WILANDER PERFECTS HIS LINES
Mats Wilander's 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over Ivan Lendl in the final of the United States championships earned Wilander £160,000 and established him, beyond argument, as the best player in the world. Wilander was already champion of Australia and France. Another Swede, Stefan Edberg, won Wimbledon. At the age of 24, Wilander has equalled John McEnroe's total of seven grand slam singles titles and has surpassed Lendl's total of six. The final lasted four hours and 54 minutes, which made it the longest played in 11 years at Flushing Meadow, though McEnroe and Bjorn Borg played four more games in 1980. Borg failed in 10 attempts to win the title.
The tournament had already been distinguished by Steffi Graf's Grand Slam. This was the first time Sweden or West Germany had won either singles titles and the first time since 1973 that neither final had featured an American citizen. It was also the end of an era dominated by Jimmy Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. There was a changing of the guard in doubles, too, because Jana Novotna and Jim Pugh, both young, who won the mixed title, were the only team who had previously won a grand slam event (the Australian).
The men's final was a classic that will linger in the memory. It was always close and awfully strenuous. Even Wilander, who usually had a slight edge, could exert no enduring authority. The mantle of greatness settled on the match during the exhilarating crises of the fourth and fifth sets. One might have wished for more contrast in strategy and tactics, especially during the first two sets. Both men played mostly from the baseline...They were like two actors in a long-running play. Each knew his lines thoroughly - and the other man's, too. But the tennis was always admirable and always made sense.
Wilander soon began to vary his game. In the match as a whole he went to the net almost twice as often as Lendl, whose serving was inadequate. Lendl's passing shots could not quite take the strain. Lendl's forehands flew down the court like bullets. Ultimately Wilander broke through by challenging Lendl to pass him with backhands down the line. But in that last game Lendl had two break points. At first, Lendl was more adept at making chances than taking them. But he won the second set from 1-4 down (Wilander seemed to go to sleep after he had been warned for a time violation). Lendl also took the fourth set, in which Wilander was serving at 4-3 and 30-love.
In the fifth set Wilander remained the front runner but could never get away. The clash of wills was almost audible. Their stroke play and footwork were grooved, their retrieving astonishing. They played some dazzling rallies. After four hours they seemed even stronger and faster. Wilander needed two match points, reaching both when Lendl missed the target with backhands down the line. It finished with another backhand error, a service return into the net. Lendl's heart, mind and body could not have given more. But he was no longer no.1.
(The Times, 13th September 1988)