On July 1 Peter Doohan observed his 30th and all too likely final anniversary of his personal contribution among the greatest all-time sports upsets.
Doohan, the Australian and University of Arkansas graduate then ranked 70th in the world after starting the year ranked 301st, on July 1, 1987 at Wimbledon upset world-ranked No. 1 Boris Becker, the 1986 and ’87 Wimbledon champion from Germany who would win Wimbledon again in 1989 and would win two Australian Opens and one U.S. Open.
Doohan won none of the above making his second-round 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 Wimbledon upset even greater.
Alas, it would be an even greater upset, Doohan knows, if he lives to celebrate his 31st anniversary of turning the tennis world upside down.
For Doohan’s world was turned upside down with the recent diagnosis that he’s afflicted by ALS, the despicably debilitating always fatal illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Increasingly losing everything but his mind, Doohan freely acknowledges his fate communicating to his friend, former Razorbacks Tennis Coach Robert Cox, “My Doc has said my Motor Neurone Disease (called that in Australia & United Kingdom) is particularly aggressive & I’m lucky to have months left.”
Doohan’s Razorbacks family, among others including former Razorback player Cox, their former Arkansas Coach Tom Pucci, retired Razorbacks trainer Dean Weber and a slew of Razorbacks teammates, especially Simon Robinson, an Australian become businessman in Fayetteville and Australian become longtime Alexandria, La. tennis pro Pat Serret, Doohan’s 1982 NCAA Doubles Championship partner.
They have stayed in constant touch including visiting Peter last month in Australia.
So of course have Peter’s sons, John and Hunter.
Hunter is an actor living in Los Angeles.
John followed his father’s tennis footsteps and is a teaching pro in Northwest Arkansas at the Ozark Tennis Academy just like Peter was a teaching pro in Fort Smith at Hardscrabble among his teaching positions in the U.S. and Australia.
Upon arrival in Australia, Robinson and Serret delivered a scrapbook of well-wishes from Doohan’s friends not only in Arkansas but around the tennis world.
Cox, Pucci and Weber, Peter Doohan said, even accomplished reproducing Peter’s greatest of many great Razorbacks tennis accomplishments.
The NCAA 1981 Doubles runner-ups, Doohan and fellow Australian and Razorback Serret, won the 1982 NCAA Doubles title for Pucci’s Razorbacks. It marks the only national championship of any sort in Razorbacks’ tennis history.
Peter treasured the ring commemorating the national championship but it was stolen from his grandparents’ home in North Little Rock, John Doohan wrote.
Now at his father’s urging, John wears the replicated ring that the group effort took to make again.
“I know this has put a smile on my Dad’s face which had not left his face from the moment he learned of this plan being hatched up while me & Hunter were in Australia up until I saw him on FaceTime a few hours ago,”John Doohan corresponded. “Besides being a wonderful gesture toward my Dad, it also generates two vitally important things as far as I’m concerned. Firstly it creates an eternal bond between me and my Dad which I’m reminded of every single time I look at it with pride on my finger. It means to me that I feel Dad’s Razorbacks Athlete spirit is coursing through my body as I follow in his footsteps by teaching tennis as he did for over 25 years.
Secondly, what an incredible motivation piece I can use to suggest to our students at OTA that perhaps they could be the 2nd tennis Hogs to win an outdoor National Championship ?!”
Peter’s speech and motor skills are failing but through the wonders of technology he corresponded to all: “Let me echo John’s sentiments in thanking my Razorback brothers and the tremendous groundswell of support that made this a reality and I’m assuming that I especially need to acknowledge Coach Pucci, Coach Cox and Dean Weber for the real big push! Forgive me if I’ve forgotten any other big-hitters in this venture let me also echo John’s point about inspiration that shall come from kids seeing that ring. It shows that athletes from the U of A can win Nat’l C’ships. Thanks again for the wonderful Ring reproduction and I love my Hog brothers!”
Peter can still relay re-living besting Boris Becker after noting he barely survived his first Wimbledon match with Alex Antonitsch of Austria.
He so anticipated getting banished by Becker (Doohan had lost to Becker in straight sets two weeks earlier) that he had his plane ticket tentatively set out of London before the third round match after Becker. Peter won it before eliminated in Wimbledon’s fourth round.
Peter’s pro coach, Michael Fancutt, advised him not making that early departure ticket non-refundable. The coach detected a Becker flaw to exploit in the Wimbledon rematch. Doohan also got advice from Frank Brent, his former coach back in Adamstown, Australia.
“Becker only hit his backhand volley to my backhand corner of the court,” Doohan said. “So Michael told me to try and return everything to Becker’s backhand volley and automatically run to my backhand corner and wait on his volley shot. Around the same time I made a call to my coach Frank Brent, for his advice on how to face Becker. He suggested I chipped the ball low at the gig German’s feet as he approached the net. Sure enough in the match both of these strategies worked like a charm and I was able to break him three times in the match, plus the fact that I was serving well and only got broken once myself and I had my famous victory.”
The tennis world will always remember Peter Doohan for beating Boris Becker.
His Arkansas world treasures him for so much more.
“Peter’s attitude,” Simon Robinson marveled. “He was a champion then and he still is.”