TENNIS


 

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Tennis Moments:

1984 U.S. Open

1984 Wimbledon Final

1937 Davis Cup

1980 U.S. Open

1975 Wimbledon
1925 U.S. Championships
1996 U.S. Open Quarters

 

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   The greatest tennis matches have come from the greatest rivalries - McEnroe-Borg, Connors-McEnroe, Ashe-Connors. Unfortunately, the development of high-tech rackets has emphasized power and destroyed the chess match quality of tennis that used to make it so special.

   The matches here reflect, perhaps, my bias for the competitive matches of the early 1980s. Since 1987, no truly great rivalries have emerged - Andre Agassi has had a few good runs but has never approached Pete Sampras in calibre - and before 1970 tennis had yet to emerge from the days when only amateurs could play the tournaments, and many of the game's best would not participate in the majors. 

 

1   SEPTEMBER 8, 1984  1984 U.S. Open: The Greatest Day

   OK, OK - this isn't a single game, so I'm cheating. Still, I just had to include it: it was the greatest day in tennis history, and it occurred on semifinal Saturday at the U.S. Open in 1984.  Each of the four matches on stadium court went the distance, and the line-up involved a Hall of Fame roster.

   First, Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe in the men's over-35 semifinals. Then, Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash battled in the first men's semifinal, in which Lendl prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, and then 7-6. In the third match of the day, the greatest rivalry in women's tennis brought Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert together again. After dropping the first set, Navratilova hung on to win her second of three titles, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 for the women's title.

   And the best for last - top-seeded John McEnroe defeated his nemesis, Jimmy Connors, in a wonderful five-set epic semifinal match:  6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

   Play started at 11:07 a.m. and ends at 11:16 p.m.

JULY 8, 1984  1984 Wimbledon Final: McEnroe v. Connors

   Simply the finest display of tennis ever.

   In the most one-sided Wimbledon men's final since Don Budge also allowed just four games in 1938, John McEnroe plays a virtually perfect tennis match and trounces two-time champion Jimmy Connors, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in only 80 minutes. It was the sixth straight time he defeated Connors, to raise his record to 15-12 against him.

   McEnroe's serve was devastating, both on his slices wide and his hard one up the middle. The left-hander connected on 74 percent of his first serves, had 10 aces, no double faults and lost only 11 points in his 11 service games - which said a lot because Connors' return game was the best ever.

   Most remarkably, Mac didn't commit his first unforced error until midway through the second set - and that on a very questionable line call. He committed only four unforced errors in the entire match, a record low for any Grand Slam final since they began recording match statistics.

JULY 20, 1937   1937 Davis Cup: Budge v. Von Cramm

   Earlier in the month, American Don Budge had an easy time in vanquishing Germany's Baron von Cramm in straight sets in the Wimbledon final. But today, on the same court, in the fifth and deciding match of the Davis Cup Interzone finals, the contest was much more competitive. When it's over, many in attendance are considering it the most dramatic match ever played.

   Von Cramm, who received a phone call from Adolph Hitler before taking the court, won the first two sets, 8-6 and 7-5. But Budge rallied, becoming more aggressive, and won the next two sets, 6-4 and 6-2.

   Playing the match of his life, von Cramm took a 4-1 in the final set. Budge rallied again, breaking back to tie the match at 4-4. Each player held serve until the 13th game, when Budge broke von Cramm at love. The German, though, refused to yield easily, saving four match points in the 14h game before Budge finally prevailed, 8-6, to win the match.

   In the stands, Germany's coach, Bill Tilden, was so distraught over von Cramm's defeat that according tohe Associated Press he "all but cried when the fair-haired lad was beaten." The next week, the United States won the Davis Cup for the first time since 1926, with Tilden playing for the U.S., by beating England in the final.

SEPTEMBER 7, 1980   1980 U.S. Open Final

   The greatest rivalry in men's tennis history added it's second chapter, a closely fought, five-set thriller at Forest Hills. Bjorn Borg's pursuit of the U.S. Open is one of the great, though tragic and futile, pursuits in professional sports: Borg owned Wimbledon and the French Open, winning 11 titles in 12 trips to the finals, but he could never win the U.S. Open.

   Four times he went to the finals, but each time he came away empty - he lost to Jimmy Connors in 1976 and 1978, and to McEnroe in 1980 and again in 1981. After his four-set loss to Mac in 1981, he walked off the court, refused to talk to the press, never played in a major pro tournament again, and effectively retired at the age of 25.

   1980 was the only time when Borg was ranked #1 in the world. He had beaten McEnroe at Wimbledon two months earlier, and was favored to beat the defending champion. This was the second thrilling, epic five-set match that these two played in 1980: when it was over, John McEnroe had beaten back a Bjorn Borg comeback and triumphed 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, and 6-4.

5 JULY 5, 1975   1975 Wimbledon Final: Ashe v. Connors

   There was no love lost between Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors: Connors had announced a $5 million libel suit against Arthur Ashe for having criticized Connors' refusal to join the U.S. Davis Cup team two weeks before this match, and had previously filed three other suits for a total of $20 million against the Association of Tennis Professionals, of which Ashe was president. Just in case Connors had forgotten about the Davis Cup controversy, Ashe came out for the warm-up wearing a blue jacket with "USA" in red on the chest.

   On paper, this looked like it should have been Connors' match to lose - he was the defending champion and hadn't lost a set in the tournament. Oddsmakers made Ashe a 5-1 underdog, and an even bet to win a single set. But after Connors win the first game, Ashe simply took him apart. Relying on "junk" to beat the #1-ranked Connors, Ashe chipped and lobbed his way to 12 of the next 13 games. His 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 victory enabled him to become the first black man to win Wimbledon.

   When the dismantling is complete, Ashe puts one more dagger into his adversary, pointing out how Connors had put about 70 percent of his errors "into the middle of the net. He hardly ever put the ball beyond the baseline - that's a sign of choking."

SEPTEMBER 19, 1925   1925 U.S. Championships

   When Bill Tilden lost to Bill Johnston, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, in the final at the U.S. Nationals in 1919, it was because Johnston exploited his weak backhand. After that, Tilden moved to Newport, R.I., and made a deal with a wealthy insurance executive who owned one of the few indoor courts in the country. He agreed to regularly play tennis with his son, in exchange for being free to work on his own game indoors.

   Obsessively, Tilden developed a topspin backhand - chopping wood daily to gain strength - and hitting backhand after backhand. The work paid off when he again met Johnston at the 1920 U.S. Nationals final and beat him in five sets.

   Suddenly, Tilden was transformed. He won seven U.S. singles titles, finishing with 73 victories in 80 matches. He won three Wimbledons, and could have won a lot more - after winning in 1920 and 1921, he found victory so easy that he declined to continue going back to London on a slow boat simply to complete a fast victory everyone knew was inevitable. He didn't compete at Wimbledon from 1922-26; the next three years he lost in the semifinals before becoming the oldest man to win a Wimbledon's singles title, at 37 in 1930.  He won seven U.S. clay court titles, five U.S. doubles titles and four national indoor titles while also leading the U.S. to seven consecutive Davis Cups from 1920-26, including 13 straight singles victories in Cup competition. He didn't lose a match in 1924 and won 57 consecutive games at one stretch in 1925.

   His greatest match was the 1925 U.S. Championship final, against his nemesis Bill Johnston. Since 1919, Tilden had not lost a match in the tournament, winning the title 5 straight times. In a tense and grueling match, Tilden won his sixth straight U.S. Championships with a 4-6, 11-9, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory at Forest Hills.

   This was the fifth time that Big Bill beat Johnston in the final, and the third time in five sets. In the second set, Tilden was three times a point away from falling two sets down. Each time he won the point, and eventually he took the set. In the deciding set, the score was 3-3 when Tilden took 12 of the final 16 points to gain the championship. Of the 380 points played, Tilden won 191, Johnston 189.

SEPTEMBER 4, 1996    U.S. Open Quarterfinal

   Of all the great matches which Pete Sampras has won, this one most truly defines his championship qualities. During the 1995 Australian Open, his coach and friend Tim Gullikson collapsed as a result of the complications of a brain tumor. Sampras wept openly during his quarterfinal match against two-time champion Jim Courier when a fan yelled to him, "Win it for Tim!" but he regained his composure, and overcame a 2-set deficit to defeat Courier. Although he lost in the final to Andre Agassi, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4, his performance in that epic five-setter was a classic.

   The other was an even gutsier performance at the 1996 U.S. Open. Tim had died earlier that year, and Sampras had considered quitting tennis, but he decided to continue. Sampras, who has won 6 of the last 7 Wimbledon titles, took his one defeat there in the quarterfinals, to the eventual champion, Richard Krajicek.

   Two months later, a despondent Sampras took his shot at his 4th U.S. Open title - unfortunately, he came down with a stomach flu.  At one point during that match he was issued with a delay-of-game code violation for vomiting on the court.  Sampras battled for 4 hours and 9 minutes against his body, mind and a gallant Spaniard named Alex Corretja.

   On this night, the diminutive Spaniard had come to play. By the fifth set, Sampras' legs had started to buckle, and he began going for winners earlier and earlier in order to preserve energy. But his big serve kept him even in the fifth, and he hung on grimly to force a tie-break to decide the match.

   The tie break was manic. Corretja, who would break into the top 20 in the men's ranking after the tournament, led 7-6 at one point, and had a match point on serve. However, he was foiled by a spectacular, lunging Sampras volley. Corretja's mistake was to play across court: anything down the line would have left Sampras stranded. Sampras was next to serve, and his second serve ace thrilled the gallery and bewildered the Spaniard. Corretja then double faulted to lose the match.

   In his dazed stupor, Sampras looked over to Tom (Tim Gullikson's twin brother), who was at courtside, and in a sense his year came to a head right there. Later, Sampras said: "Everyone asks me if I had to win the Open for Tim. I tell them I didn't have to do it for anybody but me. But perhaps it closed the book on Tim."