from Real Clear Sports.com
by Tim Joyce
Stefan Edberg on court against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
For a few seconds, just an instant, I thought I was suspended in the most powerful, lucid dream I had yet experienced. And it occurred in the filtered winter light of day.
It was late Friday morning, and I had turned on the Tennis Channel to view the semifinal matches from the Qatar Open in Doha, one of several tournaments that kick off the calendar year in advance of the Australian Open. Though it's only a 250 event, meaning the least important from the standpoint of ranking points a player can accumulate, the field is always strong. This year was no exception, as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were in the draw.
The semifinal matchups promised to be entertaining, with Federer taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man who defeated him on his beloved Wimbledon grass last summer, and Nadal playing athletic if erratic Frenchman Gael Monfils.
I had tuned in slightly late and anticipated joining the Federer-Tsonga semi late in the first set. Sure enough, the first image I saw was that of Tsonga preparing to return serve.
It was after the camera pulled back to show the full court when it happened. It was as if I had been sent spiraling into some vortex in time. I heard the announcer say "Edberg," and indeed, when I squinted I could see "Edberg" written in the score line. Even more unusual was that the figure sprinting across the screen looked indeed like Stefan Edberg, the Swedish tennis legend who retired 16 years ago. I immediately walked closer to the TV.
Yes, it was definitely him. For the sports fan, especially in tennis, the implanted memories of the graceful athlete's movements are fixed in time. No one has ever used such a pronounced twist of the back on the serve, and no player today uses such a high ball toss. And surely no top player in the men's game now has such a weak forehand. But how, why was he on the court?
Must be a rain delay, I thought, and they're showing an exhibition. But it doesn't rain in the desert, and there was that "Live" icon in the upper corner of the TV screen and the sponsor signage clearly indicating this was Qatar.
So what gives? Is this for real? Because from those initial glimpses of my tennis-watching past suddenly kinetically alive, it appeared that Edberg was holding his own against Tsonga. He was knifing volleys to all angles of the court, putting balls out of reach of the speedy Tsonga, just as he had done against Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras decades ago.
After a few minutes of this I started to get frustrated that the announcers weren't in constant-update mode and telling the viewers why Edberg, who looks eerily similar to the way he did in the early 1990s when he was at his peak, was on the court. Where was Federer?
When the first set ended 7-5, the players shook hands at the net, and this "match" was obviously over. Finally, it was explained that Federer had withdrawn at the last moment with a bad back and didn't want to jeopardize his chances in Australia. So Edberg, who was in Doha, volunteered to play Tsonga, serving as practice more than anything.
Though he's 46, Edberg moved with such precision and attacked with a focused, quiet aggression that it leaves one to wonder why more players don't attempt to occasionally institute this strategy more often. Granted, Tsonga was playing at only about 75 percent, but Edberg held his own in those rallies that seemed genuine.
It was all too rational an explanation. I wanted there to be some odder reason for seeing Edberg play. I had been transported back in time and didn't feel like being brought back to the present just yet.
The main reason I felt this sudden disappointment at it being over was that it was so refreshing to see Edberg's unique game against a current top player. The serve-and-volley is a vanished art, and no one in the open era - not even John McEnroe or Sampras - played this style of game with the elegance and precision of Edberg.
Sports fans have always engaged in the parlor game of "I wish I had seen so-and-so from the past take on the current No. 1." And sometimes it nearly comes true. In 2008, Federer played Sampras in a series of exhibitions that were as good as one can expect from a retired player, as Sampras was. After watching those contests at the height of Federer mania, when so many were declaring him the best of all time, Sampras' high level of play left some reconsidering their earlier assessments.
But seeing Edberg was different. It was so unexpected, so hazily dreamy that it made the occasion somehow more special. So special, in fact, that I don't remember much of Monfils' upset of Nadal in the other semifinal.
I've said for some time that men's tennis is in the midst of a golden age, anchored by the exhilarating rivalry between Federer and Nadal in addition to current No. 1 Novak Djokovic. I consider myself lucky to have witnessed hundreds of matches up close the last 10 years. But sometimes it's reassuring to get a visit from out of the past and have memories seared into the subconscious come to life one more time.
- Federer loses final to Tsonga but makes Edberg proud
- Doha 2012 - Stefan Edberg vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (full match)
- Doha 2012 - Ceremony with the past champions of the Qatar Open
- Doha 2012 - Stefan Edberg vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
- Doha 2012 - Stefan Edberg vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (highlights filmed with smartphone)
- Ivanisevic Thrashes Edberg In 'Best Ever Match'
- The gang from Växjö on a roll at Kings of Tennis
- All is ready for the Kings of Tennis
- Tennis Classics will be held in St. Wendel
- Champions tennis is real tennis
- The match nobody expected...
- Zurich Open: Edberg and Cash will be there
- Navratilova to join Edberg in Halle exhibition
- Edberg to play in Halle next June
- Tennis Classics postponed to 11 March