Stefan Edberg with the 1989 New York Masters trophy
I've been such a poor tennis player not to pass the first round in Wimbledon, but I was so lucky to meet five guys who had reached the world number one spot. So I was pretty sure that Becker would win the Masters final, if this was a short final.
In a long, tight match, Edberg, instead, would very probably prevail. In fact, Becker was at the end of an almost triumphal season, in which he had won Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, and most of all, disproved the legend of his inaptitude to clay, grazing Paris final.
During the eve and the first four days of the Masters, Boris had been bothered by the media, determined to invent a head-to-head between him and Lendl for the world number one. Just like Becker, Lendl knew very well that the title of World Champion given by the Its (International Federation) would go to the German.
That's what happened yesterday. Nevertheless, with remarkable dialectic ability, Ivan didn't miss the chance to remind he had won ten tournaments, included the Australian Open. The tennis players' association computers gave him at the first place. Winning the Masters, thought Lendl, there were reasonable doubts on the attribution of the world title to Becker.
Instinctive, but also able to reflect, Becker had wasted energy and patience in reminding a group of unpracticed journalists that two Slam titles have always been enough to gain the world title.
Boris had been bothered on the court as well, risking as usual against his bugbear, that Gilbert who had beaten him four times out of five. Gone through this hurdle, Becker had unleashed himself, and had put out for k.o. not only Little Andrew Agassi, but even a Stefan Edberg who was still playing a good tennis.
Only a few fans, at this point, thought there was a risk not to assist to a final between Becker and a Lendl at least as fit as the German. The first, in fact, easily beat John McEnroe, but, at the second semifinal, here's the surprise.
A strangely slow Lendl couldn't keep Edberg behind, and was clearly beaten, leaving under the shower his arguments about the world number one. Boris, already through to the final, took a breath of relief not to have Lendl as opponent.
He couldn't be involved in arguments on the first place any longer. So Boris faced the match against Edberg as a good professional, but with no bigger determination than for an exhibition match.
Actually, the money difference between winning and losing the Masters was just 150 thousand dollars, an amount that Boris receives for a gala night in Germany. But it's now acknowledged that tennis champions are too rich to let money matter more than pride, so the motivation of those 200 million liras more or less fall.
Of course the primitive desire of prevailing on the rival remained, but at the same time there was inside Becker a feeling of infringed sport justice: "I've already beaten Edberg the day before yesterday. In any other tournament I wouldn't have to face him again". And I stop here, or my explanation would look like a defense of Becker, who certainly doesn't need it. I just tried to understand why a big boy in wonderful tennis shape and in very good health, quits the fight after the first problems, at the come-back of an until then dominated opponent.
A friend of Becker's said to me: "On the set point for him, in the second set, Boris thought he would be four sets to love up, counting the two in the Round Robin. And still this wasn't enough to win".
Of course, this can be understood because these guys aren't still robots, after all. But it can't be understood how a guy who was elected world champion quits the match at the start of the third set, using a too severe warning by the umpire as an alibi to consider himself deprived.
Becker knew since the day of his qualification for the Masters that the formula of this competition was unfair, against the rules of tennis. It's his fault not to have accepted the consequences, which allow an already beaten player to win the tournament: the biggest injustice in tennis.
After this, it looks like also Edberg deserved a bit of luck, in a decidedly unlucky year. He got injured during the Australian Open, when he was running for the title. He had missed an incredible row of ten break points to beat Chang in Paris.
And, in the end, he had totally missed the decisive match in Wimbledon against Becker. An upset after the other, with his record in the 1989 finals going down to six defeats and one only victory. Stefan succeeded in an incredible exploit, that of beating in two consecutive nights the number one and the number two in the world.
Tommasi reminds that only the young McEnroe could do this double, beating Connors and Borg in the WCT finals in 1979. Next year, if God wants, we'll find ourselves in Germany. Let's hope the players, today owners of themselves, will finally adopt a straight-elimination-formula. In tennis, the play-offs really don't work.