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"Tennis will continue, with more and more tall and strong players, as it has been for ten years now. When I started I was a kind of white fly, now I pass almost unnoticed" - Stefan Edberg on the future of tennis. Read the interview

One man show

Untouchable Edberg wins his first US Open.

Too good, Stefan Edberg. At the point that he seemed to be the only man on stage at Flushing Meadows, where he touched perfection. The beauty of his performances against Chang, Lendl and Courier in the final not only gave him his first US Open, but also the first place in the world ranking. A one man show for a number one…

from Tennis Magazine
by Yannick Cochennec
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello

The start was complicated, tentative, chaotic. The end would be easy, clear, hallucinating. This is Stefan Edberg’s paradox and strength: he has succeeded when almost the entire world would have bet on his loss, after the first week of this US Open. And so that’s him, on September 8th, who raises his arms in the Flushing Meadows Centre Court. It’s still him who runs across the court at full speed to go and hug the ones in his corner. It’s always him who, like an Agassi, throws his t-shirt towards the stand of his fans. In a little more than two hours he has dominated Jim Courier in three sets (6-2, 6-4, 6-0), becoming, at 25, the second Swede in history to win the title of US Open champion, after Mats Wilander in 1988.

His first U.S. Open, his fifth Grand Slam title, after his victories at Wimbledon and in Australia, but the first on a surface other than grass. And so he takes the 1st place in the world ranking away from Becker.

What does the radiant Stefan Edberg think on his chair? Surely many things have come across his head but he is still on the small cloud on which he came flying over Flushing Meadows in this sunny Sunday. This 110th final of the US Open didn’t have two players on the court, but just one: Edberg and all his arsenal of shots for a delightful symphony that captivated all the stadium and, no doubt about it, all those who could watch this 122 minute masterpiece on television.

The Swede succeeded in doing what every player hopes for: to play the best match of his life in a Grand Slam final. «It was like a dream. I could try anything I wanted and I was nearly sure I would win the point. And the more the match went on, the more I felt relaxed, serene, self-confident».

The cup posed beside him, Stefan Edberg, illuminated by a smile that seems to never leave him, analyses his performance with a generosity of words that is not usual for him. And he also jokes, promising that in the next fifteen years he’ll beat all the records set by Jimmy Connors…

The performance he made on the Centre Court made his head spin, just as he drove Jim Courier mad. The final that promised to be long was a one-way match, without any suspense. Edberg played too well and Courier did what he could until he eventually got completely discouraged in the third set. Serves, returns, approaches, volleys, anticipations, everything was nothing but perfect for the Swede who gave a formidable impression of lightness and invincibility.

It was beautiful and incredible especially for all those who had assisted to Edberg’s early matches in the tournament.

Yes, where was the tentative Stefan Edberg who had arrived in New York after a mediocre summer season, where he had only collected upsets, the last being a bad defeat against Ivan Lendl in the Long Island final just before the start of the tournament? For a week, that Edberg explored the courts of Flushing Meadows with his head low, looking for his sensations. We saw him saving three set points for a two sets to one deficit against Bryan Shelton in the first round and losing a set at the third round against Jim Grabb. The Swede was clearly in the fog. But he found his ray of light in the heart of the night of the US Open, during his fourth round match against an in form Michael Chang, who had defeated John McEnroe. That was another Edberg on court: airy, mobile, fighting and he wouldn’t leave the place until this 8th of September.

«The one against Chang was a key match. My early opponents were serve&volleyers and it was difficult for me to find the groove. Chang, instead, remained on the baseline and I could find my rhythm, adjust some things in defense and at the net».

Winner of Javier Sanchez in the quarter finals, the Swede then scored against Lend in the semifinal what he would play against Courier as well, that is an ideal match.

This victory by Edberg at the US Open is somehow placed under the sign of revenge. First of all, revenge against two opponents who had eliminated him in Grand Slam, Lendl in Melbourne and Courier at the Roland Garros. Revenge, then, against a tournament in which he had never succeeded, his best performances remaining two semifinals in 1986 and 1987. At Flushing Meadows Edberg only had bad memories, worsened by the fact that he doesn’t like New York. In the three past years he had suffered three of the worst defeats in his career. Against Krickstein, in a windy night, when it was impossible to play; against Connors, who had only left him six games and last year in the first round against Volkov, who had ended all his hopes when he was the favourite, after a great summer in which he had only accumulated victories.

This time Stefan didn’t shine that much in August and it was not too bad... He came back to World n.1 in an important moment, when he had started to have doubts, after a season he deemed quite disappointing until then. His formidable success at the US Open gives him the confidence he no longer hoped for… He just needs the Roland Garros to reach the perfect score in Grand Slam. His 1989 final proves that it’s within his reach.

The k.o. of Jim Courier and his “boxing tennis” came unexpected, especially because the American had never lost a tournament final. But against an Edberg like that, as Courier acknowledged, it was like putting a heavy weight against an average on the ring. «He never left me any chance. At a moment in the tenth game of the second set I had a point for the 5-5, but he saved it with a smash that comes out twice in a lifetime».

This severe failure doesn’t put in question the formidable run by Courier in this US Open where he succeeded in the stunning performance of reaching the final without losing a single set, after three good victories against Emilio Sanchez, Pete Sampras, the title defender, and Jimmy Connors. His tennis based on power is with no doubt the one that suits better to his ever-pushing game.

With his serve and, most of all, with his gunshot forehand, he often proved much too brutal for his opponents. Surely Emilio Sanchez has never seen such violent winning forehands pass under his nose like those made by Courier. Jim, an intelligent guy, will never thank enough the day he lifted the phone to call Jose Higueras who, since almost a year now, is his coach with Brad Stine. «I’ve never met an intelligence like Jose’s on a tennis court. I made a huge progress with him mentally and, technically, he tought me the best way to use my shots». Ranked around the 20th place in the world at the start of the year, today the American finds himself at the 3rd place with a Roland Garros and a US Open final under his belt. As a first evaluation, the improvements are unexpected.

And Courier, who is just 21, is clearly far from ending his collection of titles as, in spite of his huge progress, he remains perfectible, especially in his offensive game. The lesson he received by a funambulist Edberg at the net must have given him some ideas for the future.

So, in this US Open, youth prevailed in the end, but the revolt of the old lasted long only to end in the semifinals. At the head of this die-hard rebellion an “old” man, but what a man, Jimmy Connors, 39 on September 2nd. Extraordinary, incredible, fantastic, amazing, all the superlatives of the dictionary are not enough to define Connors’ performance at Flushing Meadows.

How, yes, how did this champion succeed in what he did in two weeks in New York to reach the semifinals at 39? «Jimmy Connors is a man apart. The big difference is that he loves competition more than anyone else, even at almost 40». It’s John McEnroe talking, someone who, at 32, is on his way to get to know the damage made by the passing of time on his tennis and his motivation.

Like at Roland Garros and at Wimbledon, where he had been admirably supported by the crowd, Connors has been the man of the tournament in an atmosphere of madness. Extraordinary matches, anthology moments made him even more legendary than he already was. Against Patrick McEnroe at the first round and against Aaron Krickstein at the fourth. In the quarter final against Paul Haarhuis , he has shown once again his inexhaustible mental resources to reach the final stages of this US Open for the fourteenth time in his career. But in the end Connors surrendered in three sets to Jim Courier, who had just one dream: to meet him one day. No regrets, clearly. And how could he have any after this defeat? «This year I had extraordinary moments. I had surprises, dramas, emotions, ups and downs. It was amazing. But for me, the most remarkable has been to have come to play this level of tennis again. This joy is impossible to describe for me».

A legitimate happiness, that comes from all the frustration that Connors could suffer in 1990, a year in which he could only play three matches because of an injury at his wrist that required a surgery in October. «The doctors told me I may have not competed again, but I didn’t believe them». And Connors was right in not believing them, because in January he was back in the Tour with a ranking around the 1000th place in the world. Little by little, but playing very few tournaments, he found his groove again, thanks to a remarkable physical condition, carefully kept during his recovery.

His game that has not changed since his first US Open played in 1970 has become insensitive to the passing of time. His flawless leg movement is always as accurate as before and the trajectories of his balls, hit flat, always passing a few centimeters above the net, ended up finding their effectiveness again.

What targets will he have after this performance that will allow him to pass from number 174 to 66 in the world ranking? A return in the top-50? He smiles. In the top-10? He smiles again. A Grand Slam victory? He frankly laughs. Obviously the hypothesis is not excluded. «We’ll see. Just now I’m happy to be playing well and I can’t stop being proud of all that happened, because my career has not ended yet».

Waiting to complete his masterpiece, Jimmy will cross Europe this fall (after his withdrawal from Bordeaux he is expected in Lyon and in Villeneuve d’Ascq for an exhibition) to sharpen his form and collect the dividends from his new glory.

It’s not hard to guess that, anywhere he will go, he will be greeted by the crowd the way it should be.

The relationship between Ivan Lendl and the audience has never been particularly warm, but we can believe that the New York crowd decided to celebrate all those who were 30 or older. Like Jimmy, but certainly in a minor way, and like Martina Navratilova, Ivan has been extremely supported and it was incredible how he received the “come on, Lendl” from the entire, sold-out stadium, during his quarter final against Michael Stich.

And the Czech needed the support to reach, for the 9th time in his career, at 31, at least the stage of the semifinals. Because everything could have ended at the first round against the promising Dutchman Richard Krajicek, 19 years old, who had two match points. But Lendl saved them thanks to two perfect returns. But his run of fighter hadn’t ended. In the fourth round he had some problems against the erratic Goran Ivanisevic and in the quarter finals he risked the defeat one more time against Michael Stich.

Down two sets to one against the Wimbledon champion, the Czech managed to win the fourth set at the tie-break, before dominating the German. Against Edberg there was nothing to do. No regrets, even if Ivan Lendl declared himself frustrated not to have won a Grand Slam tournament this season. But his tenacity deserves admiration from everybody.

Under the temperamental point of view, Sampras, the title defender, would need to get some inspiration from Lendl. Mentally, morally, the American hasn’t given the best guaranties since his triumph last year. At Flushing Meadows, Sampras has once again shown his weaknesses on this side, remaining extremely passive during the quarter final that opposed him to Jim Courier. No sign of reaction, no desire of rising when events didn’t turn his way.

It’s a shame because, after a start of the season with several injuries, during the summer Sampras had found his form again, winning in Los Angeles and Indianapolis. His tennis was less effective than last year, but, with a little motivation, he could have threatened more Jim Courier, who, until then, had never beaten him.

The problem with Stich’s loss against Lendl is completely different. When he was about to beat the Czech, leading two sets to one and 3-0 in the fourth set tie-break, he eventually failed. Furious to have lost the tie-break, he completely stopped playing in the fifth set. His performance has been good anyway during this US Open, where he had never passed two rounds. Winner of two tournaments after Wimbledon (Stuttgart and Schenectady), the Germany is getting closer and closer to his big national rival, Boris Becker, one of the great losers of this Flushing Meadows.

Placed in the draw as 1st seed, the German has disappeared at the third round, beaten by the Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, 25 years old, number 45 in the world, who had already beaten John McEnroe in New York in 1989 and who confirmed himself in the following rounds, reaching the quarter finals. Once again, Becker was injured, a torn thigh muscle who forced him to retire from the Davis Cup semifinal between United States and Germany. Boris’ muscular problems become more and more alarming. At the Roland Garros and in Wimbledon he had already known this kind of problems. And we remember Bercy last year.

Other big loser of this year’s US Open: surely Andre Agassi. Beaten by an Aaron Krickstein in clear return of form, the Kid of Las Vegas left the tournament from the back door. A little more fleshy than in Wimbledon, he showed himself slow, always late on the ball. During the summer he had had some little health problems, but those don’t explain this defeat and, most of all, his too loose attitude. He was subdued from the start of the match, to eventually throw the towel after losing the first two sets. This is not how a champion should behave. Could he have learned the lessons of survival by Jimmy Connors in this tournament. But was he in front of the tv?

One man show


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