Sunday, January 31, 2010

And while I'm on the Australian Open

Let's take a moment to remember the epic men's singles of 1988, the first at what was then called Flinders Park. The semi finals saw perennial major finalist Ivan Lendl (1) against local hope and Wimbledon champion Pat Cash (4), and number one Swede Stefan Edberg (2) against countryman Mats Wilander (3), then widely thought to be burned out. While Cash was a god in Australia back then, the foreign stars were well loved too - they had consistently supported the Australian Open in years when many of the better players skipped it. This was one of those years that created the Happy Slam nickname.

On a day that ran some ungodly number of hours, Cash outlasted Lendl in five back and forth sets, while Wilander did the same to Edberg. Both winners had taken leads in the first and third sets, only to see the matches tied before finishing strong. Exhausted fans from the Friday who returned for the final on Sunday were in for an even better spectacle, though: the brilliant serve and volley of Cash against the ruthless groundstrokes of Wilander.

Swedish fans went crazy when Wilander took the first set 6-3, but Cash willed himself back into it in a second set tiebreak, after trailing 3-0 early in the set, then won the third 6-3, and Australia was on the verge of its first men's champion since 1977. Wilander had other ideas, with a crushing 6-1 fourth set win against a suddenly nervous Cash. With everything on the line, both players saved their best for the end. Wilander broke in the first game, Cash in the fourth, then the serving was brilliant until 6-6. Wilander reached yet another gear to break Cash one last time, and took the set 8-6. He went on to win the French and U.S. Opens in 1988 too, while Cash would have to rest on his 1987 Wimbledon title and the 1983 and 1986 Davis Cup wins - both against Sweden.

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