Match Stats/Report - Becker vs McEnroe, Atlanta Invitational final, 1986


Hall of Fame
Boris Becker beat John McEnroe 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the Atlanta Invitational final, 1986 on carpet

The Invitational event featured identical format to the Masters and was played just a week before it. Becker had also beaten McEnroe in the round robin stage
Becker would go onto the lose the Masters final to Ivan Lendl. McEnroe, who had played a curtailed season, had not qualified for the Masters

Becker won 90 points, McEnroe 90

Becker serve-volleyed most of the time off first serves. McEnroe serve-volleyed off all first serves and about half seconds

(Note: I'm missing 3 points, partially or wholly

- Set 1, Game 6, Point 1 - a Becker first serve point won by McEnroe for which the ending is unknown. It appears to be a Becker forecourt error and has been marked a net point but not a serve-volley
- Set 2, Game 2, Points 9 & 10 - 2 unknown McEnroe serve points won by McEnroe. From deuce, Becker had no further break points according to commentary and McEnroe held the game - its been assumed there were only 2 more points, both won by McEnroe)

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (63/98) 64%
- 1st serve points won (50/63) 79%
- 2nd serve points won (14/35) 40%
- Aces 13, Service Winners 3
- Double Faults 4
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (28/98) 29%

- 1st serve percentage (49/80) 61%
- 1st serve points won (40/49) 82%
- 2nd serve points won (14/31) 45%
- Unknown serve points (2/2)
- Aces 13
- Double Faults 2
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (33/80) 41%

Serve Patterns
Becker served...
- to FH 34%
- to BH 62%
- to Body 3%

McEnroe served...
- to FH 27%
- to BH 54%
- to Body 19%

Return Stats
Becker made...
- 45 (14 FH, 31 BH), including 3 runaround FHs & 1 runaround BH
- 3 Winners (2 FH, 1 BH)
- 20 Errors, comprising...
- 2 Unforced (1 FH, 1 BH)
- 18 Forced (4 FH, 13 BH)
- Return Rate (45/78) 58%

McEnroe made...
- 66 (22 FH, 43 BH, 1 ??), including 1 runaround FH & 5 return-approaches
- 1 Winners (1 FH)
- 12 Errors, comprising...
- 4 Unforced (3 FH, 1 BH), including 1 runaround FH & 2 return-approach attempts
- 8 Forced (3 FH, 5 BH)
- Return Rate (66/94) 70%

Break Points
Becker 3/9 (5 games)
McEnroe 2/4 (3 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Becker 27 (6 FH, 5 BH, 7 FHV, 6 BHV, 1 OH)
McEnroe 22 (4 FH, 3 BH, 3 FHV, 1 FH1/2V, 5 BHV, 6 OH)

Becker had 14 from serve-volley points
- 9 first 'volleys' (4 FHV, 4 BHV, 1 OH)… the OH was on the bounce
- 3 second volleys (2 FHV, 1 OH)
- 1 third volley (1 BHV)… a diving shot
- 1 re-approach volley (1 OH)

- regular FH - 1 inside-out
- FH passes - 3 cc (1 return), 1 dtl return and 1 inside-out
- BHs (all passes) - 2 cc, 2 dtl (1 return) and 1 inside-out

McEnroe had from 11 serve-volley points
- 5 first volleys (3 BHV, 2 OH)
- 6 second volleys (1 FHV, 2 BHV, 3 OH)

- 2 from return-approach points (1 FHV, 1 FH1/2V)… the FH1/2V was hit from behind the service line and was a 'delayed' approach, but has been counted as a net point & return-approach point

- FHs (all passes) - 1 cc, 1 dtl and 2 inside-in (1 return, 1 turnaround shot)
- BH passes - 1 cc and 1 dtl
- regular BH - 1 drop shot

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Becker 28
- 12 Unforced (4 FH, 5 BH, 2 BHV, 1 OH)
- 16 Forced (3 FH, 6 BH, 6 BHV, 1 Tweener)… with 1 BH running-down-drop-volley at net & 1 BHV from no-man's land that has not been marked net shot
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 50

McEnroe 33
- 13 Unforced (5 FH, 3 BH, 1 FHV, 4 BHV)
- 20 Forced (7 FH, 7 BH, 4 FHV, 1 FH1/2V, 1 BHV)… with 1 BH running-down-drop-shot at net
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 46.9

(Note 1: All 1/2 volleys refer to such shots played at net. 1/2 volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke numbers)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Becker was...
- 36/56 (64%) at net, including...
- 27/36 (75%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 27/35 (77%) off 1st serve and..
- 0/1 off 2nd serve
- 0/3 forced back

McEnroe was...
- 49/71 (69%) at net, including...
- 36/52 (69%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 27/36 (75%) off 1st serve and...
- 9/16 (56%) off 2nd serve
- 3/5 (60%) return-approaching
- 1/1 forced back

Match Report
A great match on a fast court. Becker's returning - both actual and the way actual influences McEnroe's serving strategy - tilts the odds in his favour, though even then, there'd be no guarantee he'd come out ahead, as he does

There's nothing in it between the two player. both win 90 points, while Becker serves 18 more. Usually when that happens, you see the loser having a lot more break points or/and have break points in many more games

That's not true here. Becker has 9 break points in 5 games, to Mac's 4 in 3. The unusual finding is due to 2 long Becker service games where he mostly has advantage (16 points and 10 points) in the third set, in which he serves 46 points to Mac's 29. Mac also has 5 love holds to Boris' 2

Mac serve-volleys off all first serves and about half the time off seconds. One gathers he'd optimally like to do so more often off seconds... but Becker's returning is very powerful and discourages it
Becker serve-volleys off 76% of his first serves and just once of second. He usually comes in early when staying back off first serves

The Event
The 'Challenge of Champions' was an invitational event, featuring top 8 players. It was played right before the Masters and with identical format. 2 round robin groups of 4 players with the top 2 from each group moving through to semi-finals - with 1st placed players playing 2nd placed players from different groups - and a final

4 players played both this event and the Masters - Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Yannick Noah

Winner received $150,000 and runner-up, $100,000 according to commentary. By comparison, at Masters the winner received $210,000 and the runner-up $110,000

So how serious is action?

McEnroe jokes around a couple of times, if I'm not mistaken, not to be funny but to needle Boris, who was upset about something at the time. There's the usual amount of Mac gamesmanship and a normal amount of complaints about line calls from both players. Mac's are typically vociferous - about the same as he does in official matches

Commentators recount that in the semis against Ivan Lendl, Mac offered to toss for a point and when he lost the toss, duly threw the next point. On the other hand, in the round match between Becker and McEnroe, the latter gained two warning for arguing too much and docked a point

Play seems serious. Watching the action sans knowing it was an invitational event, I doubt anyone could confidently identify it as an exho


Hall of Fame
Serve, Return & Serve-Volley
The key match-up is McEnroe serve vs Becker return

First off, Becker obviously has no read on the serve at all - just like at Antwerp '85 and Stratton '86 and completely the opposite of their '89 and onward matches. And McEnroe serves very strongly - balls out wide would be aces regardless of whether they were read or not - such are the power and placement on them

Initially, Becker takes to guessing. Even when he guesses right, first serves are still powerful enough to be difficult to return with any authority. And Mac of course comes in behind all of them to make matters still more tricky. Becker though hammers returns - whether they land in or out, or are volleyed away, he hammers them

Note Mac winning very high 82% first serve points and unreturned rate of 41%. 13 aces is high too. Clearly, Mac has his way with his first serve, but... Becker's returning style I think does influence his serving pattern, to Boris' advantage

Note the high 19% body serves from Mac, and he goes for more and more as match goes on, including body-ish serves (that is, not out wide). Why serve close to the body when your serving aces regularly going out wide?

I think its because the power of Becker's returning scares Mac a bit and he opts to cut down Boris' scope to take a full swing at the ball. Its an understandable shift, but plays into Boris hands. The wide serving was more effective... more scope to swing or not, Becker can barely touch those balls. But there's the threat of him doing so

Becker pounds second serve returns more comfortably. Mac winning 56% second serve-volley points is an indicator of how well he handled the tough first volley... but again, Boris has done enough to scare Mac. He stays back as often as not, and only wins 5/13 @ 38% doing so

Might sound daft to stay back so often when Mac's winning so much more serve-volleying, but that's not clear. The way Becker hammers returns, it never seems likely that Mac can keep making tough volleys and winning bulk of points at net for the third ball

The gist of the match up is, even serving very well, Mac is just a bit apprehensive of Becker's thundering returns. And not just serving very well - he volleys that way too (more on that later)

Boris serve-volleys off most first serves and seems to take a bit off it when he does. Full blast, the serve is so strong that returns reach him before he's in position to volley. His strongest serves are when he stays back... he looks like he doesn't expect the return to come back at such times and often it doesn't. When it does, its not strong and Becker usually approaches of the third ball

In final set, Becker lets 100% loose with the first serve. 10 of his 16 aces/service winners are in that set. Its just too fast for McEnroe, who does his best to do what he can against it (or complains about it having been an uncalled fault afterwards)

Becker's second serve is also very strong and would make a reasonable first serve. That he wins just 40% second serves is testament to McEnroe's returning

Play - Volley & Passing
McEnroe volleys exceptionally well. He's faced with a fusillade of heavy returns and passes - and makes the difficult balls consistently. Even flicks away the odd winner from low, hard balls. The 'regulation' volleys he faces are above average of power, and he mostly volleys them into corners

5 UEs on the volley - the shots in question being hard by UE standards due to power - and 6 FEs - given how many he faced that would have been marked FE had he missed - are very good numbers

Probably the best sign of Mac's volleying quality is his winning 9/16 second serve-volleying. These are hammered by Becker and controlling the volley against it is no mean feat

Becker's passing doesn't come under the spotlight, other than the return. He either wins the point with the return, or Mac's volley leaves with running, very difficult passes. He manages best he can. Usually needs 2 good passes - the first to draw a defensive stab volley, the second to pass for the winner - to win points thereafter. Even then, some passes that he might have expected to draw a 'defensive stab volley' are instead touch volleyed offensively to end points or at least, put Mac back in control

The volleying from Mac is of the same standard as his more successful, 1985 and prior standard

Becker's volleying is good as well. In this period, he had a tendency to loop volleys, not punch them through. There's some of that, but mostly, he punches them through and is particularly consistent with just 2 UEs (and a terrible OH miss)

Mac's passing is near his top standard. When Becker doesn't volley decisively, Mac usually makes him pay... generally, he isn't that level a passer (very few players are). Note Becker winning just 9/20 points approaching from rallying. Most of these are in his service games and after he comes in on his terms

He also lobs well defensively... note Becker being forced back 3 times

Play - Baseline
Boris is by far the stronger baseliner. The difference in power level between the two from the back is marked. Becker blasts balls of both sides, Mac pushes and redirects as he can. Wisely, he's willing to fall back from the baseline rather than try to near half-volley balls on the up as he was wont to do

Mac is regularly run around and pushed back, and does well defensively to not lose more points in baseline to baseline scenarios. Becker is slow to come forward at such times; approaching off rallies, he usually comes in early or continues blasting away from the back

Match Progression
Mac loses the first 3 points of the match to immediately go down 3 break points. He wins 21 of the remaining 24 points service points in the set. Becker has no read on the serve at all, Mac makes 19/27 or 70% first serves and usually goes wide with. Becker isn't too bothered on serve either, but Mac snatches the break with a powerful return that forces an error and taking the net to bring up break point. On it Boris double faults

Mostly easy holds in the second set too, but Mac's first serve percentage drops to 54%... and Becker hammers them. Though coping well enough, it seems to shift Mac's game. He becomes safer in his placement of even first serves, and regularly stays back off seconds

Arthur Ashe on commentary opines that Becker hits the ball harder than anyone since Lew Hoad, who I think Ashe would have seen play? He speaks rationally and un-hyperbolically and specifically gives Becker the strength advantage over Ivan Lendl (because Lendl doesn't hit as hard off BH, on the FH its about equal) and Jimmy Connors. I agree about Lendl... not too sure about Connors

Becker gets the break with a pair of great passes from 30-30. The first is a running BH dtl - a typical situation Mac's volleys put him in - and the second, a 1-2 ending with brute FH inside-out. And serves out the set to 15

Becker opens the decider with another break when Mac misses a BHV and starts letting loose with huge first serves after that. Mac gains back the break in one of the best games you'll see - a 16 point affair, 11 of them first serves, a number of which Boris comes in off third ball on rather than serve-volley. Mac has 3 superb passing winners, Boris 4 volleying ones, an ace and 2 service winners. After Boris misses a routine BHV, he can't handle a ground clinging Mac slice to bring up just the second break point of the game and Mac's first since the first set. On it, Mac forces Boris away from net, comes in himself and dispatches an OH

Mac has break point next return game too on the back of 3 strong passes. Boris responds with 3 aces in a row

The final break is anti-climatic. Boris had reached 15-30 with a couple of error forcingly strong shots, but from there, Mac misses a routine third ball BH and double faults

There's still time for a couple of thrilling points as Becker serves out the match. Becker takes the first point with diving BHV, the third volley off his serve-volley point. Couple of points later, Mac returns a first serve wide and starts moving forward as Becker moves sideways to reach the volley. Mac's just behind the service line when he FH1/2Vs Becker's first volley for a winner. It doesn't change the ending though, which comes about from unreturned Becker serves

Summing up, a great, fast paced, fast court attacking match between two of the best at that sort of thing. Very little in it between the two but Becker's greater strength of groundshots and passes does tip the balance his way. Its only excellent volleying that keeps Mac from it being more so

Broadly speaking, the general account of Mac never being the same player after skipping most of the '86 season doesn't hold for this match or his match with Becker shortly before at Stratton Mountain. In both, he play is worthy of a number 1 player and roughly the same as his standard in '85 when he was neck and neck with Ivan Lendl for the year. Both matches went Becker's way, but both could just as easily have gone the other

Stats for pair's Stratton Mountain semi earlier in the season -
Stats for the upcoming Masters final between Becker and Ivan Lendl -


Great report, may say some more later on Mac 86->, but suffice to say he had lost his sharpness aroung the court imo.

In their RR match Becker forefeited a point at protest at Mac being deducted one following warnings. Wouldn't call Boris a sporting player though, he recently admitted to deliberately coughing to put Mac off during their excellent Paris 89 match!


The Invitational event featured identical format to the Masters and was played just a week before it. Becker had also beaten McEnroe in the round robin stage
Becker would go onto the lose the Masters final to Ivan Lendl. McEnroe, who had played a curtailed season, had not qualified for the Masters
Big tournament not sanctioned 80s.
10 editions, 10 great winners (3 McEnroe, 3 Lendl, 2 Connors, 1 Becker and 1 Agassi).
The first 4 tournaments were held in Rosemont (Chicago), one in Las Vegas and the last editions in Atlanta.

It was called Challenge of Champions.