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"To be number one in the world is unique and is probably my best memory. To be top five in the world ranking for nine years is also something I'm very happy with" - Stefan Edberg on his years at the top. Read the interview

The Iron Man against the world

from Tennis Magazine (issue of October 1992)
by Bruno Cuaz
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello

It's like an Iron Man that Stefan Edberg emerged victorious for the second time, in the hell of Flushing Meadow. Against Pete Sampras in the final. Against opponents - Krajicek, Lendl, Chang - who forced him to perform miracles in terrible five set battles. Against an insane schedule that pushed him to the limits of physical and nervous strength. An unusual feat, crowned by one of the most beautiful titles in the world and by the return to the world No. 1. From hell to heaven...

We should rather say: heroic. But to a journalist who asked him to define his path at the US Open, Stefan Edberg has dropped just one word. Chaotic. Showing that, living in London, he learned to perfectly handle the art of understatement. What dangers didn't he have to overcome to lift his sixth Grand Slam title and second US Open in a row? To reach the final, he won three consecutive matches in five sets. More importantly, in each of these matches, he had to reverse the handicap of a break in the final set. Against Krajicek in the fourth round, Lendl in the quarterfinals and then against Chang who even had two balls for 4-0 and two for 4-1 in the 5th set. For those who still doubt Edberg's mental strength, the tournament will remain a reference.

And in the final won 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2, once again it's psychologically that Edberg beat Sampras, forcing him to take more and more risks on his serve, relentlessly attacking him on his second ball. Because this is where Edberg's strength and greatness lies. Even in the most critical situations, it is forward that he will seek his salvation, constantly pressing his opponent who must pass at perfection in crucial moments.

The weather and the absurd schedule - the semifinals placed the day before the final to meet the needs of CBS - had also led Edberg to play four days in a row: 3:08 hours on Thursday against Lendl before the rain interrupted the match, 55 minutes on Friday to finish the match, 5:26 hours - a record - with Chang on Saturday and then 2:51 hours in the final on Sunday. "I was a little stiff at first, but the more the match went on the better I felt," quietly explained Edberg.

And he confirmed that he is not only the best volley player on the tour, but probably also the best athlete, who is able to link these sprints towards the net for hours with an amazing ability to recover. The few physical problems he has experienced in the past did not prevent him from holding the amazing record of 38 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tournaments since 1983. In the ocean of statistics dumped in the offices of the newsroom, there were Edberg's net attacks throughout the tournament: exactly 981 in seven matches with two-thirds of success. Actually, Edberg does not come to the net, he glides to the net and there he feels at home, hitting the ball in any position with lightness and perfect grace.

Certainly, in the final, the purity of tennis practiced didn't unleash the enthusiasm from the audience, especially as Sampras, after a good start, broke down on his serve, committing 11 double faults including a crucial one on 4-5 in the third set tie-break. Once again, he gave the impression of nonchalance that does not push the crowd to go on fire for him. In his defense, at the final, he specified he suffered the shins, a chronic condition that forced him to miss several weeks in 1990.

The reward of this final was not small as the winner was sure of taking the place of world n.l, which would have been a first for Sampras. But, most of all, for Edberg this title marked the return to top after a roller-coaster year started by a stray against Courier in the Australian Open final, followed by earlier defeats at Roland Garros (third round against Cherkasov), Wimbledon (in the quarterfinals against Ivanisevic) and Olympic Games (at the first round against Chesnokov).

But Edberg explained that the intense preparation made ​​before Barcelona probably paid long term. So that he regained confidence in his game winning in New Haven, two weeks before the US Open, a tournament criticized for its poor organization, but whose atmosphere still generates great clashes.

This year, all the best were at the event. Thirteen of the sixteen seeds in the fourth round and the four main seeds in the semifinals, something never happened in Flushing since 1985.

In this royal square, Edberg was the only European against three Americans all eager to continue the series begun with Courier and Agassi, the winners of the first three majors of the year. Pete Sampras played the part of the man to beat after his great summer that had seen him win on clay in Kitzbuhel and hard in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, but, in Flushing, he experienced moments of absence that brought him to be led two sets to one in two occasions, against Todd Martin and Guy Forget.

Refusing to find the cause of his failure, Sampras still recognized that he had perhaps not had the ideal preparation: "I left the stage at around midnight yesterday and I had a massage in my room. I fell asleep at about 3:30 to get up at 8:00. This is not the best night possible."

Winner of the tournament two years ago, he also acknowledged that he had not really realized the importance of a victory at that time and this year he was much more nervous before the final.

Defined by Guy Forget the best player in the world, Sampras is actually close to the top. He has demonstrated throughout the years that his mixed tennis combining shots from the baseline with the serve and volley game is gradually coming to maturation. Quarter-finalist at Roland Garros and semi-finalist at Wimbledon, he has obtained his best results and, at barely 21, it's hard to imagine he would not reach the top soon.

Dethroned by Sampras, Jim Courier has also struggled to reach the semi-finals, including the match against Cedric Pioline, although he had two perfect ones against McEnroe and Agassi.

His showdown with the Wimbledon champion looked like a boxing match where both men gave their best. This duel looks set to become a classic. It is based on a rivalry born when they were both resident in the Nick Bollettieri academy.

But Courier has a higher determination that allowed him to dominate the standoff. It is this desire that drives him to change his game. His progress on serve was remarkable and allowed him to shoot 22 aces against Agassi in four sets.

Beaten in the quarter finals, Agassi did not lose his star status. Slightly dominated by Courier power, he seemed to have remained on the small London cloud he had flown upon by winning Wimbledon. Called "Zen Master" by his friend Barbra Streisand, he looked appeased by his first Grand Slam title, which he himself admits "has dismissed doubts that many people had in me." The problem is that there was no aggression required for a new triumph.

The fourth American star is more discreet. Michael Chang nevertheless perfectly held his place of n.4 seed reaching the semi-finals. It was actually his best career Grand Slam since his famous Roland Garros victory in 1989. But in three years his game has changed dramatically. With a fairly complete offensive arsenal (overflow attack, smashing serves and even winning volleys), Michael sometimes seems embarrassed to develop tactics and vary his game. He happened to commit many unforced errors, which partly explain why he had to play five sets against Ferreira and Washington.

Against Edberg, he went close to victory getting two balls for a 4-0 lead on serve on which he proved he was not sharp enough. His place in the global hierarchy indicates his consistency and, at 20, he still has time to decorate his record with some victories.

Among the young shoots, Ferreira and Krajicek, the two revelations of the Australian Open confirmed their blossoming talent. Wayne Ferreira, 11th player in the world, semi-finalist in Melbourne, reached the quarterfinals where he came up against the obstacle Chang. The confidence he hits his forehand with is marvellous and his serve and volley game has the taste of classicism, but his tendency to persist on a sterile tactic has sometimes a suicidal vocation. The great Dutchman Krajicek completed his journey against Edberg in the fourth round despite a break lead in the fifth set. His service is always one of the most effective and all of his game progressively gets in tune. He is a player with great potential if the several physical problems that he has known, including shoulder, will not hinder his ascent too much.

In the "whimsical lefty" category, Roland Garros finalist Petr Korda lost at the first round against Emilio Sanchez (though after having a match point). Three days after his victory in Hamlet. Having played a lot this summer, he had probably not enough mental resources for a fifth set. He left the show to another "fantastic left" from the East, Alexander Volkov, who worked his way to the quarterfinals, his best result in a Grand Slam.

The man from Moscow, like Mecir, Chesnokov's big buddy, led a sick Ivanisevic to "crack" in the fourth round before... "cracking up" himself  in the following round against Sampras.

On the thirty-year-old side, Ivan Lendl has highlighted his first Grand Slam as an American playing close to his best. Absent from a major final since the Australian Open of 1991, he came close to winning against Edberg getting three balls for 5-3 on serve in the fifth set. Oddly, he lost the first set of all matches. At 32, the activation may be slower - but he repeatedly demonstrated that the quality of his shots could still do some damage. Especially in the great matchup against Becker of 5:01 hours.

Like last year, the former Czechoslovak found support from the crowd during this exciting match between two former tournament champions. Boris is also in ascending form and, if his body leaves him in peace, he could be the man of the season ending.

It was Lendl who had the role of executioner of Connors in the 2nd round. A mission he undertook with rage because of the low esteem the two men have for each other. Connors even said awkwardly after his defeat that Lendl was not able to do much more than "bunting" (a term from baseball that means "pushing the ball"). Lendl showed afterwards that his "bunting" could still make him win a number of points against attackers of Edberg's caliber.

In the club of the over 30, the two "legends", as they are called here, Connors and McEnroe, still polarized much attention around them. Connors turned forty on the court with optimism while John McEnroe, 33, greeted with bitterness against Courier. "I'm a bit less than the best. This is the background of the problem," he explained. Mac, always looking for perfection, can't admit being surpassed, unlike Connors, always revived by a foolproof pride and enthusiasm.

Without formally announcing it, Mac hinted that this will probably be his farewell to Grand Slam singles. Stating that the decision was absolutely not difficult to make and he did not need any compassion in this regard.

Among the over 30, Brad Gilbert was also a hero of the US Open, saving himself at the fifth set twice against Stich and Ho. Both times he saved match points before winning.

If the French were able to set a nice route, the US Open will remain the tournament of Americans, who managed to place five of their representatives in the quarter finals and three in the semifinals.

Ironically, the last word went to a European, Stefan Edberg. The same one who, with his Swedish friends, must challenge the most impressive Davis Cup team ever aligned with Courier, Agassi, Sampras and McEnroe, in late September in Minneapolis. But, obviously, this is another story...

Marathon Superman
Impossible to say, but what Stefan Edberg did to retain his title at the US Open has perhaps got no equivalent in tennis history: reaching a Grand Slam final having won three consecutive matches in five sets each time overcoming the handicap of a break in the fifth set! Against Richard Krajicek in the fourth round, he was led 1-3 before winning five of the last six games; against Ivan Lendl in the quarterfinals, he found himself at 3-4, with three balls for 3-5 on Lendl's serve before returning and winning 7-3 in the tie-break; and finally Michael Chang in the semifinals led 3-0 and two points for 4-0, Edberg won again five of the last six games!

Managing to play a good quality of tennis in the final (and win it!) after coming through such a test made this feat unforgettable, under a mental as well as physical point of view. Especially since these games have reached, as we know, impressive durations: 4:20 hours against Krajicek (51 games), 4:03 hours against Lendl (52 games) and 5:26 against Chang (60 games) before the final!

A total of 13 hours and 42 minutes on the court (in five days!), while Sampras, in the same time, spent only 7 hours and 19 minutes.

The match against Chang is the longest in terms of games for the semifinals of the US Open, by far surpassing the previous "record", the 54 games of the 1984 semi-final Lendl-Cash. In duration, it is estimated that this could be the longest match ever seen at the American championships, dating back to over a century ago. The conditional is required because of the lack of information about matches of the past such as those of the early rounds on the outside courts.

Throughout his course before the final, Edberg played a staggering total of 24 sets. It's just a set shorter of the record, owned by Vic Seixas with 25 sets in 1951. And tied with Borg (1980), Kodes (1973) and Stolle (1964) who also played 24 sets. But there is a major difference between these four and our "Marathon Superman" Edberg. They all had lost their finals, those years!

The Iron Man against the world

 

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