled so many lobs into the wind) underlining his absolute belief in himself.

Novak Djokovic
Indian Wells

Flavia Pennetta def Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2 6-1
Novak Djokovic def Roger Federer 3-6 6-3 7-6
Su-Wei Hsieh/Shuai Peng def Cara Black/Sania Mirza 7-6 6-2
Bob and Mike Bryan def Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares 6-4 6-3

Flavia Pennetta

The 32 yr old Italian defeated the top two seeds, Li Na and Agniezska Radwanska to capture the biggest title of her career. With a semifinal at the US Open, a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, her game has been really solid these last few months. Read her interview here.

Agnieszka Radwanska

She appeared ready to win a title that counts for a big step once again, but as often Agnieszka Radwanska wasn’t able to come through in a big-stage match. Injured (? – but that injury didn’t prevent her from playing in Miami and reaching the quarterfinals at the Sony Open), the 25 yr old Pole was devastated by her loss.

Simona Halep

The Romanian, who won the first six titles of her career last year, reached her first Premier Mandatory semifinal at Indian Wells and is now the new world number 5.

Maria Sharapova

The defending champion was ousted by world number 79 Camila Giorgi in the third round. With this loss she has dropped to number 7, her lowest ranking since the summer of 2011.

Novak Djokovic

First title of the season for the world number 2, a much needed title after his disppointing quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open.

Roger Federer

A resurgent Federer reached the final without dropping a set, but a couple of unforced errors in the third set tiebreaker cost him the final and the title.

Alexandr Dolgopolov

He had never won a set against Nadal before, but Dolgopolov beat him in the third round and then defeated Fabio Fognini and Milos Raonic to make his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal.

Miami Sony Open

Serena Williams def Li Na 7-5 6-1
Novak Djokovic def Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-3
Martina Hingis/Sabine Lisicki def Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina 4-6 6-4 10-5
Bob and Mike Bryan def Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah 7-6 6-4

Serena Williams

She started the tournament slowly with a three sets win over Caroline Garcia and then rolled to the title with straight sets victory over Coco Vandeweghe, Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova and Li Na. After a victory in Brisbane and losses in Melbourne and Dubai, she won her second title of the year, her 7th in Miami.

Li Na

First Premier Mandatory final for Li Na who had set point in the first but she lost 11 of the last 12 games.

Dominika Cibulkova

She followed her final in Melbourne with a win in Acapulco, a quarterfinal at Indian Wells, and after her run through the Miami semifinals, the Slovakian makes her entry to the top 10.

Maria Sharapova

She has now lost her last 15 matches against Serena Williams, in fact Serena hasn’t lost to Sharapova since 2004 in Los Angeles! The Russian hasn’t progressed in any area of her game and she could drop out of the top 10 soon.

Martina Hingis

The former world number one teamed up with Sabine Lisicki to win her 38th doubles title, her first in seven years.

Novak Djokovic

Nadal and Djokovic played each other for the 40th times. Djokovic dominated from the start and won comfortably 6-3 6-3. It is his fourth Miami title, his 18th Masters 1000 title overall. Only Andre Agassi has won the Key Biscayne tournament more (6).

Is the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry the best in the Open Era? Vote and share your thoughts.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal is now 0-4 in finals at Key Biscayne, one of just three ATP Masters 1000 events he has yet to win.

Kei Nishikori

Nishikori saved 4 match points to beat David Ferrer in three sets and three hours of play, but he had plenty left in the tank to upset Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately he hurt himself and had to withdraw from the semifinals.

Andy Murray

The Scot announced his split with Ivan Lendl after two years of collaboration, 2 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic Gold medal. The announcement took nearly everyone in the game by surprise but the split was amicable. Check out my video of Lendl being interviewed at the World Tennis Day in London a month ago in which he talks about that Scottish boy.

Lleyton Hewitt

With his win over Robin Haase in the first round, Lleyton Hewitt has become the 21st male player to record 600 match wins. Only Roger Federer (942) and Rafael Nadal (675) have won more matches among active players.

Sampras and Agassi

French sports daily L’Equipe celebrates the 10th anniversary of the FedererNadal rivalry (they first met in Miami in 2004, Nadal won in straight sets 6-3 6-3) and at this occasion they published their 5 best mens tennis rivalries. Here’s their ranking (article by L’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz):

1. Federer-Nadal (since 2004)

Despite the fact that Nadal won more than 2 out of 3 of their meetings, their duel still fascinates. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played a record 8 Grand Slam finals against each other.

2. Borg-McEnroe (1978-1981)

Fire and ice, ice and fire. You had to choose your side: the steadfast right-handed or the flamboyant left-handed, the inscrutable one and the temperamental one. For many, this rivalry symbolizes the first golden era of tennis. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe met only 14 times including 4 Grand Slam finals (head-to-head: 7-7), but they played that epic Wimbledon final in 1980 and the tiebreak everyone remembers (18-16 in the fourth set).

(Check out some pics and videos of Borg and McEnroe renewing their rivalry at the Optima Open here)

3. Sampras-Agassi (1989-2002)

Another opposition of styles and personalities. On one side, Sampras offensive game and underdeveloped charism, on the other side, Agassi‘s thousands lifes and looks, his sharp eye and laser-like groundstrokes. Sampras often prevailed (20-14 overall, 4-1 in Grand Slam finals for Sampras), but they played some memorable matches like their 2001 US Open quarterfinal (4 sets, 4 tiebreakers).

(Check out some pics and videos of Agassi and Sampras renewing their rivalry at the World Tennis London Showdown here)

4. Nadal-Djokovic (since 2006)

The classic of the classics (39 meetings) could climb up the rankings because they could play some other memorable matches like the Australian Open 2012 final (5 hours and 53 minutes of play), the 2011 US Open final and the semifinals in Madrid in 2009 and at Roland Garros last year. The decathletes of modern tennis have already played 6 Grand Slam finals against each other (4 wins for the Spaniard).

5. Edberg-Becker (1984-1996)

We could have chosen a more fiercy rivalry (Lendl-McEnroe ou Connors-McEnroe) but we preferred to remember the time when two pure attacking players ruled the world. Edberg opposed a wonderful technical fluidity to Becker‘s power. The German has often had the upper hand (25-10 in their head-to-head) but Edberg won 2 of their 3 Grand Slam finals, all 3 at Wimbledon.

What do you think of this top 5? Personnaly I would vote Borg-McEnroe for top rivalry because of their bigger contrast in styles, personalities and their mythic Wimbledon 1980 final.
Happy to see Edberg-Becker at number five, back in the days I really loved watching them play at Wimbledon.
Please vote and share your thoughts.

Men's tennis best rivalry?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...