1988 and 1992

  …Seoul (South Korea), 1988… XXIV Olympic Games
20-30 September; 64 Draw (16 seeded); Surface: Hard

Tennis as an official sport returned to the Olympic Games at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, having been left out since the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Tennis had been a demonstration sport at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the tournament was won in August,  by an 18-year-old Swede Stefan Edberg, for whom it was the first year of his professional career and second title. Only  20-year-old players and younger were allowed to participate in L.A. (the tournament was featured by the future notable names like Cash, Forget and Hlasek). That tennis event had a 32-draw (8 seeded) and “the best of three” formula for each round, there was no third-place match. Edberg was the main favorite to win a gold medal in Seoul as well…

 preview: Kerry Eggers

At least Stefan Edberg is here. That’s more than can be said for the rest of the top eight men players in the world, who are missing for a variety of reasons as tennis returns as a medal sport for the first time in 64 years. In 1984, tennis was a demonstration sport in Los Angeles and participation was limited to pros 22 years and under. Edberg, then 18, won the singles title, and he’s back in an attempt to claim an official gold medal this time. “I enjoy it quite a bit,” Edberg said of the Olympics. “I marched in the opening ceremonies, and that was fun. It’s tough to play tennis, but I like everything else.” Mats Wilander and Boris Becker intended to play but withdrew due to injury. Ivan Lendl wanted to play but has not received his U.S. citizenship. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi could give the United States an exciting team, but the Americans are represented here by Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert. McEnroe declined to play. Connors hasn’t played Davis Cup in the last year, making him ineligible. When the United States chose its team last December, Agassi was much lower in the rankings than his current No. 4 (he was No. 25 in the end of 1987), and the U.S. Tennis Association decided against adding the young phenomenon to the U.S. roster.

Quarterfinals: Jim Terhune

Brad Gilbert [10] is 0-4 against Tim Mayotte [15]. But with a mended ankle and tightened confidence, he is getting closer to the man who was ranked No. 9 in the world at the end of ’87. The two have a semifinal date Wednesday. Gilbert, 27, from Piedmont, Calif., got a quick re-wrap on his tender ankle during a shaky first set, then went on to show Martin Jaite [29] of Argentina the Olympic Games tennis door Monday, 5-7 6-1 7-6(1) 6-3. A few hours later, Mayotte beat Carl-Uwe Steeb [82] of West Germany, 7-6(4) 7-5 6-3. It assured the USA of at least a silver and bronze medal in men’s singles. “Tim beat me three times indoors, but the last time it was 6-3 in the fifth set in Paris (Bercy),” Gilbert said. “The ankle’s fine now. More than the physical strain, the confidence I’m getting back is most important. I think I’m back in the groove. At times I feel I’m playing as well as anyone here.” Gilbert has said repeatedly that he wants to win the Olympic title. “I didn’t come here for bronze,” he said. “I came for gold.” Against Jaite, the American had to work hard to keep his chances alive. He struggled with both his serve and his right ankle in the early stages, finally having the ankle heavily taped after Jaite broke his serve to go up, 6:5, in the opening set. “I had him down, and let him back up,” Gilbert said. “There is a lot of pressure in the quarterfinals because you are playing for a medal.” said Mayotte, “We know what to expect from each other. We’ve been practicing together all week – four beers and a workout. It’s exciting to know you’ll be receiving a medal, but it’s like stage two. The real exciting thing is to be on the stand hearing your national anthem playing.” Stefan Edberg [3] of Sweden, the Wimbledon champion and defending Olympic gold medalist, will meet Miroslav Mecir [12] of Czechoslovakia in the other semifinal. Edberg beat Paolo Cane [101] of Italy, 6-1 7-5 6-4, and Mecir beat The Netherlands’ Michiel Schapers [44], 3-6 7-6(2) 6-2 6-4.

Semifinals: AP

No money, no computer points, just the gold medal. Many of the world’s top tennis players passed up the Olympics precisely for that reason.  Tim Mayotte and Miloslav Mecir are here because of it. ”The Olympics have inspired me to go out and try to play with a positive attitude,” Mayotte said after beating fellow American Brad Gilbert 6-4 6-4 6-3 to reach the championship match, scheduled for Friday on the Olympic hard courts. Gilbert went out with a bronze. Mayotte said: ”On the tour, sometimes you just get involved in the money, computer points and rankings. This is something totally different, a breath of fresh air.” Mayotte’s reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1982 and the Australian Open semifinals in 1983. But he said a gold medal would rank as ”the biggest prize I have played for thus far.” Mecir, a Czech who upset top-seeded Stefan Edberg of Sweden 3-6 6-0 1-6 6-4 6-2 in the other semifinal, said he placed the Olympics on a different level than any of the Grand Slam tournaments. ”I feel something different at this event,” Mecir said. ”You see other sportsmen fighting for a special place. You don’t see that at other tournaments.” Mecir had lost the last four of his 11 meetings with Edberg, including the Wimbledon semifinals almost three months ago when the Swede came from two sets down, and 3:1 in the third, to win. Edberg went on to beat Boris Becker in the final. At Wimbledon, Edberg’s volleying wore Mecir down in the later stages of the match. But this time, Mecir’s rifling passing shots and service returns were the key in a seesaw match that lacked consistency from either player. ”He’s very unpredictable,” said Edberg, who also wound up with a bronze. ”I didn’t get to a lot of balls I normally get to. But I didn’t play a bad match. I gave everything I had.”

Final: Harry Shatuck

American Tim Mayotte‘s bid to win the first Olympic tennis gold medal in 64 years was foiled by Czechoslovakian baseline specialist Miloslav Mecir. Mecir, who had upset top seed and Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg of Sweden in the semifinals, beat Mayotte 3-6 6-2 6-4 6-2 in the men’s singles championship match. Tennis became a medal sport again this year for the first time since 1924. Mayotte had advanced to the title match by eliminating fellow American Brad Gilbert in the semifinals. He started strong, too, against Mecir, winning three consecutive games after the players were tied 3:3 in the opening set. Mayotte, however, began to experience trouble with his service in the second set, was broken twice and Mecir evened the match. Then, in the pivotal third set, Mecir was dominating on his serve. In five service games that set, the Czechoslovakian, dubbed the Boring Baseliner because of his hesitation at for charging the net and a tendency to play long points, lost only three points combined. Meanwhile, Mayotte struggled to hold service twice, but Mecir got one break. And that’s all he needed. Mayotte fought off two set points, but Mecir, continually making precise passing shots, eventually prevailed to take a 2-1 lead. The fourth set saw little change. Mecir broke Mayotte again on his first serve, and the American never recovered. Mecir did not lose his serve one time following the first set. Appropriately, the Czechoslovakian ended the match by holding his serve in a love game. “It’s difficult to say how big this is, but I have a feeling it is the best in my career,” Mecir said. “I’m still alive. Nobody is hurt. And I have a great feeling because I won. I could tell a lot of people from my country were behind me here. I was playing for them, too.” Mecir is merely one of many outstanding men and women players raised in Czechoslovakia, including Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova, who now live in the United States. Asked to explain his nation’s success in the sport, Mecir said, “Czechoslovakian players have good schooling at a young age. There are many trainers and many, many tournaments. It is tough to be successful even in juniors in my country because of the competition.” He expects numerous countrymen and others from around the world to participate in the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona, Spain. “I think everybody will want to come compete for the gold medal next time,” Mecir said. “It’s great to forget about the money for a couple of weeks and play for your country and for the sport of it.”

…Barcelona (Spain), 1992… XXV Olympic Games
28 July – 8 August; 64 Draw (16 seeded); Surface : Clay

Mecir was right… in contrary to Seoul, Barcelona witnessed participation of all best players in the world at the time, there was a lack of Andre Agassi only, among players who theoretically could win the event, but in his case it was caused by the national limitation – USA had a very strong team anyway, represented by Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier; the latter with clay-court crowns obtained that year in Rome and Paris, seemed an indisputable favorite, a few weeks earlier at Wimbledon he’d suffered a shocking defeat though, which deprived him of self-confidence for a while. The composition of the final was unimaginable before the Olympics: a local favorite Jordi Arrese (never advanced beyond last 32 in majors) faced a lanky giant, Marc Rosset, who did not play a Grand Slam quarterfinal before Barcelona ’92 and waited for it as many as four years afterwards! Based on logic, Rosset’s adventure should have ended in the third round as he met Courier, in contrast Rosset demolished the best player in the world 6-4 6-2 6-1, it was a tremendous boost of confidence, allowing him to win another three matches.

Quarterfinals: AP

Ivanisevic as the only player in the Open era wins four consecutive matches in a 5th set… So if Goran Ivanisevic [4] is required to pound away for five sets, round after round after round, and withstand the searing sun for four hours, and rally from two sets down to win his quarterfinal match, he reasons that it isn’t asking too much. “This was a very important match for all of Croatia, not only for me,” Ivanisevic said after spending 4 hours and 22 minutes on Center Court, where he beat France’s Fabrice Santoro [37] on Monday, 6-7(5) 6-7(1) 6-4 6-4 8-6.  “I said, ‘You have to win this match. You can’t lose this match. You have to win. It doesn’t matter if you have to stay 10 hours on the court.’” With temperatures approaching 110 degrees (43 Celsius), Ivanisevic, the last of the top-10-seeded men still in the tournament, labored through his fourth consecutive five-set match–staring down a 5:2 deficit in the fifth and two match points. Ivanisevic saved two match points in the 5th set against Jakob Hlasek in the previous round as well! Santoro, 19, who upset Boris Becker on Saturday, served for the match at 5:3 and was twice a point away from breaking Ivanisevic at 5:4. Both times, Ivanisevic persevered, drawing inspiration from a Croatian flag being waved in the stands and the chants of “Gor-ahn! Gor-ahn!” Ivanisevic knew that a victory over Santoro would assure him a bronze medal – the first in Croatia’s brief Olympic history. “I am the first person to win a medal for all these people who are waiting, a new country,” Ivanisevic announced proudly. “When you play for your country, when everybody expects a medal from you, you have to fight. You have to die. It’s such a great thing for all the people there, because the war is still on there. It is motivation for the other people. All those fighters, fighting for the freedom of Croatia – nobody knows how those people feel. Even I don’t. But this is going to give them motivation to keep fighting. This medal is going to pump them up so they’re going to fight more and try to end this war.” Ivanisevic referred to the Yugoslav Wars which lasted in years 1991-95. All Olympic tennis semifinalists are guaranteed at least a bronze medal and Ivanisevic earned his the same way he reached the Wimbledon final a month ago – with his serve. Ivanisevic powered 15 aces past Santoro, including the match winner – a blur into the corner at Santoro’s backhand side. Earlier in the tournament, when his five-set total had reached a mere two, Ivanisevic quipped that if he kept playing this way, “I will need a doctor and then go to the hospital.”
Spaniard Emilio Sanchez [25] was eliminated by Swiss [44] Marc Rosset, 6-4 7-6(2) 3-6 7-6(9). Sanchez overcame five match points before hitting an easy forehand wide, to the dismay of a raucous partisan crowd. Jordi Arrese [30], the native Catalan, overcame four set points in the pivotal second set and swept Leonardo Lavalle [84] of Mexico, 6-1 7-6(6) 6-1, clinching an Olympic medal for Spain. The No. 16 seed, Arrese advanced to Thursday’s semifinals and will next play No. 13 Andrei Cherkasov. The Russian [26] eliminated Jaime Oncins [53] of Brazil in four hours, 6-1 6-4 6-7(3) 4-6 6-2.

Semifinals: Sandra Bailey

After 10 days of sighs about slow surfaces, inconvenient timing and creature discomforts, the real Olympics came to the tennis courts at Vall d’Hebron today. They began with the 46th-ranked player in the world blowing kisses to the sky as he drank in a standing ovation for his upset of a close friend, and they marched into the shadows on the shouts of a hometown for its last remaining son. “Sometimes, it’s good to play for something other than points, rankings and money,” said Marc Rosset of Switzerland, who had just dumped Goran Ivanisevic and his No. 4 world ranking, 6-3 7-5 6-2. “It’s good to play for your country.” Ivanisevic embraced his friend at the net and said he felt the same way, even if his new nation of Croatia was relegated to a bronze by his loss in the singles semifinals. “You can’t know how it feels,” said Ivanisevic, who with Goran Prpic also earned a bronze in doubles, which with the singles medal accounted for Croatia’s first two medals of these Games. “This is such a great thing to win a medal. It’s like Wimbledon but when I play Wimbledon, it’s for myself. Here it is for my country.” Jordi Arrese had a sizable contingent of his countrymen with him as he defeated Andrei Cherkasov of Commonwealth of Independent States, 6-4 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3. It was a victory for Spain and for this nation’s top-ranked man, No. 12 Carlos Costa, whose hot play this spring brought an invitation to supplant the 30th-ranked Arrese in the Olympics. Costa declined the honor, saying, “I would never play instead of my friend.” Arrese said he was dedicating his medal to Costa and he will have to wait until Saturday to learn if it is silver or gold. For Rosset, the color won’t matter. “Maybe people are going to remember me because I won the gold medal or the silver medal in the Olympics,” said Rosset, who previously had only singles titles in Lyon, in 1990 and in his hometown of Geneva in 1989 to his credit. “But maybe the people will get to know me a little more.” There is plenty to know. On the court, he is a hard-serving doubles specialist who frequently teams with Ivanisevic but today he managed 16 aces that left his friend saying, “He was serving like I wasn’t there.” In truth, Ivanisevic barely was there. His usual cannon of a left-handed serve produced only seven aces, outweighed by eight double-faults. “I was too tired, I couldn’t move,” said Ivanisevic, who lost with Prpic in doubles in five sets on Wednesday. “That’s enough.” Ivanisevic between 2nd and 3rd set notched an 18-point losing streak! It’s never enough for Rosset, who is loving every moment of these Olympics. He said it was too bad the Swiss tennis federation could only come up with tickets to modern pentathlon and archery, and offered that the beer wasn’t cold enough in the athletes’ village. But don’t get him wrong; those aren’t complaints. “I’m really happy to stay in the village,” said Rosset. The ambiance suits Ivanisevic as well. “In the village, I sleep like a baby,” he said. But now Ivanisevic’s Olympics are over and it is time to take his medals to a place where the sounds are those of gunshots and not hurrahs, to the war-torn Adriatic port of Split. He knows his parents are safe and he knows how his return will be received. “Those people who are fighting there for freedom,” Ivanisevic said, “it means a lot to them.”

Final: AP

Tired, taunted and tempted to quit, Marc Rosset decided the Olympics deserved better. He kept battling the hostile crowd, hot weather and Spaniard Jordi Arrese – and he overcame them all. Unseeded Rosset, the first Swiss medalist in Barcelona, took the gold Saturday in men’s singles by outlasting Arrese, 7-6(2) 6-4 3-6 4-6 8-6. While an upset-filled tournament made the final something less than a dream match-up, Rosset and Arrese still crafted a dramatic script. Their clash on red clay took 5 hours, 3 minutes to settle. “A couple of times, even in the first two sets, I was very close to defaulting,” Rosset said. “I wanted to stop, go in the locker room, take a shower, be quiet and drink a Coke”. It was a long, tough match. What kept him going? “I was thinking to myself, `If I stop, everybody is going to kill me,” he said. “There’s no way you can stop in a big tournament like this. You just have to wait until you feel better.” A crowd of about 7,000 made Rosset feel worse by jeering him and rooting wildly for Arrese. When the Barcelona native began his comeback in the third set, fans responded with singing, flag-waving, rhythmic applause and frequent chants of “Jor-di, Jor-di.” “The crowd was very tough for me sometimes,” Rosset said. “When they say, `You’re going to lose, you’re going to lose,’ it’s tough on your concentration. Between your first and second serve it’s very quiet, and you know they are waiting for a double fault.” Leading 4:2 in the final set, Rosset did double-fault on break point. The crowd responded with a gleeful standing ovation. Arrese won the next game to tie the set at 4, and both players held serve until the final game, when Rosset put away a forehand volley to reach deuce. The final two points were long ones, and Rosset finished them both with forehand winners down the line. Then he fell on his back, arms outstretched in celebration. Arrese held his head high. “I really did my best,” he said. “I left my life on the court.” Mother nature may have been the deciding factor. In the fourth set, with Rosset wilting in the sun, clouds rolled in and the temperature quickly fell. “I couldn’t move,” Rosset said. Rejuvenated, the 6-foot-5 Swiss began booming serves as he did in the 84-minute first set (saved break points in four different games), when he collected 15 aces (35 aces in total, clay-court record at the time). He took a 6:5 lead in the final set by serving three consecutive aces. Below the list of the longest, at least 5-hour finals in the Open era:

Australian Open 2012: Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5… 5 hours, 53 minutes
Rome 2005: Rafael Nadal d. Guillermo Coria 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6… 5 hours, 14 minutes
Hamburg 1982: Jose Higueras d. Peter McNamara 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 7-6… 5 hours, 6 minutes
Rome 2006: Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6… 5 hours, 5 minutes
Barcelona 1992: Marc Rosset d. Jordi Arrese 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 8-6… 5 hours, 3 minutes
Stuttgart 2006: David Ferrer d. Jose Acasuso 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4… 5 hours

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