Thursday, April 17, 2008

1988 Australian Open: Wilander def. Cash

Wilander def. Cash: 6-3, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-1, 8-6.
Classic: Yes.
Rating: 93

The Plot:
The first Australian Open to be played at the new complex at Flinder's Park (later renamed Melbourne Park) featured a most memorable men's singles final. Pat Cash was the hometown hero against Sweden's Mats Wilander. It would be Cash spectacular athleticism and shot-making against the Wilander's strategic genius, and it would not disappoint.

The match: Wilander dominates proceedings early in the 1st set, as a nervous Cash neither serves well, nor seems to be able to keep the ball in the court. Wilander takes it 6-3 with two breaks of serve. The 2nd set promises to go the same way when Wilander has 3-0. But a rain-delay saves Cash, who regroups and manages to get back on serve at 4-4. The quality of tennis is now far higher, and the set goes to a tie-break, which Cash wins with some stunning play. Cash being in the ascendancy takes a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set, and maintains the advantage to take the set 6-3 as Wilander is now playing with far less conviction than in the 1st set.

The 4th set proves to be a disaster for Cash, who has a serious lapse of concentration. Wilander runs away with it 6-1. Cash's woes continues in the 5th set as he loses serve in the 1st game. But he then finds his form again to even things at 2-2. Wilander serves great in this set, and Cash's only real chance is an extended deuce game at 4-5. The players stay on serve until 6-6 when Cash finally wilts under the pressure. Wilander serves out the match to love in the next game and wins the match 8-6 in the 5th.

The bottom line: The match really catches fire after the rain delay in the 2nd set. From then on it is a nail-bitingly exciting affair. Cash is the ultimate entertainer and athlete, and he pulls out one amazing shot after another at net. It is somewhat disappointing that it is Wilander's steady but less spectacular play that wins the day, but the contrast in styles contributes to the greatness of this match. I would rate it higher, but both players have some let-downs, and the first set and a half is not too interesting. All the same, it is highly recommended viewing.

Bonus info: Mats Wilander went on to win two more majors that year: The French Open and the US Open. It was his best year on tour.

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