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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

An unfounded reputation

from Tennis Magazine (issue of March 1987)
by Jean Couvercelle and Christophe Guibbaud
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello

Stefan Edberg denied all his detractors. Winning the Australian Open for a second consecutive time after a fifth set that hardly anyone saw him win, due to an impressive comeback by Pat Cash, wildly supported by the crowd, the Swede has proved that, despite his appearances, he also knows how to fight and go till the end of his resources. His reputation was bad, that is to say, unfounded.

What a denial! Stefan Edberg, with no reason but his appearance, carried the reputation of a "loser", a guy who could not fight, who had neither heart nor "guts" in the heat of the battle that sometimes tennis matches are, a player unable to win, some way, in five-setters.

His (false) lymphatism, his scowling and cute look were for many the roots of this reputation, reinforced by some of his recent failures in the Davis Cup final against Australia.

Yes, what a denial! Because he, Stefan Edberg, could not have dreamt of a better revenge than this one, in the same location, facing Australians, in singles as in doubles. A revenge taken exactly in a masterly played fifth set, after experiencing a terrible slump, and thus having wasted a two set lead. So when Pat Cash, foolishly encouraged by the crowd, joined the Swede, there were not many who still gave him a chance.

"I love this somewhat dry grass, with a higher bounce than at Wimbledon. It makes my serve more effective, and leaves me a little more time to play my shots"

Cash's comeback was even more impressive since Edberg had "vanished" under the effect of heat and fatigue.  In these conditions, once he found back the physical, mental and moral energies to hang on, avoid to collapse, and climb back next to his best, he put up an outstanding performance, worthy of the greatest "fighters" in the history of tennis.

Then please, please, don't rely on appearances any longer. And don't forget this performance, as many had forgotten (among others) his win for 9-7 in the fifth set, here in the semifinals of the previous Australian Open against a certain Lendl, after a hard fight.

Edberg himself, softly, made things clear after this triumph, while, at the same time, dropping for a moment his sulky teenager look, he hadn't been able to prevent himself from expressing his joy. "A 5 sets win in the final of a Grand Slam tournament is not nothing." And he added: "After the Davis Cup I proved something. At least to myself."

A victory that pushes him to the third place of the world ranking. A second Grand Slam title, just a little more than one year after his first victory here. A "double" often happened in recent years (Vilas, 78-79, Kriek, 80-81, Wilander, 83-84) that takes nothing away from the Edberg's performance, who also made another "double" (singles-doubles), fornthe first time here since Newcombe in 1973, and in any Slam event since McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1984.

Stefan Edberg, who may well regret that the tournament will no longer be played in Kooyong, where he found himself particularly well: "I love this somewhat dry grass, with a higher bounce than at Wimbledon. It makes my serve more effective, and leaves me a little more time to play my shots."

Kooyong (Davis Cup excluded!) is a Swedish land, since the title has been in the hands of these men from the North the past four years. The two best players in the world were there to break this streak. Yet it was neither Lendl nor Becker Edberg needed to overcome to retain his title.

It was Pat Cash, returned in just one year to an unexpected level, not so long after he had imagined the worst. In December '85 he was a simple spectator of the Australian Open. He had not yet recovered from his injury (lumbar disc), during the "reconstruction" of a fragile back. Back then, he had told our special correspondent Guy Barbier: "I thought that I would never come back on a tennis court."

He was 20. Just a few months earlier he had reached the semi-finals in Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows (where he had match point against Lendl!). He had just entered the top 10. Everything collapsed!...

The willingness shown by Pat Cash to return is simply stunning. The challenge was worth it, it is true. But that effort, those sacrifices... and if he doesn't suffer other physical problems (he had a light one at the muscle behind the knee, at the end of the final), he'll quickly be able to fight for the top places - he is already 13th, when he was 460th before reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon! - beyond the Australian border, as he has demonstrated.

"I would have never imagined it one year ago. And if I had been told it would happen, I would have not believed it."

After reaching the final here, Cash thought he felt the Australian Open came too soon after the Davis Cup final at the end of which he felt the need to breathe, relax, "assimilate" it. And besides he thinks - and we with him - he didn't play his best tennis here, despite the results. His goal is to achieve his top form in the current year, and maybe especially in the early days of July, at Wimbledon...

Yet he is perfectly capable of playing everywhere, including at Roland Garros. Clay is certainly not his best surface, but he has already practiced in his teens, and even at Vichy, when he won the Galéa.

In any case, he wants to put everything in it: follow the example of Lendl, the seriousness of his preparation, surrounded by his coach Ian Barclay, a nutritionist who now advises him, without even speaking of a physical fitness he maintains and improves steadily, perfectly knowing his problem - he paid for it... -.

Pat Cash has therefore not been far from taking this Australian title, and renew at the same "the Pernfors exploit" in Davis Cup, when he was two sets down before taking the decisive point for his country.

But when he led 5-1 in the fourth, with two breaks, and Edberg was drifting, he himself also suffered a bit of fatigue, a slight lessening. And 3 double faults in a row in the same game restored Edberg's hope and strenght. "If I could end the fourth earlier, I would have surely won the fifth", regretted Cash, who was still amazed at the quality of the first two sets by Edberg.

"I played well, but he was untouchable. He missed nothing. I hoped he would eventually fall one time or another, as did Pernfors."

Ah, those first two sets by Edberg... Perfection. Terrifying serves (his second ball is generally considered the best in the world, but his first is not bad either...), superb volleys, with his backhand, sure, but with his forehand as well, where he has improved both at the net and from the baseline. A surprisingly bright footwork when the score was against him.

Impossible to resist him when he plays like that. Wally Masur in the semifinals and Miloslav Mecir - who had beat him at Wimbledon - in the quarters have experienced it. Out of the first set dropped against Letts, Edberg had lost none until the final. Relaxed, confident after a good preparation in Australia with his English coach Tony Pickard (he had won the semi-exhibition tournament of Perth), he obviously felt in top shape for these championships in which he turned 21.

Now, he needs to win or at least go further than he did in the other major events. '86, on this side, was not very favorable, even if he reached the semi-finals at the US Open. It must be said that he needs a solid preparation, and an injury last spring prevented him from approaching the Roland Garros and Wimbledon at the best of his tennis and his confidence, and one doesn't come without the other.

Edberg, like Becker, also has all the qualities to be a champion on all surfaces. And, even if he fails the Grand Slam this year - although he is by definition the better placed candidate... - let's not forget that he already made it as a junior. It is very rare and even virtually unique.

His progress on his footwork and forehand enable him to play a leading role also at Roland Garros, where he was beaten early last year, by Pernfors...

As for Wimbledon, it is not clear why he could not succeed, of course. Flushing Meadows remains, where perhaps he may not be "physically equipped" enough to go all the way, in case of successive fights.

The choice is not always obvious, when you have a whole arsenal of weapons to use. But you can not consider it as an handicap, of course. And his sort of natural ability to escape the pressure, at least when it is not Davis Cup, can be everywhere an advantage over many opponents.

Tony Pickard himself says it straightly: "What Stefan did is worth what Becker did at Wimbledon [here he exaggerates a little...]. And he showed everyone that you were wrong when you said he lacks "guts". The Davis Cup, I prefer not not talk too much about it. I was invited, I was not the coach. But what I can say is Stefan did not really have the moral, and he was not alone. The obligation to spend Christmas away from home, when one has a different schedule, this is not normal. This date was not acceptable."

Pat Cash, it is true, didn't have this problem. Since he never plays better than in his country... It was in Melbourne (indoor) that he had played his second final of a Grand Prix... in October '84. It was in Brisbane, he won his last tournament at 17 in October '83. A record that has many "blank boxes"  because of what you know. But his injury may be a blessing in disguise. Since the former "enfant terrible" of Australian tennis became a young man as far as character, certainly, but also as far as wise behavior (with some exceptions...).

His concentration skill is such that he forgets everything else, and imagines, as he said, to be playing isolated behind walls with windows. Really impressive. A kind of wisdom, mental yoga, that allows him, for instance, to hit three consecutive double faults without even flinching... Not easy: try it! This concentration also helped him sustain the pressure in a tournament that is a little like his own, and when the entire country was expecting for his miracle, that is to say the first win by an Australian since 1976 (Edmondson). After a long dark period, following the series of great champions (from Sedgman to Newcombe through Rosewall, Hoad, Emerson, Laver, etc...) that seemed then to reproduce themselves like the Swedes today or even better.

Cash slightly failed. He hadn't done enough - and yet, God knows what effort it was - eliminating Ivan Lendl, seeded N°l, the cursed of Kooyong. A fierce battle over four hours, during which the world No. 1 made huge efforts not to be left behind while his young opponent (22 years old in May) was playing the most natural tennis in the world. A fight that reminded (with less tension...) the one they had delivered in the Flushing Meadows 1984 semifinal, when Cash had had a match point in the fifth set.

One can love Ivan Lend or not. But in Kooyong, on a surface that (even if more favorable than the  Wimbledon grass) is not and never will be his own, despite his will, despite his coach Tony Roche, what he did was simply admirable courage and tenacity.

But he is unsure when he must bind to the volley, and the often doubtful bounces make his returns and passings more tentative. Disappointed Lendl, very disappointed, but with no regret: "I 've done everything I could.". The whole world could have said that...

And Australia dreamed for the first time since a long time, with the presence of two of its players in the semi-finals, for the first time since 1980 (Warwick, McNamara). So with Cash and Wally Masur, the heartthrob of Becker who lost his head a little and thus threw away a favorable fourth round match.

Becker, who is decidedly unsuccessful in Australia, since last year he lost his first round against Dutchman Schapers. But it would be unfair not to give Masur (23 years old) the right credit, even if he was powerless then against Edberg.

He had won in Sydney, grass being his best surface, with a more than fluent serve, a natural volley, and good returns. He conceeds points, of course, but Becker generally, did much more... Masur, sober in his life as on the court, fair player, modest, who confessed he had to work hard to reach maturity, both physically and mentally. The example of Cash (and Pernfors) in the Davis Cup (where he had made a catastrophic debut in October '85) was very useful to him.

With a click, he, the loser, became, by his own admission, a "winner." He had said before the tournament that a misadventure like the previous Australian Open would have never happened to him again. He had lost against Edberg in the fourth round wasting two match points.

He had the opportunity to prove he was right. So, after he missed 3 match points against Becker in the fourth, nobody saw him as the eventual winner, not even he did... He now aims at a place as Davis Cup singles player. To delete the bad memory.

The one of the Australian Open (he already reached the quarterfinals in 83, beaten by McEnroe), in any case, will remain forever. With a packed crowd supporting him, chanting his name, a thing never seen by most of the old witnesses of these places, outside the Davis Cup ties.

For Masur (who moved from the 70th to the 40th place) the Australians had cracked...

Australia-Europe: a "duel" from which the Americans have been dismissed, once more in the Grand Slam. This is the first time since '76 that none of them reached the quarterfinals. Noah had beaten Wilkison, Evernden Rostagno, Cash Annacone (in 5 sets!), Lendl Goldie (struggling) Edberg Seguso (with a knee injury).

And then, there were the defaults of Connors and John McEnroe, who had retired at the last moment, for a pain in his back, he said, and had delayed his return to competition to Philadelphia, these days.

Among the best, also Wilander ("honeymoon"...), Nyström and Pernfors were missing. But it was not unlikely that this final, such as the one in the women's tournament, could be a sign of some reshuffling in world tennis. Hard times for the world champions, for sure, this is the response from Melbourne...

An unfounded reputation


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