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"It has been my choice, I just felt I should do it. And do you know why? I didn't want to stay all day on a court to hit balls" - Stefan Edberg on how he started playing serve and volley. Read the interview

Unbeatable number two

An article from: La Repubblica
by Gianni Clerici

In Stockholm Edberg lost badly, what a liar the ATP ranking...

Becker, the real king

STOCKHOLM. "Clerici, is that the world champion?". The unknown Lombard coming from my same city had come next to me at my TV desk, as I ended commentating Stefan Edberg's mournful performance.

Little Stefan laid down as a broken toy, it took little fantasy to imagine, around him, springs and screws, batteries and transistors. His face, at times radiant, reminded once more Stan Laurel's generous expression, in the moments when he is a victim of Oliver Hardy's abuses.

Compared to him, the hopping and bursting with joy Becker really looked like the descendant of another race.

I would try to explain to my fellow countryman that Scandinavians are different people from us and from the others. Not only that passive impassibility proves it, but also the crowd's reaction, a lukewarm applause without a whistle or a protest.

Just think of what could happen in Italy. Think of the whistles, the verbal obscenities, maybe a coin throw. The pale and good people from this place, instead, just clapped their hands for Becker, but ended up with a warm applause when the speaker announced that little Stefan Edberg is still world number one.

To explain how this can happen would require Rino Tommasi's statistical knowledge, and a great patience from me as well as from the readers. Searching though the records, we find that this year Boris Becker beat Stefan Edberg three times out of four, we learn that, during their careers, the German won almost twice as much in the head-to-heads, 17 matches to 9. If we were talking of boxers or even sprinters, there would be no question.

With tennis rankings, though, especially current ones, not only the points gained this season count: who plays more, wins more, a reward not only to dedication, but also to a system that is so much based on the presence of top-players in tournaments, to legalize, from this year on, the engagements that were unlawful until 1989. Not only the quantity matters, but also the tournaments quality, the quality of the opponents beaten, the discard of points gained in badly played tournaments, out of the compulsory four.

In this well organized confusion, Little Stefan Edberg keeps leading the race on Boris Becker, who still leads in the head-to-heads. Becker, it must be said, has been playing better than his opponent for about three weeks. In the latest tournaments, in fact, while Little Stefan's Apollonian legs seem to be poisoned, Boris' strong stumps seem to be filled with kerosene or, if you prefer, with sparkling champagne.

Beyond the advantage of a higher freshness, Boris had on his side the carpet, his favourite surface, and the very fast Slazengers. The IBM machine that recorded serves speed often indicated more than 190 kms per hour when Becker served. Little Stefan was discouragingly imprecise and rarely overtook 170 kms per hour. But the rivalry between the two can't be reduced to a comparison of speeds. Boris Becker stated it, and this can be enough for all those journalists who crowd the press conferences and keep on asking the champions foolish questions.

The story is a little more complex, and the key point in the head-to-heads between the two must be placed in the return, that Becker now plays very refinedly. Until a few months ago, the last Wimbledon, Boris persisted in playing the flat backhand on every serve by the Swede, ending up to throw out many balls hit too late due to the wide drive. Now Becker uses his racquet almost as Ken Rosewall's fatal weapon, even if his power hides this important detail. A not fit guy like today's Stefan struggles to repeat tiring bows and ends up very weary.

It's true that on Sunday Becker lost only six points out of fifty on his rounds of serve. But it's also true that, after fifty minutes of flexions Edberg had heavy legs, and ended up to wreck.

Edberg is still 147 points ahead and, like a chased pink-jersey, faces the last two peaks on the Dolomites with a little gap. Healthy and willing, though, Boris stays at his wheel and looks ready to overtake him. We'll see this week in Bercy, and, at the end, in Frankfurt Masters, that this year replaces the Madison Square Garden event. We'll see, but we shouldn't forget the gooseberry, who was punished for his diabolic desire to win Wimbledon and for the too few matches played: Ivan Lendl.

Stockholm final: Becker b. Edberg 6-4, 6-0, 6-3

Unbeatable number two

 

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