If you wanted to see brilliant men’s tennis played by its biggest stars in the 1990s, then Didsbury was the place to go.

Sampras, McEnroe, Edberg, Ivanisevic and Rafter all made their way to Manchester to play at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club.

The Manchester Open was the perfect grass court warm-up for Wimbledon – and for many years formed part of the Grand Prix tour.

Although the tournament ended a decade ago in 2009, its legacy lives on in the memories and photos of some outstanding matches and champions.

Pete Sampras plays a backhand at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

Pete Sampras plays a backhand at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

A few of the Manchester winners would go on to triumph at Wimbledon itself. In fact, Swedish star Stefan Edberg won both in the same year in 1988.

Seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras notched up his first grass court title at Didsbury in 1990.

The tournament, originally known as the Northern Lawn Tennis Championships, was first played at Didsbury in 1880. The winner was former World No. 3 Richard T. Richardson.

He took the title three years running before another British player, William Wilberforce, stole his crown.

Croatian Goran Ivanisevic proudly displays the Manchester Open trophy, June 1991

Croatian Goran Ivanisevic proudly displays the Manchester Open trophy, June 1991

Wilfred Baddeley won the title four times in a row from 1894 to 1897. Spectators were seeing double when he beat his twin brother Herbert in the 1895 final.

But the greatest early achievement was surely that of Sydney H. Smith, who won the tournament six times in succession from 1899 to 1905. He was a British champion at Badminton too.

Up to 1913, when the International Lawn Tennis Federation was established, the Northern was considered by players and historians to be one of the world’s top four tournaments.

The other three were Wimbledon, the Irish Championships and the U.S. National Championships.

John McEnroe on court at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

John McEnroe on court at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

In its early years, the tournament wasn’t only played at Didsbury. It alternated with Aigburth Cricket Ground in Liverpool until the 1920s.

In the 1980s, the tournament was known as the Greater Manchester Grass Court Tennis Championships. It was part of the Grand Prix Tennis Tour from 1970 to 1989.

It featured on the ATP Tour from 1990 to 1994 as the Manchester Open. The tournament moved to Nottingham in 1995.

The first 1960s winner was New Zealander Mark Otway, who defeated Australian Martin Mulligan in three sets, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. Our photo shows the pair with the trophy.
Mulligan went on to play countryman Rod Laver in an extremely one-sided Wimbledon final in 1962. He lost in straight sets 2-6, 2-6, 1-6.

You cannot be serious! John McEnroe engages with the umpire, June 1991

You cannot be serious! John McEnroe engages with the umpire, June 1991

Northern Lawn Tennis Tournament winner Mark Otway with runner-up Martin Mulligan, June 1960

Northern Lawn Tennis Tournament winner Mark Otway with runner-up Martin Mulligan, June 1960

One year that really stood out in the tournament’s history was 1991. Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic were all at Didsbury as well as leading British player Andrew Castle.

The M.E.N. shot a series of action photos which truly captured the sparkling tennis on show. One photo shows a fired-up McEnroe – who else? – vigorously debating with the umpire!

Croatian Ivanisevic was too powerful for Sampras in the 1991 final, winning in two straight sets 6-4, 6-4. He also became doubles champion with Italian Omar Camporese, defeating British pair Castle and Nick Brown 6-4, 6-3.

Australian Pat Rafter, who won the Manchester Open in 1994

Australian Pat Rafter, who won the Manchester Open in 1994

Nine years later, Ivanisevic made history when he became the only player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon as an unseeded wild card. He defeated Australian Pat Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 in a five-set thriller.

Ivanisevic also reached the Wimbledon final in 1992, 1994 and 1998, but lost out to Andre Agassi and then Sampras twice. He was ranked 125th when he beat Rafter in 2001.

Rafter himself won the Manchester Open in 1994, but couldn’t repeat the feat at Wimbledon. He was runner-up twice in 2000, when he lost to Sampras, and 2001.

Swedish ace Stefan Edberg, another Didsbury veteran, won his two Wimbledon titles in 1988 and 1990, beating Boris Becker on both occasions.

Stefan Edberg, winner at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in 1987 and 1988

Stefan Edberg, winner at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in 1987 and 1988

Goran Ivanisevic in action at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

Goran Ivanisevic in action at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, June 1991

McEnroe only won the Manchester tournament once, even though he ended his career with 77 singles and 78 doubles titles – the highest men’s combined total in the modern era.

The year was 1982 and he beat New Zealander Russell Simpson 6-3, 6-7, 10-8 in a fiercely contested final.