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A Chat With the Aussie Journeyman who Beat Boris Becker at Wimbledon

They Gave Him the Keys to Parramatta
February 24, 2016, 6:12am
Image courtesy of www.peterdoohan.com.au.

World Number One, Novak Djokovic met World Number Two, Andy Murray in the Australian Open Final for the fourth time this year. Imagine how different it could have been if they had been upset early in the tournament by a little-known journeyman Aussie like reigning champ Boris Becker was by Peter Doohan at Wimbledon in 1987. We recently caught up with Peter to hear how it went down, and what happened after.

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Wimbledon. July 1987. Second round. 19-year-old German, Boris Becker, is the top seed and two time reigning men's champion winning titles at his first two attempts in London. In other words, he's never been beaten. At the other end is 26-year-old Aussie journeyman, Peter Doohan. Doohan had qualified a few times for the championship since 1980, but had never won a main draw match. Until '87 that is. In the first round, he'd gone the distance with Austrian, Alex Antonitsch, finally prevailing 9-7 in the fifth set. He'd also made the fourth round at the Australian Open in January that year. So this was already a big week and year for the Aussie.

"I thought '86 was going to be the year but I got injured. I tore my pectoral muscle in April and that wiped me out of Wimbledon and all those other tournaments. In '87, I was really playing well. My confidence was up; I had a good Australian Open where I beat Kevin Curren who was a Wimbledon finalist, I beat Bill Scanlon, I beat Anders Jarryd in the NSW Open. So it was around that time, '86, '87, I was really hitting my stride. I was definitely confident, I felt I was a grass court specialist and Boris was a great player on grass but he had some predictabilities about his game."

Becker and Doohan had met twice previously, including just weeks prior at the Queens tournament where Becker won easily in straight sets. Becker had done the same thing in his first round match at Wimbledon, so would not have worried about facing Peter Doohan in his next start. But Doohan's coach, Michael Fancutt, had watched the Queen's match closely, and noticed a couple of weaknesses in the German's game.

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"Michael noticed that Boris only ever hit his backhand volley crosscourt to the backhand corner. He also noticed Boris didn't like the slower serve to the body. So when I played him at Wimbledon I didn't think I'd have much of a shot so I concentrated on a couple of things; body serves, chasing down his backhand volley and just started running to the backhand corner every single time so a lot of times I'd just be over there waiting for him to hit a passing shot."

Doohan has no idea if Becker was relaxed in the lead up to their second round match, because he didn't lay eyes on him until they both walked out on court.

"He was in a different locker room. All the seeded players and the top names were locker room A, where all the scrubs like me, the cellar dwellers, were in locker room B."

By the end of the match on a damp, slow Number 1 Court, it was Doohan who was the victor. Becker had been beaten at Wimbledon for the first time ever, and Australia got to know "The Becker Wrecker" overnight.

"He was very congenial after the match, I said 'sorry Boris, I know you were trying to win three in a row as a teenager which no one had done before', and he said, 'no, no, no, you were too good'. I saw him over the summer, and he was talking about the media and how they were on him about, 'how could you lose to that no-name', and he would say, 'it's not such a big deal, everyone looses matches every now and then, I can't win all the matches'. And for me, it was just the right win in the right place at the right time and it got me notoriety."

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Even though most Australians had no idea who Peter Doohan was prior to the match, that was certainly not true afterwards. He wasn't prepared for the media coverage that followed.

"It was just full on. Media requests from England and back home in Australia, I got a telegram from [then Australian Prime Minister] Bob Hawke congratulating me, just all sorts of stuff. When I got back to Australia, they did a civic reception in my hometown of Newcastle and gave me the keys to the city. There was just so much publicity around it."

"Did I ever thank you for knocking Boris out at Wimbledon? Your royalty cheque is in the mail"

Rain delays all through the first week of the tournament put the matches behind schedule, so the day after Doohan had played again – and won again, this time against Leif Shiras 12-10 in the fifth set - he was out of the tournament, eventually won by fellow Australian, Pat Cash. But had Peter Doohan not knocked the two time defending champion out of the tournament, Cash would have faced Becker in the semi finals.

"Cashy would have had to play Boris in the semis and the next year, he played him in the quarter and lost in straight sets. I do have a joke with him about it—I saw him at a function last year and he said 'did I ever thank you for knocking Boris out at Wimbledon? Your royalty cheque is in the mail'."

After making one more appearance for a first round loss at Wimbledon in 1988, Doohan never played there again. He retired from the Professional tour in 1991 and spent the best part of two decades as a college and high school coach in the United States. Since 2009, he's been living back in Australia.

Peter Doohan made the fourth rounds at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon during his career, and reached a career high ATP singles ranking of 43 in August 1987, the month after his improbable win against Boris Becker. And even though he started the week in the "scrubs" locker room, that soon changed.

"After I beat Becker, the Wimbledon officials came and said, 'oh, Mr Doohan, we're going to move you over to the A locker room', but I think that was because they were having logistics problems because of the crowds waiting outside locker room B were clogging up that side of the complex. People were waiting for autographs from me and then if I had a match, they'd have to send a security detail all the way over to locker room B and try and work me through the crowd. So for half a Grand Slam tournament in my whole life, I felt like I was in the elite."

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