Peter Doohan: 1961-2017
Popular Australian who left his mark on and off the court
Peter Doohan, who recorded arguably the biggest upset in Open Era history over Boris Becker at Wimbledon in 1987, passed away on Friday aged 56 following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Tennis Australia issued a statement, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Peter was unbeaten in Davis Cup representation. He won the South Australian Open singles title and reached No. 15 in doubles, winning five titles during his distinguished career.”
Chris Kermode, the ATP Executive Chairman and President, said, "Peter Doohan was taken too early. He commanded the respect of everyone, on and off the court, and his passing is a sad loss to the tennis world. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time."
The tennis world first learned of Doohan’s condition only nine weeks ago, when the Australian was told he had a particularly aggressive form of the disease.
The wiry serve-volleyer, who was staying in an £11-per-night hostel and travelled to Wimbledon by bus, beat World No. 1 and two-time defending champion Becker 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the second round on 26 June 1987. It was the earliest defeat by a Wimbledon defending champion since 1967. "I kept telling myself he is not a [Ivan] Lendl or a [Henri] Leconte," Becker said after the match. "He can't keep volleying like this. He'll crack just once, and then it will be easy." Becker had beaten Doohan 6-2, 6-4 in The Queen’s Club first round two weeks earlier.
Dubbed ‘The Becker Wrecker’, upon his return to Locker Room 2 at the All England Club, Doohan received a standing ovation and was later given a civic reception in his hometown of Newcastle, in New South Wales, after reaching the Last 16 (l. to Zivojinovic).
Boris Becker (@TheBorisBecker) July 22, 2017
Nicknamed "The Bear", 6’3” Doohan won one singles title at 1984 Adelaide and reached a career-high No. 43 on 3 August 1987, having started the year at No. 301 in the Emirates ATP Rankings due to tendinitis in his right shoulder the previous season. The right-hander also picked up five doubles trophies, reaching a career-high No. 15 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings. He reached the 1987 Australian Open doubles final with Laurie Warder, but was most proud of his 3-0 record in Davis Cup ties for Australia, when he partnered Cash and Wally Masur in doubles rubbers.
"Peter did it the tough way on the tour," Cash told ATPWorldTour.com. "He wasn’t given any free rides as a junior, so he worked hard through US college where we all saw his talent bloom. His long rangy arms big serve and great touch were the envy of many of us. With his oversized Prince racquet, strung incredibly loose, the ball just shot off making him really tough to play. He soon became a very tough singles player and a great doubles player.
Peter Doohan’s son, Hunter, sings "I Know A Place" in tribute to his father.
"He was the perfect guy to have in the Australian Davis Cup team with his friendly manor and good work ethic. Peter's happy energy lit up the room, but I will remember him most of all because of his great sense of humour - that special laugh of his and that giant smile, which was never too far away."
Masur told ATPWorldTour.com, "Peter was a character, very individual and an independent thinker. He was, at the same time, a great teammate. As a competitor he fought as hard as anyone to play the game and was undefeated in the green and gold. Australian tennis is poorer for the loss.
"Peter and I played a lot of juniors together and represented Australia in the Galea Cup. We played the finals in Vichy and proceeded to rent a speedboat on our day off and crash and sink it in the river that runs through the town centre. There was more excitement after that little exercise than our [13-11 fifth set] Davis Cup doubles rubber win versus Mexico [in 1987]."
When fellow Australian Laurie Warder had lunch with his former partner in Sydney last November, Doohan did not let on how serious matters were. "He was in great spirits. he had a bit of a limp but he just said he had a bad hip and didn't tell me anything about it (MND) because he didn't want to spoil our time together," Warder said. "That was the kind of guy he was. It wasn't until a couple of months ago that he was diagnosed with MND.
"I also met with him last week and while his speech was very slurred, he was still in great spirits. It was just amazing. We sat and watched Wimbledon on TV and we shared a lot of great memories. He spoke about a lot of people he'd met in the past and the experiences he'd had."
"He will be remembered as a good guy and someone who put other people first," Warder said. "He was a hard worker and I hope that people remember him for more than just that one win over Boris at Wimbledon. He had a good college career, a solid professional career and was a great coach.
"We played together for a couple of years and he was one of the best partners I had in terms of being a great teammate and a hard blue-collar worker. He had one of the greatest forehand volleys I've played with. He was known for his attacking style, his serve and volley and chip/charge.
"He was a quiet, friendly, relaxed guy who was very dedicated to his tennis."
MND has previously impacted the tennis family. Former Australian player Brad Drewett, who was the ATP Executive Chairman and President until his passing in May 2013, and Angie Cunningham, the WTA's former Vice President of Player Relations and On-Site Operations, who passed away in October 2016, both succumbed to the disease. Former French player Jerome Golmard is currently fighting it.
Before turning professional, Doohan studied and played at the University of Arkansas where he won an NCAA doubles title in 1982 and made an All American. He returned after 20 years in the United States – working at clubs in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Oklahoma – to live in Nelson Bay, Australia in 2009 and coached until June last year. He was a big rugby league fan of the Newcastle Knights.
Doohan, who was down to earth and a gentleman, is survived by his mother, Thelma, his sons, John and Hunter, who both live in Arkansas, United States, and his sisters Cathie and Margaret.
Peter Doohan, tennis player and coach, born 2 May 1961, died 21 July 2017.
Former Australian doubles player David Macpherson: "He was a salt of the Earth Aussie. A fierce competitor and a great sportsman. He embodied being Australian."
Boris Becker (@TheBorisBecker) July 22, 2017
😢 RIP Bear... big hugs and condolences to all of Peter's family & friends. https://t.co/1J4T49KAVt— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) July 22, 2017
Oh dear, very sad news of the passing of our Aussie tennis peer Peter Doohan. The 'Bear' a terrific player and true to himself. RIP Bear— Paul McNamee (@PaulFMcNamee) July 22, 2017
RIP mate ... Always enjoyed life and life was better with you in it mate. You deserve the rest now. pic.twitter.com/Un359j4B41— roger rasheed (@roger_rasheed) July 22, 2017
Johan Kriek (@johankriek) July 21, 2017
Leif Shiras (@LShirock) July 22, 2017