This year, Mats Wilander seems to be challenging Ivan Lendl for the title of Best Tennis Player in Greenwich, Connecticut. In late 1986, Wilander fell off the pace which he had set for the first five years of his career. He took a rest, married Sonya Mulholland and set up residence in Greenwich, famed for another tennis playing resident – Lendl.
But as the Road to Dallas for 1988 unfolded, the victories began to roll in. Wilander won his first event at Brussels, then followed with clay wins at Monte Carlo, Rome, Boston and Indianapolis. He narrowly missed unseating Lendl in the final of the French Open and U.S. Open, then won the Australian Open in January or the new hardcourt surface at Flinders Park in Melbourne.
His prevous three performances in Dallas would hardly indicate that he is the holder of five Grand Slam titles and one of the leaders of Sweden’s Davis Cup dynasty. In his Dallas debut in 1985, he was eliminated in straight sets by American Tim Mayotte. The next year, Wilanider shook off a pesky Johan Kriek in his first match but it took five sets. In the semifinal round, Wilander fell to Anders Jarryd although he out-ranked him. Then, in 1987came the all-time low. Some say Wilander was not feeling well and his mind was on outside interests. But his 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 downfall to Miloslav Mecir was the shortest match in the 17-year tournament history – 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Wilander has yet to win a major event indoors, although he has recorded several historic performances on Supreme Court. Most notable was the 1983 Davis Cup match against John McEnroe in St. Louis – the classic 6 1/2 hour battle won by the American.
PAST BUICK WCT FINALS (3): 1985 (quarterfinalist) bye, lost to Mayotte; 1986 (semifinalist) bye, d. Kriek, lost to Jarryd; 1987 (quarterfinalist) lost to Mecir.
HOW HE GOT HERE IN 1988: Won Brussels (d. McEnroe), Monte Carlo (d. Arias), Rome (d. Jaite), Boston (d. K. Carlsson), Indianapolis (d. K. Carls-son), Australian Open (d.Cash).
Australian Pat Cash will have quite a number of shoes to fill in Dallas. The early years of the BUICK WCT Finals overflow with Aussie tradition. Rod Laver came into the first two championship matches and was the odds-on favorite to win the richest prize in tennis at that time – $50,000.
But a little guy named Ken Rosewall, also from Australia, denied the immortal Laver two years straight – the second year (1972) being considered one of tennis’ greatest matches. A year later the Dallas field featured no less than four Australians. In 1974, the WCT championship was claimed by popular Aussie John Newcombe.
Cash is different from those Aussies of yesteryear. He is tough-minded, controversial and somewhat of an unguid-ed missile. He raised tennis hopes in Australia when he won the Junior Wimbledon and Junior U.S. Open in 1982.
In the 1985 U.S. Open semifinals, Cash had Ivan Lendl on the ropes but lost in an unbelievable comeback by Lendl. In the post-match interview, Cash lashed out at the press, still feeling the nervous emotion of the loss.
However, in 1986, Cash delivered. He rallied his Aussie mates to a victory over favored Sweden for Australia’s 26th Davis Cup title. Australian men’s tennis was back on track.
In September, 1987, one goal was realized at Wimbledon. Cash provided one of tennis’ most stirring moments when he defeated No. 1 Ivan Lendl for the title and then climbed into the stands to embrace his father and friends.
Cash hasn’t had much luck in the Land Down Under on the 1988 Road to Dallas; he fell to Lendl at Sydney then lost a tiebreaker to Wilander at Flinders Park in Melbourne for the Australian Open title.
PAST BUICK WCT FINALS: First Year.
HOW HE GOT HERE IN 1988: Won Wimbledon (d. Lendl), Johannesburg (d. Gilbert).
Lendl has entered his third year as the top male tennis player and people are beginning to add up his influence. They count over $12 million in prize money winnings. Last year, Lendl won $2,003,656, the second best annual total in tennis history. He also holds the record total – $2,028,850 in 1982 when he dominated the WCT tour and captured his first BUICK WCT Finals title.
Big victories have become commonplace for the strong Czech, who was once regarded as a talented, but stiff bridesmaid in the major events. However last September, Lendl cruised to his third straight U.S. Open victory. Earlier in the year, his French Open victory earned him an automatic berth in his fifth BUICK WCT Finals.
He has left a memorable impression on Dallas tennis fans. In 1980 dressed in black, Lendl reached the quarterfinals as an unknown and lost to Jimmy Connors. Then in 1982, he swept over everyone like a tidal wave. In 1983, he and John McEnroe played one of the best matches in tennis history. With $100,000 difference riding on seven points, the two players went into a fifth set tiebreaker. Lendl came out on the short end as McEnroe’s final shot went between the net and netpost to win the tiebreaker 7-0. In 1985, Lendl once again swept through the draw to take his second BUICK WCT Finals title.
Though Lendl qualified in 1984, ’86 and ’87, injuries kept him from performing in Dallas.
PAST BUICK WCT FINALS (4): 1980 (quarterfinalist) d. V. Amritraj, lost to Connors; 1982 (Champion) d. Fibak, V. Amritraj, McEnroe; 1983 (finalist) d. Denton, Scanlon, lost to McEnroe; 1985 (Champion) bye, d. Edberg, Connors, Mayotte.
HOW HE GOT HERE IN 1988: Won Hamburg (d. Mecir), French Open (d. Wilander), Washington (d. Gilbert), Montreal (d. Edberg), U.S. Open (d. Wilander), Sydney (d.Cash), Wembley (d. Jarryd).
It has been said that Stefan Edberg’s court combativeness is responsible for the Swede giving modern tennis some of its most dramatic matches. However, Edberg is on his way to becoming the Grand Prix’s All-Time Semifinalist if things keep going the same
He is a top candidate for the ’Close But No Cigar Award’ and the BUICK WCT Finals is a prime example. This is his fourth trip to Reunion Arena. The last two years, Edberg has been on the brink of making the championship match and would have been a favorite to win both years.
In 1986, some critics figured Edberg was the top Swede over his friend and rival, Mats Wilander. With the Supreme Court surface at Reunion among his favorites, he challenged Boris Becker in the semifinal round. Becker won an amazingly tight match – 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 7-6 (7-2). Last year, Edberg reached the No. 2 ranking in the world and returned to Dallas with more confidence.
In the semifinals, Edberg met John McEnroe, who was searching for his glory form. Edberg had been stretched to five sets by Tim Mayotte in his open-ing match. The Edberg-McEnroe match also went extra sets with McEnroe winning the critical tiebreaker sets – 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.
Therefore, in the last two years in Dallas, Edberg has played nine tiebreakers and won only three. He has a 1-5 tiebreaker record in the semifinals. You can go back to 1985 and see that Ivan Lendl beat him over five sets including a tiebreaker which would have given the match to the Swede.
Most recently, Wilander overtook Edberg in the semifinals of the Australian Open, an event both men have won several times. Will the tiebreaker jinx fall on Edberg again in Dallas? Tradition says yes, but odds-makers say no.
PAST BUICK WCT FINALS (3): 1985 (quarterfinalist)d. Jarryd, lost to Lendl; 1986 (semifinalist) bye, d. Noah, lost to Becker; 1987 (semifinalist) d. Mayotte, lost to McEnroe.
HOW HE GOT HERE IN 1988: Won Japan Open (d. Pate), Cincinnati (d. Becker), Tokyo (d. Lendl), Stockholm (d. J.B. Svensson).