Back in the past, players from the top were earning much less than today and they needed to find alternative ways to get bigger cheques in between regular ATP tournaments. Therefore, they went on to play the unofficial events (wrongly characterized today as exhibitions) where they could earn more money than for winning a Grand Slam title! During the golden 80s, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and others had participated in many of them, with the most famous events at the AT&T Challenge of Champions (in Atlanta, Las Vegas or Chicago) and the European Community Championship in Antwerp, only to name a few.
Still, at the end of November 1987, the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club resort in West Palm Beach, Florida had a chance to host a unique tennis tournament, something that had been unseen before in terms of prize money and the rules.
Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash were invited for a three-day tournament of chaos and madness, with Lendl as the winner of fabulous prize money in the end. All four players had started with $250,000 (Lendl took the same money for his US Open title a few months before) but, as they were soon to experience, it was very easy to lose all the money.
They played against each other on Friday and Saturday but instead of regular sets they were battling until someone reach 15 points (in case of 15-15, two points of advantage were required just like in the regular tie break).
Every win was worth of $30,000, taken off from losing player's account. In addition, every ace delivered another $2000 as well as a double fault (moving money from your account to the opponent's one). Every shot in the rally had carried $200 and those who would win the point would take all accumulated money from it (a few thousands of dollars in longer points).
Those who would lose all the money from the account were sent off, even during matches. The spectators were informed about the player's money tally through the large screen and live during the points. Two players with the most money after the opening two days and head to head matches would reach the final, fighting for a huge prize money or to leave empty-handed.
The first day went to Wimbledon champion Pat Cash who won all three matches. Lendl had six aces, McEnroe stood on four and Cash added two, with Edberg standing as the weakest player after three losses. The Swede had no aces and he made three double faults ($6000 less on his account after just three mistakes), winning points mostly after serve&volley (600$ for each) and mainly losing the longer rallies. The first day results and standings:
Cash vs Edberg 15-11
Lendl vs McEnroe 24-22
McEnroe vs Edberg 17-15
Cash vs Lendl 15-11
Cash vs McEnroe 15-10
Lendl vs Edberg 15-7
Pat Cash – $350,600
Ivan Lendl – $300,400
John McEnroe – $214,000
Stefan Edberg – $134,600
Saturday brought big changes, with Pat Cash losing all three matches to lose the edge he had over Lendl. Despite a terrible match against Edberg (lost 15-4 in 15 minutes), the Czech won the other two clashes and he created a big advantage in front of Cash before the Sunday's final. Edberg emerged victorious in all three encounters but he had come short for some $15,000, finishing the third and missing a chance to reach the final against Lendl. John McEnroe had the opportunity to make the final until his last match against Lendl but as soon as Ivan hit an ace at 8-8 it had become clear who will play for the title.
The second day results and the final round robin standings:
McEnroe vs Cash 15-12
Edberg vs Lendl 15-4
Lendl vs Cash 15-11
Edberg vs McEnroe 18-16
Edberg vs Cash 18-16
Lendl vs McEnroe 15-13
Ivan Lendl – $332,600
Pat Cash – $250,600
Stefan Edberg – $234,800
John McEnroe – $182,000
The final itself had turned out to be a complete madness! Lendl and Cash were supposed to play the best-of-five match with 21 points needed to take the set. The first set was worth of $30,000, the second $60,000, the third $90,000, the fourth $120,000 and an eventual fifth the mind-blowing $150,000! All other numbers were duplicated too, aces and double faults now carrying $4,000 and every shot in rally additional $400. The Aussie had won the first set 21-11 and Lendl was now $46,800 in front. Ivan claimed the second set after a strong finish to build a solid $64,200 advantage, with a huge amount of money still to be won or lost.
He also dominated in the third set, taking it 21-7 after an ace and moving closer to the finish line with $447,800 on his and $135,400 on Pat's tally. The fourth set proved to be the closest one and Ivan prevailed 22-20 to walk away with $583,200, the biggest prize money in the history of tennis until that point (the Czech claimed $900,000 in Antwerp two years earlier but only thanks to a diamond racquet). In the end, Pat Cash was $1800 short and it was a crazy turnaround since he had $121,400 before the last point, dropping $120,000 set and $3200 last rally. Ivan was very happy but he said he would have given all that money without even thinking for the Wimbledon title he lost to Cash that year, seeking that elusive Major crown that stayed away from his hands.
The final standings, with Lendl as the only player who actually got the money:
Ivan Lendl $583,200
Stefan Edberg $234,000
John McEnroe $182,000
Pat Cash -$1800
''If you lose the first game, you're better off,'' Lendl said. ''Even if you lose in straight sets, you're better off. There are only four important titles anyway. You can just go out there and play to win. I play six days at Stratton Mountain and win only $40,000. Here I win $583,000 in three days. If I told you anything else, you'd think I was crazy.''