1984 saw two all-American Wimbledon finals featuring arguably the four finest players of the time. The women’s final was close but the men’s was a rout with John McEnroe at his brilliant best.
It was a year to remember for McEnroe who finished it with an 82-3 record which remains the best win-loss record in the Open era. Roger Federer’s 81-4 in 2005 is the closest anyone has come since. The previous best belonged to Jimmy Connors, an incredible 93-4 in 1974.
Ten years after his annus mirabilis, Connors was in his sixth Wimbledon final against his fellow American who was the defending champion at SW19. McEnroe had dismantled unseeded New Zealander Chris Lewis in the final 12 months earlier, but this looked set to be closer with Connors – approaching his 32nd birthday – having won 12 of the pair’s previous 26 encounters.
They first met at Wimbledon in 1977 with the 18-year-old upstart McEnroe coming through the qualifiers before reaching the semi-finals. Connors won in four sets with McEnroe admitting in his autobiography ‘Serious’, “We’d simply gotten off on the wrong foot in the Wimbledon locker room in ‘77, and we’d butted heads ever since. It made for some great matches, but the tension was always there.”
After a lean couple of years, Connors bounced back to form in 1982 and beat McEnroe to claim his second Wimbledon crown. But in 1984, McEnroe was the man. He defeated Connors in straight sets to reach his only French Open final, but blew a two-set lead against Ivan Lendl.
That was a rare blemish in a fantastic year and the New Yorker warmed up for Wimbledon with victory at Queen’s Club including a 6-2, 6-2 semi-final demolition of Connors, his fifth consecutive win against his old rival. There were also more than a couple of his famous temper tantrums which meant the British public only warmed to him near the twilight of his singles career.
McEnroe cruised through to the Wimbledon final, dropping just one set in his opener against Australia’s Paul McNamee. Connors had also been impressive, losing three sets along the way including one in his semi-final victory over Ivan Lendl. The Czech’s showing was enough to see him overtake McEnroe at the top of the world rankings, the pair swapping places no fewer than six times over the previous 12 months.
So to the final where McEnroe played close to flawless tennis, dominating from the outset with Connors unable to respond. As McEnroe says in ‘Serious’:
“From the start, Connors just couldn’t find his rhythm, while I was serving unbelievably well – slicing it wide, popping it up the middle, doing whatever I wanted.
“I hit 74 percent of my first serves in the match, with 10 aces and no double faults. I had three – three – unforced errors in the match.”
No wonder McEnroe said after the match, “That’s the best I’ve ever played”. He was also on his best behaviour with the British tabloids, usually swift to attack their tennis villain, calling him ‘Mac The Nice’ and ‘Saint John’.
It was a ruthless display from McEnroe who dropped just 11 points on serve. And from the opening return game, you can see him climbing into Connors’ first serve. The California-based gunslinger’s famed fighting qualities could not save him with McEnroe even on top from the baseline.
The 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 annihilation lasted just 80 minutes with the pair not making eye contact during the handshake at the net. At this time, they were not speaking to each other after some “trash-talking confrontations on the changeovers” during their French Open semi-final.
It was the most one-sided Wimbledon men’s final since Don Budge’s 1938 win over Bunny Austin. Coincidentally, Budge became something of an unofficial adviser to McEnroe, once calling him up to tell him how to beat Lendl.
McEnroe went on to win the US Open that year, beating Connors in the semis in five sets before a straight-sets victory over Lendl. That was to be SuperMac’s last of nine Grand Slam titles with the Czech exacting revenge at Flushing Meadows 12 months later.
Connors failed to reach another Slam final although he memorably reached the semi-finals of the 1991 US Open, aged 39.
The women’s final saw another victory for youth with Martina Navratilova at the peak of her powers. She beat her old adversary Chris Evert 7-6, 6-2 with the women’s final lasting seven minutes longer than the men’s.
Like McEnroe, Navratilova had had her own pre-Wimbledon brush with the British tabloids whose paparazzi were aroused by the presence of her girlfriend – although back then she was dubbed a ‘travelling companion’ – Judy Nelson. And like McEnroe she let her tennis do the talking.
That was the Czech-born star’s fifth consecutive Grand Slam tournament victory, a run she extended to six at the US Open. She claimed her record ninth Wimbledon singles title in 1990.
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