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Thursday, 15 March 2018 10:50 AM GMT
From the archive: Remembering Ken Flach looks back at the career of our two-time gentlemen's doubles champion Ken Flach. READ MORE

Ken Flach, who died this week at the age of just 54 after a short illness, was one of the great doubles players of his time. The former world No.1 enjoyed an outstanding career, particularly in the many years he played alongside his fellow American, Robert Seguso.

Flach and Seguso won the gentlemen’s doubles title at The Championships in both 1987 and 1988. They were great competitors who never knew when they were beaten, coming back to win matches from two sets down in their runs to both titles.

Born in St Louis, Flach quickly showed an aptitude for a number of sports, but tennis became his chosen career. He played college tennis at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, where he formed a formidable doubles partnership with Seguso. “We never went to class,” Flach told Sports Illustrated in 1987. “All we did was play tennis and eat pizza. We loved it.”

The two men had complementary talents. Seguso had a thunderous serve, while Flach, a tireless worker, made outstanding returns. They communicated well, understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses and were good athletes.

Ten months after making their debut on the professional tour, Flach and Seguso won their first title in Rome in 1984. They made their debut at The Championships that summer, reaching the third round before letting slip a two-sets lead to the Australians Pat Cash and Paul McNamee.

By the end of the year Flach and Seguso had won six tour-level titles, a total which they bettered the following year in their most productive season. Their eight titles in 1985 included their first on grass in Britain, at Queen’s in June, and their first at Grand Slam level, at the US Open.

The win at Flushing Meadows featured a controversial moment in the final against Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte. At one set-all and set point to the Frenchmen in the tie-break at the end of the third set, a Leconte volley flew past Flach’s right ear and landed beyond the baseline. The French pair argued in vain that the ball had brushed Flach’s famously long hair. Unsettled by what became known as “the hair shot”, Noah and Leconte did not win another game.

“I still don't know if that ball hit me,” Flach later told Sports Illustrated. “You ever have a serve just zip by your ear when you’re at the net? You feel the breeze? It was like that.”

Seguso went top of the world doubles rankings for the first time in the wake of their New York triumph and Flach followed in his footsteps the following month.

However, their progress faltered in 1986 and by the spring of 1987 they were starting to play with different partners. Seguso won the French Open alongside Anders Jarryd, while Flach played with four different partners in the three months leading up to Wimbledon.

The relationship between the two men had soured a little, but they agreed to get back together at The Championships. They had not played together for three months, but quickly settled back into their old routine.

Flach and Seguso did not drop a set in reaching the quarter-finals, in which they beat the No.1 seeds, Noah and Guy Forget, 7-6(4), 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Americans again had their backs to the wall in the final but fought back from two sets down to beat Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez 3-6, 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 6-1, 6-4.

Twelve months later Flach and Seguso made a successful defence of their title, but only after a scare against the Australians Mark Woodforde and Wally Masur in the quarter-finals. They won 4-6, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2 and went on to beat Jarryd and John Fitzgerald 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) in the final. It was a memorable year for the Americans, who took the doubles title at the Seoul Olympics later that summer by beating Sanchez and Casal in the final.

By the end of 1991 Seguso was starting to wind down his career, but Flach enjoyed further success when he teamed up with Rick Leach. They won three titles together in 1993, including the US Open.

Flach also won two Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles. At The Championships in 1986 Flach and Kathy Jordan lived up to their billing as top seeds, beating Heinz Gunthardt and Martina Navratilova 6-3, 7-6 in the final. Flach and Jordan had won the French Open earlier in the summer. Flach also won 11 of his 13 Davis Cup rubbers, though he lost in his only World Group final, against France in 1991.

While doubles was always Flach’s forte, he also played singles for much of his career. Having reached his career-high ranking in singles as world No.56 in 1985, he enjoyed his best run at a Grand Slam tournament in 1987 when he reached the fourth round at the US Open before losing to Mats Wilander.

He made eight appearances in the main draw of the gentlemen’s singles at The Championships and reached the third round on three occasions. In 1989 he beat 17-year-old Goran Ivanisevic in the second round before going down in four sets to Peter Lundgren.

Flach also went close to creating a shock on his final appearance in singles at The Championships in 1995. Having earned a place through the qualifying tournament (he was world No.527 in singles at the time), Flach took Jim Courier, the No.11 seed, to five sets in the opening round.

The Association of Tennis Professionals reported that Flach fell ill only last week with bronchitis, which developed into pneumonia.

Chris Kermode, the ATP’s Executive Chairman and President, said: “Ken was taken far too soon and his sudden passing comes as a real shock to everyone in tennis. A former World No.1 in doubles, Ken will be remembered as one of the great US doubles players in the history of our sport."

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