Thursday, 28 June 2012

Wimbledon 1987: Pat Cash

It would be no exaggeration to state that, from a male perspective, Wimbledon in the mid-80s was owned by one man: Boris Becker. After winning the singles title as an unseeded player in 1985, Becker proved to the world that this triumph was no fluke, retaining his crown in 1986 by beating Ivan Lendl in the final. Come 1987, the 1986 finalists were again expected to make the final with the bookies, Becker an extremely skinny 4/5 to make it three in a row, and world number one Ivan Lendl at 3/1 to finally add Wimbledon to his grand slam title haul. The rest of the field were way down in the betting: Stefan Edberg 10/1 and the Australian Pat Cash 16/1 looking attractive each-way bets at a push. Even if you were not of a gambling persuasion, it was hard to look beyond the two front runners: the Swedes Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg had never progressed past the fourth round in their previous Wimbledon visits; Jimmy Connors was past his peak; others, such as Yannick Noah, were unproven on grass; and no one else in the top 16 seeds at Wimbledon had even won a grand slam singles event.

Pat Cash did at least have some previous Wimbledon pedigree, winning the boys' singles event in 1982, reaching the 1984 semi-finals, where he lost in straight sets to John McEnroe (no disgrace there), as well as a quarter finals appearance in 1986. Seeded 11 at Wimbledon in 1986, he was a crowd favourite, especially with female viewers (as emphasised in this Daily Mail article). As William Skidelsky pointed out in the Guardian in 2010: "With his rock star looks and trademark cross earring, the Australian Pat Cash was always a hit with the crowds." At a time when everything Australian, from Crocodile Dundee to Neighbours, was permeating its way into British society, Cash would definitely be heavily supported throughout the tournament.

Lendl, Wimbledon excepted, was quite simply awesome. World number one, twice French Open champion, one time US Open winner, and six times runner-up in Grand Slam singles events, the man was a tennis machine, although this often didn't endear him to the tennis loving fans throughout the world. To his credit he did admit this during the tournament, stating that "My image is unbelievable, and for some time now I have been trying to do something about it." Like him or not (and I was certainly in the latter group), you couldn't fail to recognise that Lendl would be there or thereabouts come the final reckoning, even if his baseline game wasn't naturally suited to Wimbledon in the serve-volley era.

The opening Monday was completely washed out (quelle surprise), although when the action began on the Tuesday, things looked ominous for the rest of the field, as Boris Becker comfortably defeated Karel Novacek in straight sets. Cash also easily dispatched American Marcel Freeman, winning 6-0, 6-3, 6-2, and in a dull round for the underdog, all 16 seeded players made it through to the next round. Lendl did drop a set in disposing of Christian Saceanu, admitting that "There's no doubt I have to up my game if I'm going to win this title, which I want so badly." Perhaps more surprisingly, four Brits made it through to round two: Andrew Castle, Steve Shaw, Jeremy Bates, and Chris Bailey. The Daily Mirror rather unhelpfully labelled them as 'Wonder Wallies' for some unknown reason, hardly the greatest motivational tool should any of the players be perusing their morning papers over a coffee.

Round two was everything that round one had not been, providing us with the mother, father and great-grandfather of all shocks when Boris Becker lost to world number 70 Peter Doohan. This was Becker's first Wimbledon singles defeat since retiring hurt against Bill Scanlon in the third round of the 1984 event, and such was the severity of the shock, it was the front page lead on Saturday's edition of the Daily Express. Australian Doohan fully deserved his four set victory, with Becker afterwards showing a lot of class in defeat. In the widespread press coverage following Becker's loss, we discovered that Doohan was staying in a Kingston YMCA for the bargain fee of £11.40 a night. More importantly, after this match we all knew that the men's Wimbledon singles title was up for grabs.

You little beauty!

Lendl too would narrowly avoid the ignominy of defeat. In a rain interrupted match, Lendl had gone to bed on Thursday night a set down and 5-5 in the second, against the Italian Paolo Cane. The crucial moment came the following day, when Cane, leading 2-1 in sets, broke Lendl in the fourth set to lead 4-3. Cane had two points in the next game to lead 5-3, but Lendl hit back, winning the next four games to take the set 7-5, and easily strolling through the last set 6-1. Lendl was not a happy bunny however, berating his opponent: "He tried to cheat every time the ball was close to the line. It was ridiculous. I told him to stop crying and play tennis. I don't care for him". With the scare averted, surely Lendl would never have a better chance to win the Wimbledon title that was missing from his CV.

Another casualty in round two was the number six seed Yannick Noah, who lost a last set thriller 9-7 to his compatriot Guy Forget. Cash had no such problem with fellow Australian Paul McNamee, again through in straight sets. Edberg (now Becker's tip to win the title) eased into the next round, and Jimmy Connors eventually defeated Brit Steve Shaw in four sets. Only wildcard Jeremy Bates won out of the home contingent. Unfortunately for patriotic fans, Bates would go out in the next round to Yugoslavian Slobodan Zivojinovic, although he did at least provide some overdue home success, winning the mixed doubles title with Jo Durie.

Lendl would again relinquish a set in victory over American Richey Reneberg in the third round, whereas Cash and Edberg serenely glided into the next round with wins over Michiel Schapers (where Cash lost his first, and ultimately only, set of the championships) and Matt Anger respectively. Doohan prolonged his fun stay at the YMCA, defeating Leif Shiras 12-10 in the final set. Third seed Mats Wilander won his third straight game without dropping a set, and Anders Jarryd's 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win over fifth seed Miloslav Mecir meant that the Swedes were enjoying their 1987 at SW19. French showman Henri Leconte, semi-finalist in 1986, floated dangerously into the fourth round, and 'people's champ' Connors also made it to the last 16.

It would be Connors who would provide the dramatic action of round four. His victory over Mikael Pernfors of Sweden was the stuff of legends, as the 34-year-old came back from the brink on more than one occasion in a quite thrilling victory. Two sets down in just 58 minutes, and 4-1 down in the third, the centre court crowd were prepared for a damp end to the day, when Connors embarked on a comeback that still stands the hairs up on your skin, regardless of whether you like tennis or not. Connors somehow won the third set 7-5, but again looked out of it as Pernfors took a 3-0 lead in the fourth. The Swede started to show signs of pressure though under Connors' relentless probing, and the American levelled the match by taking the set 6-4. As Connors strolled to a 4-1 lead in the decider, everything seemed to be on track for a remarkable comeback, but the Swede did manage to break back, and as Connors began to cramp up it looked as if there would be an unwanted sting in the tail. However, Connors sealed the deal, taking the final set 6-2. As an 11-year-old, That1980sSportsBlogger sat in awe during this astonishing match, as all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the Connors juggernaut gained momentum, and Pernfors, like the rest of us, probably knew there was nothing he could do about it. Tennis at its finest. If you have a few spare minutes then you can relive some of the highlights of that match here and here.

Pat Cash was starting to gain a lot of backing on and off the court. His defeated opponent Guy Forget revealed that "Cash is the best of all on grass. And he has the best chance to win Wimbledon. He is playing very well." Off the court, Cash's looks were attracting a band of loyal female fans, although this was proving a distraction to Cash, with many of his fans hanging over the fences to try and catch a glimpse of their hero (Cash wasn't very happy that he had only appeared on a show court just once). Cash was keeping his feet firmly on the ground, sensibly adopting the one game at a time mentality that many sportsmen swear by: "I'm not talking about winning, I'm just looking forward to my next match."

Zivojinovic finally did for Becker's conqueror Doohan, losing just 16 points on his own serve in the process. The Swedish trio of Wilander, Jarryd and Edberg each had four set wins as Scandinavia marched on to the quarter finals, and Leconte set up a last eight clash with Lendl, sounding a word of warning to the Czech: "I can beat Lendl. I've done it before I'm already to do it again."

Lendl had other ideas, producing by far his best performance of the tournament, in fact the world number one admitted "That's the best I've ever played here." His 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 win announced to the rest of the contenders that Lendl was starting to crank into gear just at the right time. Cash was also mightily impressive, comfortably beating Wilander 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Edberg won the all Swedish contest against Jarryd in four sets, and Connors completed the semi-final line-up, beating Zivojinovic in straight sets, to reach is eleventh semi-final in 14 years. However, age and the stamina sapping victory over Pernfors would finally prove too big a hurdle, even for Jimmy Connors to overcome.

Cash's 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 win over Connors was inevitable, as the younger man, playing at the top of his game, simply proved too good for the weary American. This led to one of the first Cash related puns in the Daily Mirror: 'JIMBO'S CASH CRISIS'; there were plenty more of those to come over the next few days. Cash, continuing his mantra, said: "Jimmy is an unbelievable player. He's not the easiest guy in the world to cage but I did it and I'm proud of myself. There's just one match to go now."

Lendl made it through to his second final in a year, in a tight four set victory over Edberg, the crucial moment occurring when Lendl won the third set on a tie break. The final would see the second Wimbledon meeting between Cash and Lendl, their only previous encounter being a 1983 fourth round clash, the Czech running out a comfortable winner in straight sets, but that was a contest between an inexperienced 18-year-old in Cash and an already three times grand slam finalist in Lendl. Although Lendl was still favourite, he would need to be at the top of his game to take on the in form Australian.

The final on Sunday July 5 was definitely a clash of styles: the popular, crowd favourite Cash, with his serve-volley game, against the stand-offish, machine-like Lendl, relying on his powerful baseline play. But Cash's game was so well oiled in the first set that Lendl only won six points on the Australian's serve (before the tie break), and Lendl knew the kind of afternoon he was in for when in his first service game he had to save five break points. In the tie break, Lendl saved one set point, but was unable to prevent Cash taking the first set after 73 minutes. And things were to go from bad to worse for the Czech in the second set.

To say Cash was on another planet in that second set, might be over doing the superlatives slightly, although he wasn't far off it. He effortlessly broke Lendl twice, his own serve as relentless as in the first set (amazingly he didn't lose a point on his own serve during the second set), and soon he had taken the set 6-2, to move into a two set lead. However, Lendl came to life in the third set, finally breaking the Cash serve to take a 4-1 lead, and it looked odds on that the match would go into a fourth set. At 5-3, the world number one served for the set, knowing that this was a chance that he could not let slip through his fingers. Alas, Lendl blew it, double faulting to give Cash a break back, and after the Australian levelled at 5-5, Lendl had the look of a broken man. The despairing expression on Lendl's face, as he netted a backhand at 30-40, said it all. Cash now led 6-5, and would be serving for his first grand slam title.

Fittingly, Cash showed no nerves, and rather appropriately served his way to the championship to love. And then came the moment that will forever be synonymous with the 1987 Wimbledon champion, as he made a beeline through the startled centre court spectators to join his relatives in the players' box. The old club had never seen scenes of the like before, but thanks to one very popular Australian, we have now witnessed this style of celebration on more than one occasion (Ivanisevic and Sharapova immediately springing to mind). The 16/1 shot had triumphed, and no one could doubt that he had not deserved the title, losing just one set along the way. And it had the added bonus of enabling us to see more headlines such as 'Jumping Jack Cash' and 'CASH BONANZA!'.

Lendl was gracious in defeat, commenting that "I really thought I had a chance of winning but on the day he was better than me in every department. I'll have to find some way to improve my grass game." Obviously we now know that Lendl never did lift that famous gold trophy, although he did reach the semi-finals in each of the next three years. Cash returned a year later and lost in straight sets to Becker in the quarter finals, and injuries blighted his later career to such an extent that after 1988 he never progressed past the fourth round of any grand slam event. But he, and indeed us, will always have those memories of 1987; the Rambo-style headband, the earring, the ascent through the galleries after he had won the title. Above all though, we should remember a fine player, who for two weeks in the English summer of 1987 performed to such a high standard, that he deservedly ended the championship as the men's singles champion.

5 comments:

  1. Great stuff.

    Think you missed the best headline of the lot though - "Cash Bounces Czech" ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a brilliant headline.

      Glad you enjoyed the blog.

      Delete
  2. Loving all your blogs. Just discovered them after seeing a link in the Guardian. I suspect I'll be reading them all night! One question on this blog where was McEnroe in 1987? Past his best for sure, but if Connors was still around why not JPM?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you like the blogs.

      After a bit of research I discovered that McEnroe had to pull out of Wimbledon 87 due to a back injury:

      http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/16/sports/mcenroe-is-out-of-wimbledon-play.html

      Delete
  3. The old club had never seen scenes of the like before, but thanks to one very popular Australian, we have now witnessed this style of celebration on more than one occasion (Ivanisevic and Sharapova immediately springing to mind). join our team

    ReplyDelete