Connors and Ashe, 1984 Davis Cup final

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.

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Sweden wins the 1984 Davis Cup

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

Davis Cup 1992

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.

1992 Swiss Davis Cup team

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.

John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, 1992 Davis Cup final

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