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Old 01-08-2013, 07:26 PM   #54
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 5,531

1987 USO final
Lendl - 18.75
Wilander - 12.4%

1988 USO final
Wilander - 13.8%
Lendl - 12.2%

Between these two matches, I had always regarded the 1988 final as superior quality. That's because there was somewhat more net play; in '87 the rallies seemed to be longer. It was like watching paint dry, is the way Tony Trabert put it in the booth.

But a few years ago I rewatched the matches, counting winners and service percentages, all the stuff I usually get in my own stats. When I finished watching I actually felt like the '87 final was better played. And the '87 final has higher AM's, as I found out later when I calculated them.

It's true that Lendl was hitting powerful winners all over the place in '88. But he was also making a lot of unforced errors. And his serve really failed him: he made only 42% of first serves -- just 24% in the final set. When he got his serves into the box he made some booming aces; and when he landed his groundstrokes his winners were awesome. That gives the impression of a more exciting match -- which it was. I still would call the '88 final the more exciting one. But I doubt, now, that it had the higher quality.

Lendl was more clutch in '87, especially with his serve. His service percentage never deserted him the way it did in '88; and he actually made some big first serves on a few huge points in the '87 match.

In '87, when everyone was watching the paint dry, there was a stage deep in the long third set when it seemed that neither player could get any kind of advantage. Someone at Tennis Magazine wrote that the two players were fighting over every point, and every game, like two dogs over a bone. And the rallies were often very long, featuring endless backhand exchanges. A lot of people would find that boring, and in some ways it was.

But I remember an exchange in the booth. I think Trabert said that Wilander, despite pulling ahead occasionally, just couldn't consolidate, could not put Lendl away. Newk replied immediately that Lendl couldn't put HIM away either.

And that's the thing: Lendl could not always hit through Wilander. He had the weaponry to do it sometimes, but when Wilander started doing his sprints, Lendl could get into real trouble trying to put Mats away. In other words, he could easily start missing, if he pulled the trigger too soon.

So I think Lendl played well within himself in '87. He couldn't put Mats away so he didn't try to do so prematurely. He was patient enough -- and just barely aggressive enough. He struck the right balance. His patience did make the rallies longer, and could put some people to sleep. But in the end he played his opponent the way he needed to do.

I think the AM's reflect all that. On the other hand, I don't think the AM's reflect too well some of the improvements in Wilander's game in '88. Wilander came to net a lot more in '88; and his service percentage was much higher. His slice, as many people have noted, was working to perfection in '88; it kept Lendl from teeing off, and put him slightly off balance. That had something to do with Lendl making unforced errors; it wasn't JUST a drop in Lendl's quality that was responsible for all his errors.

The AM's do show an improvement by Wilander in '88, though maybe not as much as you would expect to see.

Last edited by krosero; 01-08-2013 at 07:35 PM.
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