Thirty three years ago today, in times when the main concern at the Australian Open tennis was who would win rather than who would start, the men’s final was won by Mats Wilander, who thus made history.
At the age of just 23, the Swede’s 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 victory over home favourite Pat Cash earned him his third Australian title, a record in the Open era of professionalism that had begun in 1969.
Wilander, now 56, remains fourth on the all-time list of Australian men’s singles champions in the Open era.
His record Down Under is surpassed only by Andre Agassi, with four wins, Roger Federer, who has earned six victories, and the current world number one, Novak Djokovic, who will - assuming all the current measures to counter COVID-19 infections hold good - be seeking to extend his record number of eight titles when this year’s event gets underway on February 8.
For Wilander it was the first of three Grand Slam victories in what would turn out to be his annus mirabilis. By the time 1988 was over he had added titles at the French Open – where he disappointed another home crowd by beating Henri Leconte 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 in the final – and the US Open – where he took the trophy after a long-distance 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Ivan Lendl.
The young Swede, as you might expect, ended the year as the world number one. It couldn’t get any better than that…and it didn’t.
At 24, Wilander had triumphed on grass, on clay, on hard court. He had seven Grand Slam titles to his name. He never won another, never reached another final.
Unlike the fellow countryman Björn Borg, who had left the game aged 26 after winning six French Open and five Wimbledon titles, Wilander played on until 1996, but never regained the heights he had inhabited at the start of his career.
Naturally there was much speculation over the reasons for this. In recent years, he has been frank about the shift in his career - a shift he says was primarily related to the illness of his father, Einar, who died of cancer in June 1990.
Wilander, who had taken four months out to spend time with his father in his final days, returned to the circuit in 1990 but never regained a place in the top ten.
Asked about the point where his career took its downturn, Wilander responded: "The cancer, then the death of my father. I don't like to say it, but it's the truth.
"I played and won for him my whole life. After his death, I lost all interest and motivation for tennis. I trained hard but, on the court, I'd lost the fire to win."
A characteristically honest account from a man who had created tennis history as a virtually unknown and unheralded 17-year-old by becoming the youngest ever male winner of a Grand Slam tournament.
En route to victory at the 1982 French Open, the unseeded Swede defeated Lendl, 1977 Australian Open winner Vitas Gerulaitis, Argentina’s José Luis Clerc and, in the final, four-times Grand Slam champion Guillermo Vilas.
But it was Wilander’s performance in the semi-final against Clerc that resonated most strongly. Holding match point, he appeared to have booked his place in the final when a groundstroke from Clerc was called out.
When the Argentinian player protested, however, Wilander spoke up on his opponent’s behalf and the point was replayed. The Swede, with his super-smart, relentless baseline game, nevertheless went on to win 7-5, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 and subsequently received the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy.
Wilander’s honesty was apparent a couple of years later when he was interviewed for Tennis magazine by Peter Bodo.
Referring to his gesture towards Clerc, he reflected: "When you do things a little different, it gets too much attention," he said. "Then you have to do too many extra interviews. From now on when I’m asked how I’ll do in a tournament, I’m just going to say I have a good chance. And I’m not going to change any more calls. I’m 20 now. I’m a professional."
And in response to a question about what proved to be a relatively short-lived dip in his form, he admitted: "To tell the truth, I think now I could be happy with an ordinary job. I know I did something in tennis and I’m proud of it. With two Grand Slam titles I could be content if I left the game.
"I have the drive to be on top, too, but to me it doesn’t feel right to be so serious about it."
Wilander added: "I once felt that if I won the French Open I would achieve everything I wanted in tennis. But after I won it didn’t seem to matter that much. The feeling goes away soon after you’ve won.
"In fact, the joy of winning dies down to about 10 per cent by the time you finish your shower. The best moment – the real moment - is the time between the last point and the handshake."