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December 17, 1984: The day McEnroe and Fleming were defeated for the first time in the Davis Cup

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1984 to witness how, for the first time, John McEnroe and Peter Fleming lost a Davis Cup rubber, a defeat that gave the title to Sweden

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, December 17, 1984, Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd clinched the second Davis Cup title in Sweden’s history, defeating John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, from the United States, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. This was the first loss for the American duo, who had never been beaten in 15 previous Davis Cup matches.

The players involved: McEnroe/ Fleming and Edberg/ Jarryd

  • The American dream team: John McEnroe and Peter Fleming
John McEnroe, 1984 French Open
John McEnroe, 1984 French Open Image Credit – © Panoramic / Tennis Majors.

John McEnroe, born in 1959 and from New York had been amazing the tennis world since his first steps on the tour in 1977, when at the age of 17, showing up at Wimbledon as an amateur, he made his way out of the qualifying event and went all the way to the semi-finals. “Mac” was very talented, his game being based on precision and touch, coupled with an iconic and lethal serve. He was also known for his outrageous on-court behaviour in the well-mannered world of tennis.  McEnroe was sometimes vulgar and his constant quarreling with the officials did not go unnoticed in a gentleman’s sport.

In 1979, he became the youngest-ever champion at the US Open, defeating Vitas Gerulaitis (7-5, 6-3, 6-3). That year, McEnroe also created quite a stir by beating Bjorn Borg (7-5 4-6 6-2 7-6) to win the WTC Finals. By November 1984, he had already claimed seven Grand Slams in singles, including four US Open and three Wimbledon titles. His most famous match was the 1980 Wimbledon final, where he lost in five sets against Borg, after winning an outstanding tie-break in the fourth set (18-16). Ranked No1 in the world in 1984, he was at the end of his greatest year on the tour: after a heartbreaking loss in the French Open final (lost to Lendl despite a two-set lead, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5), he triumphed at both Wimbledon and the US Open, and had lost only one match since Roland-Garros (against Vijay Amritraj in the Cincinnati first round). McEnroe was also the best player in the world at doubles, having claimed seven Grand Slams and spent 267 weeks as world No 1 since 1982.

Peter Fleming, born in 1955, was a good singles player, who had won three tournaments on the tour and had reached world No 8 in 1980, but he was mostly known for his achievements in doubles with his favourite partner, John McEnroe. It was with Mac that Fleming claimed the vast majority of his 57 doubles titles, including seven Grand Slams – Wimbledon (1979, 1981, 1983, 1984) and the US Open (1979, 1981, 1983). In 1984, he even reached the world No 1 spot – and during that whole year, Fleming and McEnroe alternatively occupied the top ranking.

  • The Swedish team: Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg

Anders Jarryd, from Sweden, was born in 1961. He turned pro in 1980 and claimed his first singles title in 1982, defeating Jose Higueras in the final in Linz (6-4, 4-6, 6-4). In August 1984, he entered the top 10, and by November the same year, he was ranked No 6 in the world after he had clinched the most important title of his career in Sydney, where he defeated Ivan Lendl in the final (6-3, 6-2, 6-4). Jarryd was even better at doubles, where he had claimed a first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros in 1983 (partnering Hans Simonsson) and reached the US Open final in 1984 (partnering Edberg).

Stefan Edberg, unlike his famous countrymen Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander, played serve-and-volley tennis. Born in 1966, he was very successful on the junior circuit: in 1983, he achieved the junior Grand Slam (all four Majors in the same year) but almost quit the sport the same year at the age of 17 after one of his serves accidentally killed a line judge in New York. He continued and probably did not regret it. The Swede, who had bravely abandoned a two-handed backhand for single-handed one at the age of 15, claimed his first professional title as soon as 1984, in Milan, defeating Mats Wilander in the final (6-4, 6-2). The same year, he reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, without beating any top 50 player (defeated by the same Wilander, 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4).

The place: Gothenburg, Sweden

The 1984 Davis Cup final was hosted by Sweden, and it was held on indoor clay at the Scandinavian Arena in Gothenburg. The arena, inaugurated in 1971, had hosted many different sports events, from the World Ice Hockey Championships to the European Athletics Indoor Championships, but also many concerts, including Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. The Scandinavian Arena could accommodate around 12,000 spectators.

The facts: The Swedes win the doubles in four sets

In the 1984 Davis Cup final, when the doubles began, the United States were fighting for survival. The Americans, displaying what McEnroe would call later “the opposite of team spirit” – with McEnroe and Connors not even talking to each other – were ambushed by great clay court players on a particularly slow surface. On the opening day, after Wilander had destroyed Connors in the opening match (6-1, 6-3, 6-3), McEnroe suffered only his third loss of the year, defeated by Sundstrom in three sets (13-11, 6-4, 6-3).

Despite the slow red clay, in doubles, McEnroe and his old-time partner Peter Fleming were still the favourites. They were the two dominant players in the world, and they had both occupied the world No 1 spot all-year-round – McEnroe had in fact spent 267 weeks as world No 1 since 1982. On top of that, they had never lost in the Davis Cup before, having accumulated 14 wins over the years. However, their opponents were not to be underestimated: 18-year-old Stefan Edberg and his partner Anders Jarryd (the man against whom McEnroe had famously lost the plot a few weeks earlier in Stockholm) had already defeated the American greats in the US Open semi-finals (3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6). 

It was a close match but, in the end, McEnroe’s great serving (10 aces) could not compensate for his partner’s mistakes in key moments. Having lost the first set (7-5), the Americans gave everything they had to stay in the match and take the second one (7-5). In the third set, McEnroe fired three consecutive aces to escape an early break, but Fleming lost his serve two games later and since that moment, the Americans trailed until the end of the match. In the last set, the world No 1 achieved another miraculous escape, saving three consecutive match points at 5-4 with two aces and a service winner. However, at 6-5, a last double fault by Fleming gave victory to a Swedish team which had relied on Edberg’s consistency and Jarryd’s great shot making on many big points.

”We played great,” said Edberg, who was playing in only his third cup doubles match, according to The New York Times. ”This was my best match ever.”

Of course, McEnroe didn’t share Edberg’s excitement, but he acknowledged that their opponents played a great match.

”We played badly, so we lost,” said McEnroe. ”But they have a great team on any surface, and they are the best on clay.”

It was the first time that Sweden had clinched the Davis Cup title since its first success in 1975.

What next? Sweden win Davis Cup again in 1985 and 1987

John McEnroe and Peter Fleming would not play together as often and as successfully in the following years. McEnroe would add two more Grand Slam titles to his list of achievements without his old-time friend: in 1989, partnering Mark Woodforde, he would triumph once again at Flushing Meadows, and in 1992, his last year on the circuit, he would partner Michael Stich to win Wimbledon.

Arthur Ashe, the United States captain, would resign from his position in 1985, mainly because he couldn’t deal with the attitude of his players any longer. 

The 1984 triumph would be the beginning of a great Davis Cup era for Sweden. Already runner-up in 1983, Sweden would appear in every single final until 1989, claiming two other titles, in 1985 and 1987.

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