Ivan Lendl, Australian Open 1990

Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

Edberg-Wilander and Lendl-Noah figured to be good matchups, especially given Noah‘s defeat of Lendl in Sydney. But this was the real thing now, not a little warm-up tournament. Lendl lost seven games, needing just an hour and forty-six minutes to bludgeon Noah.

“I liked the way he played better in Sydney,” Noah said. “He was much nicer there. He missed and missed. Today he didn’t miss.”

Lendl‘s performance was nothing compared to what Edberg did to Wilander. He needed even less time – an hour and twenty-two minutes – and gave up only four games in one of the most dominant performances anyone could ever remember seeing.

“Oh, that was wonderful,” Ted Tinling cried, coming off court. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more brilliant. It was beautiful to watch.”

Edberg wasn’t the same player in the final that he had been in the semifinals by any means, but there was a good reason: late in the Wilander match, he had pulled a stomach muscle.
Even injured, Edberg managed to win the first set and go up a break at 6-5 in the second. But Lendl, who had seen the trainer come out to treat Edberg and knew something was amiss, hung in. Despite a bad case of nerves, he broke back and won the tiebreak. He was up 5-2 in the third when Edberg, shaking his head, dejectedly walked up to the chair.

“I can’t play,” he said simply. “I have to stop.”

It was not a complete surprise when Edberg retired from the match, but it was a flat, damp ending to a tournament that had seemed jinxed from the beginning.

Edberg, almost doubled over in pain, hobbled off, leaving Lendl alone to accept his award. Lendl is a pragmatist, and winning his eighth Grand Slam title was no small thing. He had been in Australia for a month, working toward his goal. But even he knew this was no way to win a championship.

“I’m sorry the match ended the way it did,” he told the crowd. “I feel badly for Stefan. I hope next year we get a chance to slug it out until the end.”

They handed Lendl the trophy at 5:30pm. It was exactly one week – to the minute – since McEnroe had been defaulted on the same court.

Australian Open 2015
Preview, recap and analysis:
A trip down memory lane:

Australian Open trivia
The tragedy of Daphne Akhurst
The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
1960 Australian Open: Neale Feaser, a costly volley
1960: first Grand Slam title for Rod Laver
1960-63 Australian Open: Jan Lehane four time runner-up
1974 Australian Open: Jimmy Connors first Grand Slam title
1975: John Newcombe defeats Jimmy Connors
1981: First Australian Open title for Martina Navratilova
1983: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
1984: Mats Wilander defeats Kevin Curren
1987-1988 Swedes spoil the party
1987: Stefan Edberg defeats Pat Cash
January 11, 1988: first day of play at Flinders Park
1988: Mats Wilander defeats Pat Cash
1990: John McEnroe disqualified!
1990: Ivan Lendl’s last Grand Slam title
1991: Monica Seles first Australian Open title
1994: First Australian Open title for Pete Sampras
1995: Mary Pierce defeats Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1995 QF: Pete Sampras emotional comeback win over Jim Courier
1995: Andre Agassi defeats Pete Sampras, wins first Australian Open title
1996 Australian Open: Mark Philippoussis defeats Pete Sampras in the 3rd round
Impressions from the 1996 Australian Open: Monica Seles and Boris Becker last Grand Slam titles, Stefan Edberg last appearance in Australia
1997 Australian Open: Pete Sampras defeats Carlos Moya
2001 Australian Open: Pat’s last chance
2001 Australian Open final: Andre Agassi defeats Arnaud Clément
2002: Capriati scripts a stunning sequel in Australia
2003 Australian Open: last Grand Slam title for Agassi
2005 Australian Open: Heartbreak for Lleyton Hewitt
2009 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer

Fashion and gear:

Ana Ivanovic adidas dress
Tomas Berdych H&M outfit
Kei Nishikori Uniqlo outfit
Novak Djokovic Uniqlo outfit
Serena Williams Nike outfit
Maria Sharapova Nike dress
Rafael Nadal Nike outfit
Roger Federer Nike outfit
Grigor Dimitrov Nike outfit
Nick Kyrgios Nike outfit
Vika Azarenka Nike outfit
Venus Williams dress

Polls:

Who will win the 2015 Australian Open?

  • Novak Djokovic (34%, 58 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (32%, 56 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (14%, 24 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (6%, 11 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (3%, 6 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Other (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Marin Cilic (0%, 0 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

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Who will win the 2015 Australian Open?

  • Serena Williams (29%, 30 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (26%, 27 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (13%, 13 Votes)
  • Eugenie Bouchard (10%, 10 Votes)
  • Ana Ivanovic (7%, 7 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (6%, 6 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Other (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 104

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By Alan Trengove, World of Tennis, 1984

The evolution of Mats Wilander as a formidable grass-court player was undoubtedly the most significant feature of the tournament. After an unimpressive opening match, in which he was taken to five sets by Ben Testerman, the Swede beat Roscoe Tanner, Paul McNamee, defending champion Johan Kriek, John McEnroe, and, in the final, Ivan Lendl. His greatest asset was his return of service, particularly off the backhand, but it was his volleying, improving with every match, that was the eye-opener. By the end of the fortnight he was moving confidently to, and at, the net. And though his volleys weren’t as decisive as they might have been, he kept opponents under pressure with good, deep first volleys.

McEnroe gave no early warning of his semi-final débacle. He began strongly against Wilander, who had beaten him on the only two other occasions they met in 1983 – in the French Open and at Cincinnati – but after going to a 5-2 lead in the first set was lucky to scrape out of it, 6-4. Wilander realised that McEnroe’s service held no terrors for him, and either because of the Swede’s accuracy, or the wind and glare, to which McEnroe was unaccustomed after two months of indoor tennis, or, of course, the pressure, the New Yorker’s touch steadily deserted him. He hit many backhands out of court, misjudged volleys, and finally allowed Wilander to dictate strategy. “Shocking” was how he described his performance, but he was gracious enough to say Wilander was a great player…

Lendl was playing a pretty fair brand of serve-and-volley tennis with his usual overpowering serve and groundstrokes. But once again in a final he did not do justice to his ability. It was the first ever Australian final between two players from Europe, and Wilander was to become the first non-British European to capture the title since Jean Borotra did so in 1928. The first four games resembled a match at Roland Garros, with one rally extending to 29 shots and lasting 95 seconds. From the outset, though, Wilander showed the most willingness to go to the net, and when he broke for 3-1, Lendl’s game fell away. Lendl led 4-2 in the second set, only to double-fault twice in the next game and drop his service. Once more, he lost his grasp, and what had seemed likely to become a titanic, all-court battle faded into a rout. Lendl became completely intimidated by Wilander’s double-handed backhand, and either over-hit in desperation or played tentatively.

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.

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.”