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.

Stefan Edberg, Australian Open 1987

From Pat Cash’s autobiography Uncovered

Losing the final of a Grand Slam tournament is hard enough; doing it in your home city is even worse. And the sensation that your shoulder is just about to drop off hardly adds to the feeling of well-being. But walking back into the locker room at Kooyong after being defeated by Stefan Edberg in the final of the Australian Open, I had to contend with something extra: the spectacle of Edberg’s agent, Tom Ross, shouting, screaming and leaping all over the place like some pubescent kid.
Ross worked for the management company that was responsible for Edberg, but in my excuse that was no excuse for this juvenile, unpofessional behaviour, even Edberg looked embarassed by it. I have always believed that the players’ locker room should be reserved for the sole use of the contestants themselves, their coaches and their physiotherapists, and no one else. Unfortunately, agents are allowed to ply their trade in the players’ lounges and restaurants, but certainly not the locker room.[…]

Returning to Kooyong was always going to be an extremely tough call, barely three weeks after the triumph of winning the Davis Cup final in such heroic manner. Many Australian fans believed it was a forgone conclusion that I would just carry on where I left off against Pernfors, and win the title with ease. But Neale Fraser, who had a better idea of the realities of the situation, has since admitted that he thought I would struggle to recapture my best tennis so soon after such an emotionally draining experience.

I almost proved dear old Frase wrong, and maybe I only came up short against Edberg in the final because of the intensive physical work I had put in beforehand. Seeded 11th, I got a bye in the first round, and then beat the Italian Claudio Pistolesi in four sets. A couple of Americans, Ben Testerman and Paul Annacone, should both probably have been dispatched more quickly than they were, but I made it through to the quarter-finals to face Yannick Noah.
Then midway through the match, I miss-hit a couple of shots and felt a jolt of pain in my right shoulder. Immediately I saw the danger signs flashing, because I had been working had on my serve and the joint had been taking a pounding. Fortunately I beat Yannick, ounding off the win to love in the fourth set; but I knew I was in trouble. The problem was simply over-use, and all it required was a week or so of rest. But of course that’s not possible in a Grand Slam tournament.

My shoulder was killing me as I faced Lendl in the semi, and the fact that I won remains one of the miracles of my career. I only managed to serve at three-quarter pace thoughout, and I got through to my first-ever final of a major because I volleyed so well; the grass court was dry and the ball bounced high, so just rolling my arm over generated sufficent pace.

I couldn’t practice at all on the day before the final. My trusty physiotherapist David Zuker tried loosening up the troublesome muscles, but the shoulder was shot – and Edberg was in no mood for sympathy. I’m sure he felt a revenge for revenge after the Davis Cup final, and he was playing me off the court. By courtesy of my half-paced serve, he rapidly took a two set lead.
Stefan knew the route to the title at Kooyong, having lifted the trophy two years previously. Throughout the tournament he had been in supreme form and had only dropped one set on his way to the final, in his opening match. Miloslav Mecir only managed to take nine games off Edberg in the quarter-final, Wally Masur fared just marginally better in the semi, and it appeared that I was next in line for the treatment. But somehow I managed to get myself back in the match, and levelled the score at two sets all.
However, I knew I was undoubtedly still the underdog. The shoulder pain became unbearable, and serving for the fourth set, I hit three successive double faults. There was no pace or stick on my delivery, and as I tried to find a little extra power, I lost my rythm altogether. I managed to grab the set after losing my serve, but I had lost the momentum. Edberg broke early in the fifth, and recaptured the title he’d won as a teenager. My hopes of a perfect Australian summer had fallen at the last obstacle, and my dreams of Grand Slam glory were forced back on hold.

After the match I was not in the best of moods – I defy anyone to be a good loser in those circumstances. Even before being infuriated by the sight of Ross in the locker room, I’d got myself into trouble on the awards podium. As is normally the case at the Australian Open, the runner-up is asked if he would like to make a short speech before the winner is presented with the trophy. Naturally I said well done to Edberg, because I’ve always viewed him as one of the finest players ever to grace a grass court. Then I said something along the lines of ‘I’m supposed to thank a load of people like the sponsors Ford and all that junk. But I won’t do that, I’ll leave it to Stefan.’

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

1991 Davis Cup final

Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

Anyone who cares about tennis had to be warmed by the performance of the French in Lyon. After retiring as a full-time player at the end of 1990, Yannick Noah was named captain of the French team. When they reached the final, they were given little chance against the US team.

Noah took a bold gamble, choosing Henri Leconte as his second singles player along with Guy Forget. Leconte had undergone his thid back operation in the summer and was thirty pounds overweight six weeks before the match. But, given a chance by Noah, he worked himself into shape and then became the hero of the final, first by beating Pete Sampras to tie things up at 1-1 on the first day (Andre Agassi had beaten Guy Forget in the opener), and then by pairing with Forget to beat Ken Flach and Robert Seguso in the doubles. That made it 2-1 and set the stage for Forget’s victory over Sampras that clinched the Cup.

It was the first time since 1932, in the days of the French Musketeers, that France had won the Cup, and the celebration the French victory set off was a stark contrast to the ho-hum-who-cares victory celebration the Americans had staged a year earlier in St. Petersburg after beating Australia.

To France, this was a crusade, not the kind of crude, win at-all-costs crusade staged by then USTA President Markin in 1990, but a crusade filled with hard work, self-confidence, and remarkable spirit. To the American players, it had been a chance to pick up some extra dough in perfomance bonuses and endorsement deals. Agassi (who for all his problems in ’91, emerged as a solid Davis Cup player) managed to insult the host country by complaining about the weather in Hawaii. Leave it to Andre to head for McDonald’s in the gastronomic capital of the world.

Henri Leconte, Davis Cup 1991

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

Davis Cup didn’t mean much to me when I was growing up. I don’t remember watching it on television (and it isn’t like Davis Cup was all over the tube back in the pre-cable days). So I had no preexisting reverence for the event. This made it tough to commit to Davis Cup because, like most top players, I put the ability to perform at my peak in Grand Slams at the top of my priorities. And Davis Cup asked for a lot, timewise.

In 1991, France put together a magical run under captain Yannick Noah, a very popular former player and French Open champion. Guy Forget and Henri Leconte, two flashy lefties, carried the French squad to its first final in the Open era. And the French also had the home-court advantage over their final-rounds rivals – the United States. They chose to play the tie on fast carpet in an indoor stadium in Lyon.

When France announced the surface, US captain Tom Gorman had a stroke of genius – at least theoretically. Although I had lost my US Open title in the “ton of bricks” match, I was the best fast-court player in the nation. I was the ideal guy to have on the squad alongside Andre Agassi. But Gorman seemed to completely forget that I was a rookie on the tour, and he discounted the unique pressure for which Davis Cup is renowned. For some reason, playing for your country on a team can really get to you. Some players are inspired and react heroically; others get cold feet and feel intimidated by nationalistic pressure. Throwing a green player into the cauldron in an away final before a wildly partisan crowd was an enormous gamble.

When I arrived in Lyon, I found the anxiety and stress surprisingly high. I guess that’s partly because all the USTA officials were around, like they always are at Davis Cup, looking over the team’s shoulder. It also had something to do with the fact that this Davis Cup final was a huge, huge deal in France – it seemed like the entire French national press corps had descended on the venue (the Gerland Sports Palace) for the final, hoping to record how France won its first Davis Cup since the days of yore when the famed “Four Musketeers” – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, and René Lacoste – reigned over international tennis.

We had a team Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel in Lyon the day before the start of the tie. It was prepared by a famous chef, but even that event was slightly strained, because we were together with a bunch of tennis officials, and we all had to wear a coat and tie. I’ve got nothing against appropriate dress, but it seemed that everything was ceremonial, forced, difficult … when what we really needed as a team was to relax. All these things bore down on me extra hard, because I had been nominated as the number one singles player for the United States. It was like an NFL rookie quaterback getting his first start in the Super Bowl.

Gorman was also uptight; that became evident to me. We were always having these team meetings, and to me that didn’t make sense. They just magnified everything and added to the stress. All my life, I preferred to operate with a low profile – I’d rather be understated than dramatic, cool and aloof rather than confrontational and all gung ho. I just don’t believe in making things bigger than they need to be, even some things that may seem awfully big, like winning the Davis Cup. At the end of the day, it’s easier to take the attitude that they’re just tennis matches; you go out, do your best, let the chips fall where they may.

I was happy to talk with Gore, our veteran captain and a former Davis Cup star himself. I was glad to hear what Andre Agassi thought. But these meetings – everyone was just sitting around talking about the next day’s pratice or the upcoming pairings. Ken Flach, one of the doubles players (partnered with Robbie Seguso), looked at me in one of those meetings and asked, “You going to serve and volley on both serves, Pete?” I just looked at him, thinking, I’m one of the top players in the world, and you’re a doubles specialist who can’t even make it in singles. Where do you get off, asking how I’m going to play?
It sounds arrogant, but I was just feeling prickly and uptight. At the same time, though, I never went into a match with a cut-and-dried game plan. I knew my own strengths and the kind of game I felt most comfortable playing, and tried to be aware of what my opponents did well or badly, and how to get to their games. But I always liked to “feel” my way into a match, fine-tune what I would do based on my level of play and the feedback I was getting from across the net.

The quality of my serve on any given day often dictated how aggressively I played. My feeling for how I moved on a given surface (or on a given day), combined with the quality of my opponent’s return game, determined how often I followed my serve to the net. I operated by instinct, figuring things out as I went along. Flach’s question put me on the spot, seeking a commitment I wasn’t prepared to make. It was innocent enough, I guess; my reaction spoke volumes about how defensive and tense I was feeling.

On top of everything else, the French singles players were veterans capable of playing lights-out tennis. There were no question marks about the team; if anyone could handle pressure of playing at home, it was these guys. The adulation of the home crowd would inspire them. If the fast carpet suited my game, it suited theirs just as well.

I was our number one singles player, but the draw determined that France’s number one (Forget) would open the proceedings againt our number two, Andre. I watched from the bench, cheering Andre on as he took care of business to put us up 1-0. I was impressed and slightly intimidated by the crowd. The place held just over seven thousand, but it was sold out, so the overall effect was of a huge, deafening crowd. My moment of reckoning was rapidly approaching; I was up next, the US number one against France’s number two, Leconte.

Pete Sampras, 1991 Davis Cup final

What happened was, I froze. It was that bad. It was deer-in-the-headlights-grade paralysis. Notice that I didn’t say “I choked”. As I wrote before, there is a big difference. Freezing is worse. It prevents you from getting to that critical point where you can choke (or not).
The score just seemed to fly by, like so many of Leconte’s winners. When I was serving, I’d stand up at the line and wait, while the crowd was going nuts. I just stood there, absorbing all the karmic energy, waiting for them to quiet down. That was a big mistake – I should have asserted greater control over the situation by walking away from the service notch to wait until they calmed down. That would have represented control, and playing at my pace. It was something I learned in Lyon that would come in handy in many later matches.

I lost to Leconte in straight sets and left the court shell-shocked.

On Saturday, the French won the doubles to take a 2-1 lead. On the decisive final day, I faced Forget in the first singles match to keep the US hopes alive. I hadn’t had enough time to process what happened on Friday, or to identify the lessons from my awful first-day experience. I gave Forget only token resistance as he clinched the Cup for France in four sets.

I felt terrible afterward. I’d been overwhelmed. For all the talk about Davis Cup being a team thing, I’d felt very lonely out there – as alone as I would ever feel on a tennis court. Sure, the other guys were right there on the bench, encouraging me. And you have your captain sitting on court with you so you can talk and get advice on changeovers. But people make too much of that. It’s not like you can hand your racket off to a teammate and say, “Hey, I’m struggling with this, how about picking up the slack?”
It was a tense and miserable week. Gus, who was my roommate on the trip, tells me that the night we lost, we went to sleep pretty early. I woke some hours later, clearly in the throes of some nightmare, and screamed – at the top of my lungs – Go USA! Then I went back to sleep. I think it was a reaction to the crowd noise during the tie. I had never been exposed to anything like that, and maybe I just needed to fight back or assert myself, even if it was just in a dream and too late to matter.

The explanation for this disaster seems simple. I was the wrong man for the job. And to this day, whenever anyone brings up that tie in Lyon, I just shrug, grin, and tell them “Wrong man for the job”. I don’t want to blame Gorman, or anyone else, but the one thing that was painfully clear by the end of the final against France was that Pete Sampras, a raw youth, was completely unprepared for the demands of Davis Cup play. He was the wrong man for the job.

There was, however, a personal silver lining, Tim Gullikson, waiting in the wings to take over as my coach, saw how much I struggled against the French lefties. He felt that I stood too far to my right when I was receiving serve, exposing too much of my backhand. He wanted me to stand farther to the left to send the signal that I was looking to touch off a big forehand return. It was a cagey move, because lefties just love attacking a righty’s backhand, especially in the ad court. The results were remarkable; I think I won my next thirty-two matches against left-handers after he passed on that tip.
I shudder to think how different my rivalry with Goran Ivanisevic, another lefty, might have turned out had I not changed my receiving stance.