July 24, 1987: Boris Becker edges John McEnroe in 6 hours 21 minutes!

Tennis - 5 years earlier, John McEnroe had another epic battle in the Davis Cup, against another youngster, Mats Wilander

by Jovica Ilic
July 24, 1987: Boris Becker edges John McEnroe in 6 hours 21 minutes!

On this day, 40 years ago, Hartford Civic Centre, Hartford, Connecticut, was the venue of the Davis Cup Relegation Play-Off tie between the United States and Germany, and it turned out to be a memorable one! Back in March, both teams have suffered the first round loss in the World Group, to Paraguay and Spain respectively (both on clay), and instead in the quarter-final, they had to play in the Relegation round, to determine which country will remain in the World Group.

After 3 5-setters, Germany prevailed by 3-2, led by 19-year-old Boris Becker who took down both John McEnroe and Tim Mayotte in 5 sets. For the first time in history, the USA was relegated to the zonal competition, unable to fight for the Davis Cup title in 1988! The second rubber between Becker and McEnroe turned into something special, the match lasted 6 hours and 21 minutes and Boris edged more experienced rival by 4-6 15-13 8-10 6-2 6-2 to give Germany a 2-0 lead on Friday. This was the first competitive match for McEnroe since the first round exit at Roland Garros, 2 months earlier, while Becker traveled to the States a month after a shocking second-round loss at Wimbledon to Peter Doohan, being the two-time champion there.

In fact, the match lasted 6 hours and 40 minutes, as they had 20 minutes break after the third set, which is unusual as the match was played indoors on carpet. Carried by a partisan crowd of almost 12000, John played just like in good old days, when he was one of the best players in the world on the fast indoor surface.

He the first set with a break at love in game 10 but then came the epic second set, that lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes alone! John missed a great chance in the 20th game, leading 10-9 and having an easy backhand volley for triple set point, but he missed it and Boris, in the end, managed to hold and prolong the set, avoiding a 2-0 deficit.

Next time around Becker had to dig deep even stronger, fending off 5 set points in game 22, and he finally broke John's serve in game 27 when the American netted an easy smash. Red-haired German brought the set home in the next game, firing a forehand winner to steal the set by 15-13, in what was one of the turning points of the encounter.

The third set also went to the distance, Boris failed to convert many break chances and he was punished in the end, losing serve in game 18 to drop the set by 10-8. Becker sent the backhand long and he now trailed 2 sets to 1, with no room for mistakes in the rest of the match if he wanted to turn in into his favor.

That long break after the third set seems to take away all the momentum from the American, and he was unable to carry in the same rhythm in the final two sets, losing serve twice in each as young German won both sets by 6-2, earning the match point with a backhand return winner in the 8th game of the 5th set, and converting it with a volley winner at the net.

Overall, Boris won 234 points against 210 for John, winning his service games easily and having to serve 204 times while McEnroe played 240 in his games. Becker won 77% of the points on his first serve and 49% on the second, and John failed to follow those numbers (especially in the final two sets), taking 71% of the points on first and only 42% on the second serve.

German had 27 break chances (13 in the second set alone) and he converted 9, compared to 6 breaks from John, who had 17 opportunities to break his rival. Boris had the edge in the winners segment, with 74-50 (John had more service winners, though), including 21 return winners.

Younger player opted to stay behind and most of his winners came from groundstrokes (27 from forehand and backhand each), but it was really a very close match in the first 3 sets, a true show between two of the finest indoor players.

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Boris Becker John Mcenroe Mats Wilander