Wednesday, 8 October 2014


Sometimes my memory goes way back to a time that even I don't understand why , I simply remember things on a day to day basis that inspired me to play the game of tennis. I remember scores that are over 30 years old and I recall matches where I can still visualize certain points that inspired me to hit on my garage wall for hours.
 It is no secret that both Mats Wilander and Bjorn Borg of Sweden were my biggest inspiration.The small Scandinavian Country produced many more champions and their style of play was one I did my best to emulate.  Here's another story that I have never forgotten that may go down in history as one of the great title wins of all time.
The 1983 Australian Open at Kooyong was played on grass, a surface that reigning French Open Champion Mats Wilander knew very little about. He knew however that his famous countryman Borg could back up victory at the French Open on clay with victory on grass at Wimbledon. It is possibly one of the most difficult transitions in tennis but Wilander saw his chance.
The Australian Open of '83 saw just 80 players in the Men's Draw that also saw the top 16 seeds receive a first round bye, obviously due to the numbers. It wasn't to say that it was not a strong draw however as Lendl, McEnroe, Mayotte and Teltscher all showed as did two former champions Vitas Gerulaitis and Johan Kriek. The surface of '83 was not one for the baseliners , it was tailor made for a player of McEnroe's serving and volleying expertise. Keeping the points short was the key to victory or so the form guide said.
Mats Wilander was only 18 years of age and after a fourth round showing at Wimbledon in '82 this was only his second Grand Slam entry on the turf . Seeded 3 the Swede took on big serving American Ben Testerman in the second round . Testerman had a game to bother most players especially on grass and lead Wilander two sets to one before Mats came back to win 6-2 in the fifth.
The third round saw Wilander up against Roscoe Tanner, a former Wimbledon finalist and top ten player with arguably the biggest serve of his time. Wilander won in four and then took on Australian Paul McNamee in the round of 16. A year earlier McNamee lost 5-7 in the fifth set of his semi final against eventual champion Johan Kriek of South Africa. From memory he also held match point.
Wilander was beginning to gain some confidence on the grass and beat the Aussie in straight sets and earned the right to play Kriek in the quarter finals.
Johan Kriek on the turf was a clever player , not a huge serve but a consistent volleyer and he attacked well, hence his tournament victories of the previous two years. Wilander's returning in this match was something that Kriek could not come to terms with and a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 victory now saw the Swede take on tournament favourite John McEnroe.
 Now this was a match that Mac on paper should have won comfortably, he was a genius on grass and a multiple Wimbledon Champion. I did watch this match, it was rather remarkable as I have never seen a player hit so many passing shots and topspin lobs as Mats did , he was quite simply in the 'zone'. I believe the score was 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 and it took the 18 year into the final against World number 1 Ivan Lendl.
Now Lendl had quietly gone about his business on his side of the draw and had a couple of solid wins against quality grass court players, namely Thomas Smid and Tim Mayotte. The latter in fact was a semi finalist at Wimbledon a year earlier and had perhaps one of the best serve and volley games of the early to mid eighties. Lendl however beat Mayotte with ease in his semi  6-1, 7-6, 6-3, the final surely would be a classic.
Neither Lendl or Wilander had any real grass court wins of  significance coming into the Australian Open of 1983 but by the time of the final the grass had been worn to more of a hard court. This was a surface that Lendl felt more at home with.
This match for some reason however failed to live up to any expectations which looking back on was not that unusual for Lendl. The win by Wilander of the score 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 was in fact the fourth time Lendl had been relegated to runner up in a Slam following losses to Borg at the French and Connors twice at the US.
Lendl would eventually overcome his nerves in the majors and picked up a total of eight Grand Slam Championships that commenced in 1984 at the French Open. Wilander picked up a further five major's which gave him a total of seven Grand Slams or eight if you count the 1986 Wimbledon Doubles title with countryman Joakim Nystrom.
Just another moment in tennis history that I perhaps will not cover in my lifetime but I am slowly but surely getting through the ones that inspired me to learn the intricacies of  tennis.
The Australian Open of 1983 was unusual in the way that it was won by a player who defied that surface's more fancied players. Perhaps again it was the mental side of the game that enabled the winner to ignore the bigger name and simply play the ball, something we could all try more often..........

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