By Alan Trengove, World of Tennis, 1985
Wilander is a much underestimated grass court player. When he won his first Australian crown in 1983 it was only incidental to his major objective – preparing on grass for the Davis Cup final a few weeks later – and right up to the time he beat first McEnroe and then Lendl he was still doubting whether he could play on the surface. Seeded no. 2 in 1984, he beat [Kevin] Curren, the no. 9 seed, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 in a very good final that nevertheless did not quite reach the height it sometimes promised to do. The lanky and angular Curren had eliminated a slightly injured Lendl, the top seed, in the fourth round. He followed that success with impressive wins over Scott Davis and Ben Testerman, and posed a distinct threat to Wilander when he served for the third set of the final at 5-3 with new balls. But the cool Swede steadied in the crisis, broke back and later dominated the tie-break.
Curren certainly possessed the armoury to capture the crown – a blistering service, a blanketing net attack and aggressive returns of serve – but the big guns misfired too often for him to sustain his assault. His main problem was the steely resolve of his opponent, who again showed his ability to accept reverses philosophically and move up into a higher gear when the situation demands. In the first set, though Wilander‘s returns were sometimes astray, he had a set-point in the 11th game and led by 4 points to 0 in the tie-break. It must have been galling for him to lose that set, but he immediately lifted his game and took the second. Then despite losing control of the third set, in which there were six breaks of service, his passing shots gave him the edge at the finish.
By then Curren was tiring because of the energy he puts into his service and because he was having to dive for so many dipping returns. Wilander was in full command in the fourth set, finishing Curren off with a typically penetrating forehand return. Mats may not be a classical grass-court champion in the mould of a Hoad or a Newcombe, but he is certainly a worthy one. Ask Curren and Kriek.
[Johan] Kriek also left Melbourne with a deepened respect for Wilander, having been given the biggest hiding of his career in a 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 humiliation that lasted only 63 minutes. Just as he did in 1983, Wilander laboured to find form in the early rounds. David Mustard, the New Zealand left-hander, took the first set against him and Dale Houston, a Queenslander playing his first Grand Prix tournament, held two set points against him for a two sets to one lead. Then in the fourth round, his fellow Swede and practice partner, Stefan Simonsson, who can play a strong serve and volley game, thoroughly tested Wilander. He led by two sets to one and Wilander had to work hard to survive. That effort, and the doubles he was playing with Joakim Nystrom, appeared to put him firmly on track for a successful defence of his title. In the quarter-finals he was a little too consistent for his Davis Cup team-mate, Stefan Edberg, winning 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. Then came the morale-boosting rout of Kriek.
By Steve Fink, World Tennis magazine, December 1989:
I met Chris Evert on the day she reached her first Grand Slam final in Paris 16 years ago, when I interviewed her for this magazine. We became good friends, and I found myself immersed in her career.
She soon realized that I was regarded by the sport’s inner circle as her Boswell, as the primary source of information about her record, and she knew that my recollection of her matches was invariably sharper than her own. Throughout her career she would defer to me at press conferences from Palm Beach to Wimbledon whenever she could not answer a question about herself.
But my involvement with her went much deeper than that. I attended both of her weddings, sat with her family at many of her critical contests in the major championships, and spoke with her frequently before, during and after tournaments to offer council.
Given those circumstances, and the highly unusual of our alliance, I made it a practice, with few exceptions, not to write about he. The conflict would be clear-cut, and I saw no reason to abuse proximity of my position. But this is the time to relax journalistic binds a bit and offer my intimate assessment. Hers was a unique journey through the seventies and across the eighties, and to understand how Evert impacted her era, there is only one place to begin.
In September 1970, at the age of 15, Evert planted the first true seed of her greatness by toppling the world’s No.1 player Margaret Court 7-6 7-6 in the semifinals at Charlotte, North Carolina. Only weeks earlier, Court had completed the Grand Slam by winning the US Open at Forest Hills on grass, but on the clay of Charlotte the Fort Lauderdale prodigy erased the rangy Australian. It was unmistakably a sign of what was to come.
From John McEnroe’s autobiography, Serious:
You know that line in the Beach Boys song, ‘Sloop John B’ – “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”? That’s what it was like to fly to Sweden and play Davis Cup that December. As it would turn out, it was my last Cup match for three years. I really went out with a bang.
My heart sank as the plane took off from Kennedy. Tatum was back at my apartment. Connors and I still weren’t speaking. My mind was a million miles from tennis. I sighed and sank into my seat, hoping the week would pass quickly.
I arrived in Gothenburg Tuesday morning to find a debacle already in progress. Jimmy had come over despite the fact that his wife was just about to give birth to their second child, so he was totally on edge, and acting like it. To give just one instance, the car that had been supposed to pick him up for practice on Monday hadn’t come, so he was furious, and – if you can believe it – wrote a nasty message to Arthur (Ashe) in the snow.
Things felt frosty between Peter Fleming and me. And Jimmy Arias was our fourth player, and he’s always been a personality I don’t quite get – I just don’t understand his sense of humor. Add to this the fact that I was in love and wishing I wasn’t there in the first place…
What’s the opposite of team spirit? That’s what we had in Gothenburg.
Sweden created history and hoisted a signpost for the future at the huge Scandinavium stadium in Gothenburg the week before Christmas when, with clinical and emphatic efficiency, they defeated the United States in the NEC Davis Cup final – thus becoming the first nation outside the competition’s big four (America, Australia, Great Britain and France) to win the Cup more than once. The eventual margin was four rubbers to one, John McEnroe having salvaged a modicum of American pride and dignity by beating Mats Wilander over the best of three sets; but by then Father Christmas, having delivered the goods ahead of time, had climbed back up the chimney, cracked his whip and sent his reindeer skidding over the nation’s roofs to spread the joyous word. Sweden’s tennis players were the best in the world!
Dispassionately one could argue otherwise, but why bother? The United States had taken an unbeaten doubles partnership and two of the greatest singles players that country has ever produced to Sweden, and had lost not only the first three matches but nine of the first ten sets played. The specially laid clay court obviously helped the Swedes, but there were far more significant reasons for the severity of America’s humiliation.
The U.S. team lacked harmony, spirit and, most of all, proper preparation. Jimmy Connors, never a good team man at the best of times, was worrying about the pending arrival of his second child and had not played competitive tennis for six weeks. As a result of suspension and then injury, McEnroe had not played for seven weeks. Even then the Americans wasted two practice days by not arriving in Gothenburg until Wednesday for a tie due to start on Sunday. Disaster, like the snow, hung in the air, and by Monday both had arrived – a blanket thrown over the corpse of American ambition, but for the Swedes a white, glistening carpet of triumph.
It had started, in front of 12,000 people, with Wilander‘s 6-1 6-3 6-3 annihilation of Connors. Still tanned by Kooyong’s sun where he has triumphed in the Australian Open exactly one week earlier, Wilander seemed imbued with a new spirit of aggression after his second title-winning performance on grass. He repeatedly came in behind hard-hit forehands that put Connors under tremendous pressure and frayed the American’s nerves. Connors, in fact, was docked a penalty point for an audible obscenity midway through the second set and then a whole penalty game for a further outburst. At the end Connors shook umpire George Grimes’s chair and called him names which were heard by millions of television viewers…
[In the second singles] Henrik Sundstrom played the match of his life to beat McEnroe 13-11 6-4 6-3 – serving coolly when his big chance came at the end of that crucial first set and then keeping McEnroe off balance with the depth and variation of his heavy topspin groundstrokes…[and then, in the doubles], after a run of 14 Davis Cup matches without defeat, McEnroe and Peter Fleming came apart at the seams in the face of some inspired play by Anders Jarryd and, in particular, by his 18-year-old partner, Stefan Edberg, who poached brilliantly on the backhand volley, never dropped serve despite twice being 0-40 down and returned serve with enormous power. Although marginally less spectacular, Edberg was just as effective in determining the outcome of the match as Paul McNamee had been for Australia when facing Jarryd and Hans Simonsson in the final at Kooyong 12 months earlier. Fleming did not play well and compounded American frustration by double-faulting on match point. But McEnroe would not want Peter to take all the blame. John did not play well either and looked like his real self only in the fourth rubber. But by then it was all too late. Sweden had turned what everyone had felt would be a very close contest into a rout…
Incredibly, that was exactly what Hans Olsson‘s superb young team – Jarryd, at 23, is the oldest – had also done to the Czechs in the semi-final at Bastad. As in Gothenburg, Wilander had done the expected by beating Smid, and then Sundstrom had then followed up with the killer blow. This time Ivan Lendl had been the victim, losing his temper, his timing and eventually the match 4-6 3-6 6-3 6-1 6-1 after Sundstrom had trailed 0-40 on his serve at 0-3 in the third set. The Czech captain, Jan Kodes, was furious with Lendl’s performance and was not much happier with Smid and Pavel Slozil the next day when his team served for the match in the fourth set and then, as Edberg got his big-match nerves under control, succumbed 2-6 5-7 6-1 10-8 6-2…
France were unlucky to be without the services of the injured Yannick Noah when they travelled to meet Czechoslovakia outside Prague [in the quarter-final], but even so Henri Leconte scored a sensational upset in the opening rubber by beating Lendl in straight sets. However, the reliable Smid steadied the Czech ship to give Kodes’s team a 3-2 victory. With Noah playing it might have been different, but even so it is doubtful if anyone could have prevented the 1984 Davis Cup from being a Swedish celebration.
by Richard Evans, World of Tennis 1985
From John McEnroe’s autobiography’s Serious:
My final Davis Cup tie, in Fort Worth, was a brief, strange respite. I has brought along a support group: my parents, my brothers, all three of my children, a nanny, and my agent, Sergio Palmieri. I needed every one of them. A few days before, I had been staying at Andre Agassi’s house in Las Vegas, telling Andre, “I don’t know if I can do Davis Cup – I just can’t function”.
The news of my separation with Tatum had leaked to the press – a couple of photographs of Tatum out kicking up her heels with new friends had fanned the flames – and it was all the reporters wanted to talk about. I spent the days before my match (I was there to play doubles with Pete Sampras) trying to practice and spend time with my kids as I dodged inappropriate questions.
The strain showed when I finally got on court to play. The atmosphere inside the Tarrant County Convention Center was the kind of chaos I’d once loved in Davis Cup – American fans waving flags and sounding boat horns at lederhosen-wearing Swiss fans chanting and rattling cowbells – but now it felt all too much like the chaos inside me. I double-faulted at set point in the fist set tiebreaker, then dropped my serve again at 5-4 in the second set, which Pete and I went on to lose in another tiebreaker.
I felt furious and humiliated. This was my final Davis Cup; I couldn’t go out on a loss – to the Swiss! (It was the first time they’d ever made it to the final). I began yelling at Pete, trying to psych him up; trash-talking at Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset, the Swiss team. Somehow we managed to hang on and take the third set, 7-5, but by the time we went into the locker room for the ten-minute break, I was in some kind of altered state. All my fear and anger and frustration and sorrow had built up to the point where smoke was practically coming out of my ears.
“We’re going to go out and kick some ass!” I repeated. I screamed it over and over, like a war chant, until my voice was hoarse.
And when Pete and I went back out, that was exactly what we did. Every time we won a point, Agassi and Courier would shout, “Answer the question!” a little phrase I occasionally used to shout at umpires. Pete – imagine it; Pete Sampras! – was shouting, pumping his fist. The fans in the stands were going crazy, the boat horns drowing out the cowbells. We won the last two sets 6-1 and 6-2. When it was over, Pete hugged me. “I love you, Mac”, he said.
I rested up my voice that night, then screamed it hoarse again the next day as Jim beat Hlasek in four sets. When it was all over, I took a big American flag from courtside and ran around and around the court, waving it high from both hands, as the crowd went nuts. I was as happy as I’d ever been.
From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:
Shortly after the US Open, we played our Davis Cup semifinal against Sweden on indoor clay at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Because clay was not my best surface, I played only doubles – with McEnroe. We toughed out a real war with one of the best doubles squads of the era, Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd.
This was my first Davis Cup experience as a “doubles specialist”, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the assignment. Doubles is an enjoyable sideshow at most tournaments, but it has a starring role in Davis Cup because of the format. As the third and only match on Saturday, doubles is the kingmaker in Cup play. Most Davis Cup teams that enjoyed long-term success were anchored by a great doubles team. When a tie is 1-1, which is often the case after the Friday opening singles matches, getting to that 2-1 lead can be huge. It also didn’t hurt my own enthusiasm level, or results, that my partner on some key occasions was McEnroe. Remember, it was McEnroe’s own longtime partner, Peter Fleming, who famously quipped, when asked to name the best doubles team of all the time “John McEnroe and anyone”.
We went on to meet the Swiss team in the 1992 final, on an indoor hard court in Fort Worth, Texas. Gorman, perhaps still mindful of Lyon, decided to play it safe. He named Courier and Andre, who were both playing very well, to the singles slots, and put me down for doubles, again partnered with Johnny Mac.
That was fine with me – Andre had proven himself a great Davis Cup singles player. He’s an emotional guy who really gets into all the hoopla. Jim was right there with Andre as a Davis Cup warrior. He gave his all, he was gritty and very cool under pressure. We had, arguably, the greatest Davis Cup team of all time – and a pretty subborn bunch. In the opening ceremony, the promote wanted us to wear these ten-gallon hats and it kind of freaked Jim out. He snapped, “I’m not wearing that stupid hat!” So there were no cowboys hats.
The Swiss had a very tough two-man team consisting of Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset. Both guys were very good on fast courts, which is unusual because most Europeans prefer the slower clay. So much for our home-court/fast-court advantage. Hlasek was in the midst of his career year in singles, and Rosset was a guy with a game as tricky as it was big. He could play serve and volley, even though his career moment of glory occured on slow clay a few months earlier, when he won the singles gold medal at the Barcelona Olympic Games.
Andre won the opening rubber, but then Rosset showed his mettle with an upset of Jim. McEnroe and I would be playing Hlasek and Rosset in what suddenly looked like a critical doubles match. And when we lost the first two sets, both in tiebreakers, it looked like tiny Switzerland might pull one of the most shocking of Davis Cup upsets – and on US soil, no less.
John was in one of his McEnroe moods. Throughout the match, he trash-talked Hlasek, a very quite but cool guy who minded his own business and got along with everyone. John was suffering, and coming dangerously close of losing control. But then he was unlike anyone else in that he often played better after going nuts. Some of the line calls in the first two sets seemed dodgy, and in the third set John finally lost it over another apparent bad call. He started in on the umpire, and he just kept going on. He yelled at the official, and he yelled at our own captain, Gorman (for not making more of a fuss and “standing up for us”). He was just going ballistic in general, in any direction he wanted, long after the point in question was over.
Finally, I just lost it myself. I turned on John and snapped,
“John, it’s over. Done with. Let’s not harp on what happened three games ago, it’s time to move on, man.”
For some reason, my own little outburst had two welcome results. It calmed John down (emotionally, if not verbally) and it fired me up. We won the third set and adjourned for what was then still the required ten-minute break before the start ofthe fourth set. John and I came off the break with wild eyes and fire in our bellies. It was one of those rare occasions when I got into the emotion of it all. I was pumping my fist and yelling. McEnroe must have said, “Come on, let’s kick ass” a thousand times. We clawed and fist-pumped and yelled our way to a not very pretty but extremely relieving win, 6-2 in the fifth.
Although I became very emotional in that match, in general John and I were like a Jekyll and Hyde pairing; I tended to be cool and forward-looking, he was hot-tempered and all wrapped up in the moment, always ready for an altercation. He thrived on that, and I understood it. We were good for each other. He pumped me up with his emotional outbursts, even if I didn’t show it, and I calmed him down with my self-control, even if he was, externally, still the same contentious, fiery player.
The next day, after Jim beat Hlasek to clich the tie, I became a Davis Cup champ. It mattered not at all that I had played only doubles in the final; I had done my share all year and felt as proud and entitled as if I had played every singles match for the United States in our drive to win the Cup.
Photo credit: Paul Zimmer