John Parsons

If there was one person in the world who, perhaps, the Australians did not mind winning the Australian Open other than their own Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, to spoil what would have been the perfect start to their bicentennial party, it was Mats Wilander. Certainly he was cheered to the rafters of the marvellous new Flinders Park stadium for the way that he became the first since Ken Rosewall and the first non-Australian, to win the Australian Open men's singles title for a third time. And no wonder. For the coolly defiant manner in which he brilliantly ended a fabulously exciting fifth set, a set which saw him lose an early service break, twice serve to stay in the match and then break for 7-6, helped by one of the most spectacular points imaginable, left the crowd exhilarated even amid their disappointment for their own player.

Wilander, who played the finest tennis of his life to lead by a set and 4-1 before the first of two rain breaks, and then again from 4-5 in the final set, illustrated the new strength of character within his game. He eventually won after 4 hrs. 28 minutes of actual playing time, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6. Yet a match which ebbed and flowed with such rapidity, as first the sustained pressure of Wilander's serve and brilliantly accurate passing shots dominated and then Cash's aggressive volleying took charge, probably hinged in the end on one astonishing point in the 13th game of the final set. Twice Wilander, drawing from inspiration both physical and mental, (something he has built up from sprint training and gymnastic work with his close friend Matt Doyle), raced the full width of the court to retrieve what would have been Cash winners on any other day. Then, having heroically clawed his way back into this most crucial point, he played two smashes of his own before breaking the Australian's resistance.

Cash had taken the opportunity to pull his thoughts and then his game together during the first 33 minutes' delay for rain, but after the second, 18 minutes, interlude, Wilander's firm control not only returned but twice, when he was two points away from defeat at 4-5 in the final set he responded by taking the vital points on his own serve with hints of that stunning bravery with which four games later he created the vital break point. On the point which followed that most remarkable moment in Wilander's career, the stunned Cash missed one of those close to the net volleys he had previously been making with relative ease. Effectively, a great match, befitting the occasion and splendour of the new centre, was over.

It was certainly a marvellous climax to a tournament which attracted crowds totalling 244,589 (including nine night sessions), which was more than 100,000 above the record for Kooyong...Australia, it seems, is now the "in" place for Swedish teenagers to visit. Well, it makes a change from Eastbourne, doesn't it? Certainly there were Swedes present in force, many of them with their faces painted in their national colours, supporting every one of their 12 countrymen who played in the men's singles, an event for which they have provided the champion now for the last five years. "They were a great help to me", said Wilander.

(Tennis World, March 1988)