The 1986 Wimbledon tournament will be remembered as one with all the marks of greatness. Marvelous play . . . magnificent champions . . . glorious English weather . . . and the return to top tennis of the true spirit of sportsmanship.
Millions will have seen it on TV, but I can assure them as one who was there that the whole atmosphere was changed. This was lovely.
Martina Navratilova won not only her seventh singles title and her fifth in succession, but also the women's doubles with Pam Shriver.
West Germany's Boris Becker, still the youngest man ever to win Wimbledon, captured the big prize for the second year in a row and also finally beat Ivan Lendl, the world's top-ranked player. He accomplished the latter feat in Sunday's final, winning in three straight explosive sets in front of his own country's president, his parents, the British prime minister, and the ``tennis royals,'' the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
As for the resurgence of sportsmanship, there was hardly a bad word spoken in the championships. Becker and Frenchman Henri Leconte, after their fast and fiery semifinal, left the court with their arms around each other's shoulders. Martina and Hana Mandlikova, after the women's final, followed their example.
And the crowd rose to the champions-of-old, Kitty Godfree of England and Jean Borotra of France, each singles victors here in both 1924 and 1926, when they, instead of royalty, presented the current singles victors with their trophies.
Martina, who has now equaled the record five successive wins of Suzanne Lenglen (1919-23), needs one more singles crown to match the total of the legendary Helen Wills Moody. And five more wins overall, including doubles and mixed doubles, would enable her to tie Billie Jean King's total of 20 in this category.
Who is to say she won't top them all? In her final with Mandlikova, she started badly while Hana was inspired. But just when it looked as though she would lose the first set, perhaps by as wide a margin as 6-2, the world's top woman player reasserted her dominance, got to 6-all, and then won the tie-breaker easily. The second set became a formality, Martina winning 6-3.
Mandlikova had destroyed Chris Evert Lloyd's dream of another Wimbledon win, which would have been her fourth, and some observers wondered whether Chris will now follow her husband John Lloyd into retirement.
It's possible, but one has to remember that in Paris just a few weeks before Wimbledon, Evert Lloyd had beaten her great rival in the final of the French Open. There could be a lot of great tennis for Chris yet.
The men's final was a thunderous affair, which almost defied belief.
Lendl, in his first Wimbledon final, was intense and determined. He had set his heart on winning this tournament, where he had made the semis twice in his best previous results.
Becker, meanwhile, was boyish, powerful. He would do his best, but he was only seeded fourth, and many thought that his victory last year at age 17, when he had so nearly lost in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals, must prove a flash in the pan. Furthermore, there had been far less pressure on him a year ago as an unseeded dark horse than now as the defending champion.
As things turned out, Becker was victorious just when he seemed most vulnerable, while Lendl was vulnerable just when he seemed most certain to be victorious.
Boris saved three break points in the very first game. Then in the fifth game Lendl, playing masterly tennis, did achieve the break. It looked as if the first set was his. But Boris immediately and crushingly broke back, then later broke again and took the set 6-4.
After winning the second set easily, the champion faltered. Lendl pounced. In a trice Becker was down 4-1. It seemed certain the match would go to four, maybe five sets. But the undaunted West German broke back. It was not so much his blazing first serves that did it but his almost equally hard second serves. In point of fact he wasn't serving as well as he can serve.
At a crucial moment in the third set Becker played one improbable, almost impossible shot. He dived for a hard volley that came off the racket an apparently sure winner down the sideline. The ball hit the net cord. Becker was on his knees and elbows. He turned and, still on his knees, somehow flicked the ball over the net to the other sideline, yards out of Lendl's reach. Ivan must have sensed then that he was going to lose, as he did 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
But Becker's semifinal with Leconte was an even better match, full of art as well as force. The defending champion again proved vulnerable in the third set and was thrashed in the tie-breaker. Was he going to lose? No, he wasn't. He put the record straight in the fourth set and ran out the victory, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.
In the men's doubles, the Swedish pair of Mats Wilander and Joakim Nystrom defeated Peter Fleming and Greg Donnelly, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. In the women's doubles Navratilova and Shriver picked up the title for the fifth time in six years, beating Mandlikova and Wendy Turnbull, 6-1, 6-3. But in the mixed, Ken Flach and Kathy Jordan prevented Navratilova from achieving a rare triple, defeating Martina and Hans G"unthardt, 6-3, 7-6.