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The Becker Wrecker - Peter Doohan

Peter Doohan beats Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1987
by Benjamin Chatfield
Friday 29 August 2014

The biggest shock in Wimbledon history? Just maybe. Peter Doohan, a 26 year-old Australian from New South Wales on Australia’s East Coast, turned up at Wimbledon in 1987 and shook the ivy to the roots. I met Mr Doohan on the District Line in 1990 and he was as pleasant then as he was today on the phone. Introducing the first in a new series from Wimbledon.com on Days that Shook the Ivy: The Becker Wrecker...

What was your Wimbledon record like before 1987?

I first played in 1980, through the qualifiers and lost in the first round to Paul McNamee. The next few years I got through Roehampton a few times, I remember losing in straight sets to Edberg in 85. By 86 my game was coming together and I was playing well enough to get my parents over as I qualified for the main draw. Then I went and tore my pectoral muscle so not only could I not serve and volley but I couldn’t even serve overarm….out in straight sets.

But an early Michael Chang inspiration?

Well, at least I accomplished something!

What do you remember of 87?

A lot of rain in the first week. I came through 9-7 in the fifth in the first round on Monday and then didn’t get on court to play Becker until the Friday.

Your deft returns to his feet on a slower, wetter grass court seemed to get you through the match. Do you agree?

Yeah, I had a good day. A lot came from playing him at Queens two weeks before, which not many people remember. I think if I hadn’t played him there, and my coach hadn’t seen a few elements of his game I could exploit on grass, then I would never have beat him at Wimbledon.

Do you still have the shirt you wore that day, the Lendl face design?

It’s funny as he was playing Paolo Cane in a five-setter on Centre and you could hear quite a bit back in those days between the two courts. After Wimbledon we put the shirt and the racket away for nostalgia. I think they ended up in the Newcastle Museum for some years – but they’re probably gathering dust in a box there somewhere now!

Did you watch his press conference? He said, “I did not think that he would play like this. I felt that if I kept pushing him, he would crack and I would win easily. I just did not think he was that good.'' Was that quite an honour?

Yeah, I was pretty impressed by that, he didn’t have to say it. I knew he wanted to win three titles as a teenager and was the big favourite. He was classy at the net as I remember saying, “Sorry about the record,” and he just said, “Don’t worry, you were too good.”

After beating Becker you came from two sets down to beat Leif Shiras 12-10 in the fifth before going out in the fourth round to big-serving Slobodan Zivojinovic in straight sets. What happened then? What was the tournament after Wimbledon 87?

I had the weekend off after the Becker match but on Monday I was a round behind. Won on Monday, out on Tuesday. I went pretty much straight to Rhode Island. When I beat Becker I was still playing the doubles and the mixed but I remember the ATP wouldn’t let me get out of playing! I lost in the first round to Vijay Armitraj. But on the plus side I then got to go back to my hometown, Newcastle in NSW. I had a civic reception and was given the keys to the city – I believe the first sportsman to get that.

You lost to Ken Flach in Wimbledon 1988, did you make any further appearances?

No, I think that was me done. I played qualies in 89 and 90 but not at the AELTC after that.

Career high after that? You also beat Agassi, Mecir, Enquist, Mayotte and Ivanisevic….. how did that compare?

Mayotte and Curren wins on grass in 87, Anders Jarryd as well. But undoubtedly the day it all really came together for me was the Becker match. I was in the zone, I did everything right, I was calm, I was loose. I was playing well in 87 but you have to realise that he was a dead cert for a third title. I had to play the match of my life. I would say it is the biggest upset in Wimbledon history, more than the Nadal losses, which were in part due to injuries and in part due to him not being comfortable with the quick transition to grass, not his best surface. At the time Becker had never lost on the grass at Wimbledon – he’d withdrawn injured then won twice – and it made him invincible. 

The victory took place on the old No1court  – did you ever play on it again?

I think I played on it once – the men’s doubles semi-final in 1988. We lost in four sets that day. I heard they relaid the court down in Bournemouth so maybe I still could!

Have you visited the new No.1 Court?

You know I have not been back since I retired in 1991. I’d dearly love to go back with my sons and my partner but just not found the right moment. I’d really love to see it all again.

You live in Newport Bay now?

I’ve been back here for five years now, after retiring I lived and worked at clubs all over America, in the south – Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

I saw a photo of you with Roger Federer, where was that taken?

It was a Davis Cup dinner in Sydney after the game against Switzerland. Another classy guy, down-to-earth and humble. We even chatted about 87 a bit.

Recent defeats of Nadal by Rosol, Federer by Stakhovsky and even Nadal by Kyrgios had echoes of your defeat of Boris, in spirit, if not phenomenon-smashing. Which of the new players coming through excites you?

I like Milos Raonic and Gregor Dimitrov a lot. I think Nick Kyrgios might have something about him, he has real weapons…and maybe the X-Factor.

Jack Nicholson claims to keep his Oscar statuettes in the toilet. Is there a photo of the winning arms aloft after Becker’s backhand goes wide in your loo?

None in the loo! I had a load of the original newspaper articles on my wall in a place in the States but they are still in boxes there. In my parents place they have collages of all three of us kids and mine has the image of Boris and I shaking hands at the net right at the top.

Did you ever play/see/speak to Boris again?

I never did play him again. I had beat him in doubles earlier that year at the Australian Open but in singles I lost to him in straight sets in 85 at the US Open and then in that Queens match. He was always a gent when I saw him after that and we always acknowledged each other. I remember chatting with a few months later and saying how I felt like I had a target on my chest – The Guy Who Beat Becker. He laughed – I think he was kind of sympathetic to that, what with him actually being Becker!

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