October 6, 1986: The day Cash clashed with Gilbert en route to Davis Cup glory

The Australian had a falling-out with his American opponent in their Davis Cup meeting.

Pat Cash

What happened 

On this day, October 6, 1986, Pat Cash, from Australia, defeated Brad Gilbert, from the United States (3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4), thus propelling the Aussie team into the Davis Cup final. An argument erupted between the two players, Gilbert accusing Cash of stalling by taking too much time to get into the return position. The Australian team would go on to win the 1986 Davis Cup, Cash being the hero of their victory over Sweden, 3-2.

The guys involved

Pat Cash was born in 1965 in Melbourne, Australia, and he turned pro in 1982. In 1984, with his classic serve-and-volley game he reached the semi-finals at both Wimbledon (defeated by John McEnroe, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4) and the US Open (lost to Ivan Lendl, despite obtaining a match point, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6). After a 1985 season disturbed by a back injury, he was back in the game in the 1986, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals (defeated by Henri Leconte, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3). 

Brad Gilbert was born in 1961. He turned pro in 1982, and within a few months, he claimed the  first of his nineteen titles in Taipei. Unlike many other professional players of his era, Gilbert did not have a major offensive weapon, and his game relied mostly on his great tactics. In October 1986, he was world No 12, his highest ranking at the time, having clinched three titles since the start of the year, including the Memphis Open, where he had beaten Stefan Edberg in the final (7-5, 7-6). 

The place

Milton Courts was a tennis venue located in Milton, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The complex consisted of 19 hard courts and four grass courts. The main arena seated 7,000 people and opened in 1915. It hosted eight Australian Open/Championships, including the first tournament where professionals were allowed in 1969. In addition, it staged three Davis Cup finals, in 1958, 1962, and 1967. Not only that, but the Rolling Stones performed at the venue during their 1973 Pacific Tour. 

The facts

The 1986 Davis Cup semi-final between Australia and the United States had started well on the first day for the land down under, with Paul McNamee defeating Brad Gilbert (2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1) and Pat Cash prevailing against Tim Mayotte (4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2). However, in doubles, although they were really close to finishing off the American team, leading two sets to none, Pat Cash and John Fitzgerald were eventually edged by Paul Annacone and Ken Flach (8-10, 1-6, 7-5, 13-11, 9-7).

Australia still led 2-1 when Cash faced Gilbert on October 6, 1986. The Australian serve-and-volley player had already played 120 games since the start of the tie, and, when he lost the first set 6-3, it seemed that he hadn’t recovered from his efforts. Yet Cash gathered himself to prevail, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. The atmosphere wasn’t particularly friendly as Gilbert, along with his captain, Tom Gorman, accused Cash of stalling, taking too much time to get ready for return.

“The umpire should have something about it because he did 30 times. If I’m ready to serve, he shouldn’t be able to walk away. It’s unfair. Play should be continuous.”

On the other hand, Cash blamed Gilbert for his quick serve.

“Three weeks ago, he quick-served me in Los Angeles and he did it again 20 times today. If I didn’t slow him down today, he’d have 100 more points. The guy just rolls up and serves, he doesn’t even look to see if you’re there.”

Despite the controversy, Australia had now qualified for the Davis Cup final to try and clinch the title for the 26th time.

What next 

Australia would win the 1986 Davis Cup, defeating Sweden in the final. Pat Cash would once again play a main part in that victory, defeating Stefan Edberg (13-11, 13-11, 6-4), before winning in doubles on Saturday, and eventually sealing his team’s triumph by beating Mikael Pernfors (2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3).