from Times Online
by Andrew Longmore
Stefan Edberg with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2006 French Open ceremony
Another nice memory of Edberg-Becker rivalry in Stefan's words was published two weeks ago by the Times Online.
Stefan Edberg can remember the feeling of elation and apprehension every time he played Boris Becker in a Wimbledon final. If his game was a beat off its best, Becker could roll right over him, but the understanding seemed to sharpen his own competitive senses. The Swede won two of their three successive finals on Centre Court and three of their four meetings in Grand Slams, against the prevailing trend which saw the German win 25 of their 35 career head-to-heads.
It is a significant statistic: Edberg, as diffident as Becker was extrovert, needed the extra incentive of a Grand Slam to summon his elegant, incisive best. “It was always a challenge playing Boris anywhere, but particularly on Centre Court,” recalls the Swede. “But it was also a worry. I know it shouldn’t have been, but he was more of a confident person than I was; sometimes believing in yourself can be very hard.”
Edberg’s self-belief was strong enough to withstand the considerable force of Becker’s serve and ground strokes in 1988 and 1990, but his worst fears were realised in the middle match of their trilogy. The 6-0 7-6 6-4 defeat still haunts him, just as the 6-1 6-3 6-0 drubbing inflicted by Rafael Nadal in Paris will be both motivating and intimidating for Roger Federer today.
“I knew Boris' game pretty well and he knew mine even better, I think,” said the 42-year-old. “I always felt concerned playing Boris because I knew I had to serve well. My serve was the key factor in our matches. Once he got ahead and confident he was very tough to break down, but if I could hang on and stay with him I knew he would get frustrated with himself. His mood was his weakness.
“Rafa and Roger will know each other’s games pretty well too. For me, the difference is that back in the late eighties when Boris and I were playing finals, there were plenty of other good grass-court players around - Pete Sampras was coming through, Lendl, Cash and McEnroe - whereas Nadal and Federer are pretty much cruising through the field, so they’re expecting to meet each other. We couldn’t afford to look ahead too much or you’d get beaten. But you still wanted to know how the other one was playing. You got a sense of it going into the tournament.”
Like Nadal and Federer, Becker and Edberg were respectful opponents rather than close friends. They were similar players, too similar to enjoy great matches because it was impossible for both to play their best at the same time, but very different people. “I’m a little more laid-back,” says Edberg.
Edberg follows his old rival’s career through the television or the news pages, having retired back to the Swedish countryside with his family. Becker played an intimate part in the narrative of his own career and Edberg reflects with pride on their three finals. Mostly, though, he remembers his two Wimbledon titles. As for today, he sides with Federer, with artistry over energy. Anything else would be a betrayal.
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