WILANDER'S EXTRA STRENGTH RUINS CASH PARTY PIECE
Mats Wilander produced the most coolly defiant and determined performance of his career to beat Pat Cash in a memorable and most worthy finale to the first Australian Open Championships at the new National Tennis Centre. In a match overflowing with fabulous tennis which tested the skill, strength and stamina of both players, Wilander took the title, for the third time in five attempts, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6. The bravely resilient fashion in which Wilander responded to win the fifth and longest set, after losing an early break and twice having served to stay in the match, meant that even most Australians forgave him for ruining the perfect start to their bicentennial party.
A match which twice changed course after rain delays of 33 and 19 minutes finally hinged on one fabulous point played by Wilander at deuce at 6-6 in the final set. With a speed and strength which he said he did not have six months ago, before he started working more seriously on his fitness, Wilander twice chased across the full width of the baseline to retrieve shots he had no right to reach, let alone return so challengingly. Having played himself back into the point, he failed to put away a first smash but made sure of reaching break point with his second in the most stunning moment of the tournament. Cash then missed fractionally with a backhand volley, leaving Wilander, who has surely never served more solidly with such consistency, to end the next game and a gripping contest to love on another smash.
Wilander drew great encouragement, as well as inspiration, from the noisy but never disruptive support from two groups of Australian-based Swedes, with the national flag painted on their faces. He rewarded them and himself after the disappointment of defeat in the finals of Paris and Flushing Meadow last year with a victory second only in satisfaction to his first Grand Slam title in Paris in 1982, when he was 17, and a performance which, in substance and quality, was infinitely richer.
Amid his obvious disappointment of losing his second successive Australian Open in five sets to a Swede - last year Stefan Edberg beat him - Cash felt disgruntled that with uncertainty about the weather they had not played with the roof closed: "If you spend all that money to have a stadium with a roof, why not use it?"
The decision to open the roof after the women's doubles final and after early morning rain cleared, was undoubtedly right, and it was certainly the Australian who benefitted from the first of the two interruptions. Seldom can anyone have been more grateful for rain than Cash when it offered him the chance to re-think his strategy at a set and 1-4 down. Until then Wilander, passing or lobbing Cash with perfect precision, confidence and control, had played what he described as "probably the best tennis of my life". On the resumption he even had two points for 5-1 and was so confident that he was increasingly attacking the Cash serve. Yet, having escaped, Cash suddenly started punching away his volleys and finding the penetration and range which had been lacking on his first serve. Cash broke back to take the second set on a 7-3 tie-break, but, after comfortably winning the third set despite a code violation for ball abuse, he started to miss his volleys again.
Wilander, who became less extravagant and more thoughtful again after the second rain break when he was a point from trailing 0-4 in the third set, dropped only 12 points in the fourth. "It was important for me to win an easy fourth set because I felt down a bit after losing the third", said Wilander, whose £65,000 win maintained Sweden's domination of the tournament since his first victory in 1983. Twice in that final set when again it became a straightforward battle of wills and wits, between his passing shots and Cash's attack, Wilander was only two points from defeat. Each time he instinctively responded in the bravest way by moving in and volleying irresistibly beyond Cash's despairing reach. It was pulsating stuff, which became better and better.
(Daily Telegraph, 25th January 1988)