The day when…a bomb threat cancelled the final in Rotterdam

Feb 10, 2016, 4:18:53 PM

In the 1984 edition of the Rotterdam tournament, Ivan Lendl is dominating the final (6-0 1-0) against Jimmy Connors. Until a mysterious anonymous phone call is made at the stadium’s main entrance.

In the 1984 edition of the Rotterdam tournament, Ivan Lendl is dominating the final (6-0 1-0) against one of his biggest rivals, Jimmy Connors. But as he’s heading straight towards victory,  a man opposes his plans by phoning the stadium’s main entrance. The reason of his call ? A bomb is supposedly hidden close to the court…


It is not because a match is played indoors that it has to be completed. If the outdoor courts are naturally exposed to bad weather, the indoor courts can sometimes be exposed to modern life threats. We’re in 1984, and Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors have to face this strange situation, as they are against each other in the final of the Rotterdam tournament. A match which the Czechoslovakian is clearly dominating, and which he leads by 6-1, 1-0, serve to follow. The moment chosen by a policeman to grab the microphone and make an announcement : « Don’t panic, leave the room in order. Police. » Without really knowing what is going on, the 5000 spectators of the day obey. The ball boys, the umpires, Connors and Lendl are asked to do the same, leaving the viewers alone in front of their screens showing an empty arena.


« Lendl was not prepared to take any risks. »


Once the area is emptied, the fist explanations arrive : an unidentified subject, claiming to be from a « local anticapitalist movement » has just made a anonymous phone call to the arena’s main entrance. He informs the organizers that explosives are hidden somewhere close to the court, and even ready to be activated. After inspecting the area, the policemen sent on the scene quickly realize they have been the victims of a fraud : this bomb threat is fake. Relieved, some of the spectators go back to their seats. The match can carry on. However, the players disagree. Scared ? « I could have persuaded Connors to stay, but Lendl was not prepared to take any risks », says Wim Buitendijk, the tournament organizer, in front of the press. Connors then takes things in hands, heads to his opponent’s dressing room, and offers to wait for the next day to pick things where they left off. Fair Play ? Not enough for Lendl who, in turn, makes another offer, non-negotiable this time : that the sum of the prize money, 50 000 dollars for the winner, and 25 000 for the other finalist, is locked up in a vault until the match can be resumed. But much later. In fact, it never happened, as the organizers didn’t have the resources, and both players were lacking time. In the end, the two players were both announced as the winners.


Connors behind the incident ?


Four years earlier, Jimmy Connors had already seen his final interrupted because of an unstoppable, diluvian rain in Monte-Carlo, against Guillermo Vilas. A final played on a Monday afternoon, the match program having already suffered a 24 hour delay, again, because of the heavy rain. Just like in Rotterdam, despite the promises made by both players, the organizers never found the time to set a convenient date to end the match. In their defense, no official rule obliges the organizers to finish a final if it is interrupted. But unlike this Monegasque episode, in which the score was 5-5 in the first set, in 1984, Ivan Lendl was way ahead and could have found the time to finish the job. Too bad. Incidentally, since the beginning of the Open era, no match between two members of the Top 4 has finished on this score (6-1, 1-0) in an official tournament. But that’s not the point. As Peter Fleming, ex-american player and Ivan’s close friend, reckons : « If you ask Lendl, even to this day, he still thinks someone from Jimmy’s team made the phone call. »


By Victor Le Grand