Stefan Edberg with Miloslav Mecir, Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert at the final ceremony of the 1988 Olympics tennis singles event (picture contributed by Martina Frammartino)
"Big Cat" put his hands on the gold in the tennis competition: the last challenge against Mayotte
The Viking loses his temper, Mecir reaches the final
SEOUL. The difference between Wimbledon and today, whispered to me Big Cat Mecir as he went to the showers, is that I didn't have the waistcoat. With Big Cat you never know. His satisfied voice could be deceitful.
Waistcoat or not, Big Cat took a big revenge of the matches lost this season against Stefan Edberg. Two matches in which he had always been up a break in the fifth set: 4-1 in Davis Cup in Norkoepping, 3-1 in the Wimbledon semifinal. I didn't see the Davis Cup match, but believe me when I say that, on grass, Big Cat had given up especially for weariness.
Problems to two vertebrae had kept him out of competitions for two months, had forced him to train in the swimming pool, which is not the best to prepare a five set match. On the Seoul fast court, under an autumn sun, in the breeze, Big Cat reached the fifth set in very good health.
In the two previous hours, the match had twice changed owner, Edberg and Mecir had almost never managed to play well at the same time. Edberg had been unreachable in the first and, most of all, in the third set.
When the serve works, and he has a first serve percentage of 60-70, only an anti-tank could stop the run of that Viking armoured car. Some unforced errors by the Cat had been enough to give the storming Edberg the first and the third set.
A superficial spectator could consider the 0-6 suffered in the second a moment of distraction, a break for one who feels too self-confident. Stefan's serve, instead, had stumbled in that set, and the gears would start to screech again in the fourth.
Edberg, who brings the ball to the left of his blond hair to allow the terrible compound forward and side rotation, tried the ball toss again and again. He tried, looked at the flags that the wind stuck against the sky as stamps, but that extraordinary serve of his went up and down, especially from the start of the fourth set on.
In the first three games of that set, Stefan would leave twice his serve in the Cat's nails, who, if once lost his as well, immediately caught up, and played with an admirable consistency for such a fast match.
Big Cat also realized that it was a little too much to expect to beat Edberg only playing on the rhythm, and we saw him follow more frequently his very deep shots. Edberg risked to suffer a break in the first game. He saved himself and hung on 'till the fifth game.
In the sixth, on the break point for Mecir, Edberg stretched to graze the big backhand crosscourt passing, deciding to leave it at the end. The Korean line judge put his head down and joined his hands as a small soldier, nodding. The Swiss chair umpire Marco Grether looked more neutral than the Red Cross.
In his Swedish very polite way, Edberg protested vividly, but his considerations didn't give him the point back, and, instead, made him lose his calm. He now tried to close the rallies with pure power, did this his way angry Edberg, and suffered an incredible negative raw of 14 points to one.
Big Cat closed after 2 hours and 40, as coming from a practice session, he who had played a terrible five set doubles match the day before.
Was it a surprise? Not so much, if we look at the score of the two previous matches, in Wimbledon and Davis Cup. Mecir's great merit was deleting the damages of those two matches he could have won, and that he had wasted instead. Now Mecir has already won three quarters of the gold medal. In the final he'll find the American Mayotte, who overcame compatriot Gilbert.