Tale of two champions written in straight sets at Wimbledon

Ah, what memories now of the 1987 All-England Tennis Championships. Martina Navratilova, imperiously near perfection, equaling the great Helen Wills Moody's record of eight singles victories and adding one of her own - the first woman and only the second person ever to have won six singles titles in a row. (The other was William Renshaw, 100 years ago).

Pat Cash, ranked 413th in the world only 18 months ago, coolly taking Ivan Lendl in three straight sets in the men's final, the first Australian to win here in 17 years.

Americans Ken Flach and Robert Seguso winning the men's doubles on Independence Day.

Helena Sukova and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch winning the women's doubles for Europe (Czechoslovakia and West Germany).

Jo Durie and Jeremy Bates winning the mixed doubles for England, the first British pair to win for 51 years (since Fred Perry and Dorothy Round).

And the weather: so wet, so dismal at the start, so lovely, so warm, so brilliant at the end - the grandest spell of English summer days for 21 years.

Navratilova's victory was a triumph of experience and determination over youthful power and hope. Martina hadn't won a tournament all year. Her 18-year-old opponent, Steffi Graf, hadn't lost one. She had, in fact, won 45 matches in a row.

But the West German teen-ager didn't get any match practice on grass before this tournament - which may have been a mistake. Martina, on the other hand, played in a warmup event down at Eastbourne on the English south coast. She lost the tournament to Sukova, but in doing so may well have won Wimbledon.

Graf was also new, of course, to the special pressure of a Wimbledon final. To play for the championship itself within that huge packed stadium, at the place where it all began, and where the atmosphere is heavily traditional, even to the need to curtsy to royalty, can be a searching experience.

And so it proved to be. Steffi started powerfully and confidently. But two net cords at crucial moments clearly unsettled her. The ball fell for Navratilova when the points should have been the teen-ager's.

Graf might easily have won the first set, but she lost it narrowly, and never really threatened again. Navratilova, meanwhile, gained in confidence on every shot and continued to play quite beautifully, winning 7-5, 6-3.

The men's final also quite unexpectedly was won and lost in straight sets, Cash demolishing Lendl, a Czech who lives in the United States, 7-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Lendl had been the favorite from the moment in the second round that Australia's Peter Doohan sent Boris Becker crashing out of the tournament, ending the West German's dream of a third straight title here.

Cash, seeded 11th, was an unknown quantity. Back trouble in 1986 had caused him to drop out of sight in the ratings. But he accepted a wild-card entry into Wimbledon that year and defeated Mats Wilander of Sweden en route the quarterfinals.

Since then the 22-year-old Australian twice led the Australian team to sweeping victories in Davis Cup matches. He was very good, yes, but Lendl was and is the world's No. 1 player - and determined to seal his ranking again by winning his first Wimbledon.

But it was Cash who served, volleyed, lobbed and passed like a true champion. In the first set he conceded only 15 points on his service. It went to the tie-break, in which he quickly took command. He won the second set without conceding a service point. Then in the third set he suddenly lost his touch. He double-faulted. His returns hit the net. His lobs were two or three feet too long. Lendl broke his serve. He was quickly 2-5 down.

It looked for a perilous few minutes as though his challenge had faded. Lendl may have thought so too. But we were all wrong. Cash immediately broke back. And from then on he conceded only four more points. He reeled off five consecutive winning games to close out the match, 7-6, 6-2, 7-5.

So excited was he that he leapt the barrier and climbed up over the seats onto the roof of a TV commentary box to embrace his family in the stands.

Lendl looked crushed. It is possible to be recognized as an all-time great without winning here, he said afterward citing prime example Ken Rosewall. But it helps, he conceded, to have been the Wimbledon champion.

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