LONDON -- "Cash or Czech?" was the amusing question Sunday before Pat Cash of Australia and Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia squared off in the Wimbledon men's final. In the end, cold hard Cash was the choice.
Lendl paid the ultimate price for his relative inexperience on grass courts. Never a natural volleyer, he constantly steered his first attempts down the middle rather than to the open court. Cash, 5 feet 11 and cat quick, had numerous chances to pass the world's No. 1-ranked player, and did so.
Lendl's ground strokes always have been more suited to clay courts. He has an elliptical backswing on his forehand. On slow-bouncing dirt surfaces this windup is ideal because there is plenty of time, but the skittish bounces on grass seldom allow for such wide arcs. Repeatedly, Lendl tried to hit his return of serve this way with poor results. He needs to shorten his preparation on his forehand.
Cash was brought up on grass courts around his home in Ringwood, New South Wales, and knows that the basic return of serve is underspin. That Lendl was going to struggle was evident in his very first service game, which lasted 12 points and 10 minutes. Cash stepped in on Lendl's delivery and sliced his returns with short, compact replies on the backhand and squarely struck jabs on the forehand.
The first set lasted 1 hour 13 minutes and ended in the tie breaker with Cash's 7-5 victory. Lendl struggled all the way; Cash lost just eight points on serve in the set, including two in the tie breaker. Lendl lost control of the match in the third game of the second set when he was broken in his second service game. Even when he was up, 5-3, in the third set, he double-faulted (his sixth on break point) to let Cash back in.
Lendl was under constant pressure at the net and was caught off balance on many wide shots. Again, a natural affinity for clay proved his undoing. When he scurried off court on the forehand side, he seldom recovered quickly enough to reach the next shot. Cash reached wide balls efficiently, planted his outside foot and recovered to continue playing.
Lastly, Lendl will have to change his serve from one of topspin to side spin or slice on grass. Topspin serves rebound quickly but straightforward and high, and are much easier to return. A slice serve with heavy spin is a wicked shot that remains low and caroms off the ground at unpredictable angles.
In a sense, Sunday's final was also proof that the world tennis circuit should remain one of a mixture of four surfaces rather than standardizing to one or two. Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event played on grass since the Australian Open converted to a synthetic surface called Rebound Ace for 1988 and beyond. The French Open is still played on slow clay and the U.S. Open on cement. To win all four calls for the widest variety of shots, peak physical conditioning, skill and the ability to alter one's game.
Some of the world's truly superior players never won here -- Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzales are the best examples. Lendl, 27, might join them but he will have ample chances to adjust. Few players brought up on clay made the transition quickly enough to win Wimbledon. Manuel Santana did it in 1965, Jan Kodes in 1973 and, of course, the nonpareil Bjorn Borg did it 1976-80.
Cash joins a long list of Australians who take to grass as easily as a herd of cows. Never mind that he sports a ring in his left ear and loves heavy metal music. He was out for much of the end of 1985 and the beginning of 1986 with a back injury and played last year's Wimbledon just three weeks after an appendectomy.
One can only wonder how Cash, 22, would have fared against Boris Becker. Chances are we will find out, for Becker is only 19 and they might meet in next year's final. Meantime, this young Australian could rest easily Sunday night, for he was clearly the better player and his 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 7-5 score proves it.