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The first blow struck in the Davis Cup final was directed by Pat Cash at a television cameraman after a practice session two days before Christmas. So it seemed appropriate that the competition should end with the victorious Australian team captain, Neale Fraser, raising Cash's arm to the Melbourne crowd as if Cash were a world heavyweight champion and hailing him as the greatest. In beating Sweden's Mikael Pernfors 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to give Australia an insurmountable 3-1 lead, Cash achieved something that no other Aussie player—not Sedgman, not Hoad, not Laver, no one—had done in 25 previous Davis Cup finals, namely, come back from two sets down to clinch the Cup.
Cash won the Cup virtually single-handed. On the first day he beat Stefan Edberg, the Australian Open champion and the No. 4 player in the world, 13-11, 13-11, 6-4 in a 3�-hour battle of serves. On the second day he teamed with John Fitzgerald to overpower Edberg and Anders Jarryd, who had just won the Nabisco Masters doubles championship, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. And on the third day, after being outplayed for two sets by Pernfors, Cash won again.
"It was the greatest display by one of our fellows that I can remember," said Fraser, 53, the former Wimbledon and U.S. champion, whose heart and mind have been wedded to the Davis Cup since he first played against the U.S. in Brisbane in 1958. "The way he played today, you'd have to say it's his tie. I know it's a team effort, but Pat is asked to do such a lot, and he's so willing to do it. I don't think the Cup has been won under greater circumstances than today's. It's very hard to win Davis Cup matches from two sets down, but Pat is that good. I have a lot of faith in him."
The Catholic faith and a love of tennis are perhaps the only two things Fraser and Cash have in common. But Fraser has effectively harnessed the 21-year-old's talent over the the past four years, during which Cash has contributed to two Australian Davis Cup wins. Stories are told of how Fraser used to book two hotel rooms for Cash when the team traveled, the second room being used as insulation to keep the sound of Cash's stereo rock music from upsetting his next-door neighbors. The son of a judge with old-school values, Fraser has not always understood the ways of the angry young man in his charge, but he has always tried to listen.
Two years ago Cash reached the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Then, because of poor form and a persistent back injury, which sidelined him from Wimbledon in 1985 to the first round of Davis Cup play in March 1986, he virtually disappeared from sight. His ranking plunged from No. 8 to 413, and he was relegated to the ranks of Grand Prix qualifiers.
His fortunes revived in unlikely circumstances at last year's Wimbledon. Because of his semifinal appearance there in 1984 and his appeal as a teenage heartthrob, the All England Club offered Cash a wild-card entry. However, three weeks before the tournament he was rushed to a London hospital for an emergency appendectomy, and he nearly withdrew from the Fortnight. A friend urged him to play, and with the surgeon crossing his fingers that Cash's scar would not burst in front of the Royal Box, Cash went ahead. To everyone's astonishment, he reached the quarters, where he lost to Henri Leconte only because his weakened legs gave way.
With the help of Ann Quinn, an Australian physical-education expert, Cash set out on a rigorous fitness program. Fraser had always considered Cash the fastest Aussie since Roy Emerson, but Quinn's program made him quicker and cut down the bulk on his tree-trunk thighs. He was lean as well as mean.
The meanness surfaced after a workout three days before the Davis Cup final. Cash had beaten everyone in practice until he met a fired-up Fitzgerald. Cash stormed off the court, told Fraser he was going home and went to put the bassinet of his seven-month-old son, Daniel, into the back of his car. Cash directed some strong words at a TV crew filming him loading the bassinet, then set off after the cameraman, throwing a punch at his eye. Cash put out a half-apology, which blamed the media for intruding into his privacy. Stubbornness is Cash's hallmark, and he hates to lose, whether it's to a tennis player or to the media.
The Edberg-Cash match, pairing two of the world's premier grass-court players, promised to be a classic, but it wasn't. The difference was that Cash, the street fighter, had a punch, and Edberg, the cool stylist, didn't. The Aussie won the marathon opening sets because he could lift his game to string together three or four winners. Edberg, cool to the point of being frozen, served well enough to stay close, but he had neither timing nor devil in his backhand.
There was a pale, lifeless, slightly jaded quality about the established Swedish players—Edberg, Jarryd and Joakim Nystrom. ( Mats Wilander was not in Australia because he was preparing for his Jan. 3 wedding.) The color and fire on the team came from Pernfors, "the all-American Swede," who won successive NCAA titles in 1984 and '85 while at Georgia. With his vaguely Southern accent, dark coloring and razor-shaved haircut, a mixture of Vic Seixas and Grace Jones, he looked like some alien drafted onto the golden-haired Swedish squad. Although he had played only four matches on grass, Pernfors beat everyone in practice except Edberg, and Swedish captain Hans Olsson didn't hesitate to pick him to play singles.