AUSTRALIAN OPEN 1983

by

Alan Trengove

The evolution of Mats Wilander as a formidable grass-court player...was undoubtedly the most significant feature of the tournament...After an unimpressive opening match, in which he was taken to five sets by Ben Testerman, the Swede beat Roscoe Tanner, Paul McNamee, defending champion Johan Kriek, John McEnroe, and, in the final, Ivan Lendl. His greatest asset was his return of service, particularly off the backhand, but it was his volleying, improving with every match, that was the eye-opener. By the end of the fortnight he was moving confidently to, and at, the net. And though his volleys weren't as decisive as they might have been, he kept opponents under pressure with good, deep first volleys.

McEnroe gave no early warning of his semi-final d├ębacle...He began strongly against Wilander, who had beaten him on the only two other occasions they met in 1983 - in the French Open and at Cincinnati - but after going to a 5-2 lead in the first set was lucky to scrape out of it, 6-4. Wilander realised that McEnroe's service held no terrors for him, and either because of the Swede's accuracy, or the wind and glare, to which McEnroe was unaccustomed after two months of indoor tennis, or, of course, the pressure, the New Yorker's touch steadily deserted him. He hit many backhands out of court, misjudged volleys, and finally allowed Wilander to dictate strategy. "Shocking" was how he described his performance, but he was gracious enough to say Wilander was a great player...

Lendl was playing a pretty fair brand of serve-and-volley tennis with his usual overpowering serve and groundstrokes. But once again in a final he did not do justice to his ability. It was the first ever Australian final between two players from Europe, and Wilander was to become the first non-British European to capture the title since Jean Borotra did so in 1928. The first four games resembled a match at Roland Garros, with one rally extending to 29 shots and lasting 95 seconds. From the outset, though, WIlander showed the most willingness to go to the net, and when he broke for 3-1, Lendl's game fell away. Lendl led 4-2 in the second set, only to double-fault twice in the next game and drop his service. Once more, he lost his grasp, and what had seemed likely to become a titanic, all-court battle faded into a rout. Lendl became completely intimidated by Wilander's double-handed backhand, and either over-hit in desperation or played tentatively.

(World of Tennis 1984)