from Tennis de France (issue of January 1995)
by Vincent Cognet
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Fifth victory in Davis Cup for Sweden, achieved at the end of a very close tie in which the Russians lost three times at the fifth set, in the first three matches, where the Swede showed a better mental strength.
We will have one day someone, somewhere, who will finally decide to write the thesis that the world of tennis has been waiting for ages. That could be called in any modesty: "On the pressure and approach to the important points." The ice on the cake of any press conference, leitmotiv for players with little skill of analysis (or imagination), this "pressure" and these "important points" are still the key for this 82nd Davis Cup final which saw Sweden dominate Russia away in two days, three matches and fifteen sets.
Foreseen as one of the most undecided ties in recent years, the meeting held all its promises on this point. And the fact that the Russians bowed 8-6 two times (and once 6-3) at the fifth set speaks volumes.
As often happens in such cases, everything was played on a handful of points. All have turned in favor of the Swedes.
Some will see the intervention of Lady Luck. But this is not Jon Anders Sjögren's opinion. Harassed by a local journalist, who absolutely wanted him to say that his team had been "very, very lucky," the Swedish captain replied calmly, but determined: "It is true that the tie switched on four or five points. But on Volkov's match point it's Edberg who takes the risk at the right time. In his fifth set, Larsson saves a break point, because he plays very well on that shot. And at the end of the doubles match, my players did not crack when our opponents had three break points. They did not double fault as Olhovskiy did on the penultimate point... Call it confidence, talent, or experience. But luck, never in life!"
Welded, enthusiastic and filled with good will, the Swedes achieved a real team victory. Among the grandfather (Sjögren), the father (Edberg) and the kids (Larsson, Apell, Bjorkman), without even speaking of the close cousins (the deluxe sparring partner Jarryd and the number one supporter Gustafsson), the electricity flows continuously.
"In Sweden, we have always had team spirit - explained Sjögren, - it's not an exception, but they have something more: a great fighting spirit."
Priviledged observer of this symbiosis and great Davis Cup specialist, Anders Jarryd insisted on the contribution by the newcomers to the team. "They brought a lot of fresh air this year. Especially Apell and Bjorkman, who really have fun on court. These guys really rock! As to Larsson, I find that people do not quite realize what level he raised his game to in recent years. He is worthy of the world Top Ten. Moreover, he loves the big matches, he likes the fight. He is a fantastic fighter. All this allows Edberg to play more relaxed."
Logic consequence of this union for mutual consent: none of them has cracked when they had to face the "turning points", the famous important points that they managed to play without fear.
Saturday night Sjögren could be proud of his team. He had turned his last (as team captain) in his first (Davis Cup victory) and now he also has a place in history with the Four Glorious of 1975, 1984, 1985 and 1987.
So it's with complete peace of mind that he will pass the torch, next year, to Carl-Axel Hageskog, long-date coach of the Swedish team. He is also part of the family.
Seen from Moscow's side the meeting does not exactly fit in the same grid of analysis. Nothing more normal, moreover, if one stands by its chronological developement. "We were badly paid for all the efforts made in two days, - Vadim Borisov regretted after the defeat. - If Volkov converts his match point, the whole face of the final changes..."
No doubt. But much more than Volkov or a supposed bad luck, it's actually a player (Kafelnikov) and the straitjacket which made him lose all his lucidity, the damned "pressure", that the Russians should blame for much of their failure.
As the world number 11 too rarely took into that his role of charismatic leader. Extremely nervous before the match (to the point of smashing his racket with rage during a practice session), only notable absentee at the traditional press conferences following the draw, "Kalashnikov" had actually burned his cartridges before hitting his first ball.
"I had never suffered this much in my career, - he said after his defeat against Larsson. - Everyone was expecting me to win, and I've realized it is very difficult to play in a stage where the crowd supports you on every point. We had a hundred fifty times more pressure than the Swedes..."
Unrecognizable in the first two sets against Larsson, unable to give him the "coup de grace" at the start of the fifth set and too irregular to leave his footprint on the doubles match, he never managed to lay the foundations on which Volkov or Olhovskiy could rely.
But without one victory by their leader, the team had no chance to offer the Bowl to their n. 1 supporter Boris Yeltsin. On Friday evening, the sentence had almost been said. The fact that the Russian President ridiculed himself making his entry on the stands on the score of 5-5 in the last set of the match between Edberg and Volkov (so interrupting it for two long minutes...) therefore takes a symbolic value. As a ninety-four year old lady, Davis Cup loves nothing but tradition. In the farce of his pantomime of strong but unenlightened monarch, Yeltsin involuntarily sacrificed his favorite team.
In Stockholm, at least, the Davis Cup will feel safe.
A RUSSIAN TRAGEDY IN THREE ACTS
On Saturday evening, Sweden won their fifth Davis Cup, but after a great battle of fifteen sets...
ACT1: Edberg beats Volkov.
Serving to perfection (eighteen aces: a remarkable total for him), Stefan Edberg flies to a 2 set to love lead after one hour and 10 minutes. In the first game of the third set, on 30-40, Volkov saves an almost match point "Goran style" with an ace on a second serve! Revived, enjoying a physical decline from the Swede, he takes the set to the tie-break (that he wins 7-2), wins seven games in a row, then makes an almost decisive break in the third game of the fifth set. Six games later, Volkov serves for the match, but on 40-40, it's Edberg who takes the risk, with a great accelerating backhand pushing his opponent to the mistake. And on 7-6, 15-40, the Swede takes his time to adjust a winning backhand lob. The match lasted three hours and thirty two minutes.
ACT 2: Larsson beats Kafelnikov.
Paralyzed by the situation, the Russian liquefies game after game. He would only score twenty-two points in two sets, accumulating unforced errors (fifty in the entire match!) and allowing Larsson to take off. In thirty-seven minutes, he leads 6-0, 6-2. But a disastrous second game (no first serve on five points) costs him the third set. In the fourth, Kafelnikov is intractable. On the momentum, he gets a break point in the third game of the final set. Larsson saves it with a serve, forehand and smash, and, in the following game, he jumps to his opponent's throat, with a running passing shot that forces "Kafel" to net his volley. He will not recover . The rubber lasted only two hours and eight minutes!
ACT 3: Apell-Bjorkman b. Kafelnikov-Olhovskiy.
The Russians start this last match very determined and get the first set at the tie-break (at the sixth set point), but a drop from a visibly tired Kafel allows the Swedes to get back in the match. Therefore, the it's all leveled up. Thanks to an explosive Bjorkman, the winners of the Masters fly in the second and third sets. But a double fault from Bjorkman himself, in the second game of the fourth, shakes the rubber up once again. The fifth set quickly gets on fire. On 2-2, Apell saves three break points (Kafel missing a difficult backhand volley on the third... ) and, at 7-6, a double fault by Olhovskly provides the match point for the Swedes. It is still a missed volley from Kafel (on forehand this time) that offers the Davis Cup to the "Sjögren 's boys" after two hours and thirty-seven minutes.
- Edberg: after me a robot-like tennis
- Davis Cup 1996 Official Yearbook Foreword
- A walk down Davis Cup memory lane
- Classic tie: Sweden 2-3 France, 1996
- Edberg the punisher
- Professors smashed
- Edberg beats Mecir and gives Sweden semifinal pass
- This time Edberg doesn't pair
- In a sea of grass Cash, Cash, Cash...