from Tennis Oggi
by Daniele Azzolini
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg during the trophy ceremony of the 1993 Australian Open final
The second triumph in a row by Jim Courier in Melbourne, taken with a display of great power and determination, gave the impression to have left a deep mark in the competitors. The "iron Yankee", in fact, seems destined to keep on growing.
“Ballshooter” Courier and “Grunting” Seles have in common the victories in Australia, the first place in the ranking, the power of their shots and the impatience of their opponents, now openly forced to ask themselves what they should do to beat them: address the Tibetan monks, to learn the secrets of the most fierce martial arts, or give them some poisonous brew. You know, being the first is hard, is equal to take a tough and unavoidable commitment with oneself. But being second is worse, because you’re not big enough or not as once. The first works twice as much, the second, if he doesn’t keep the pace, ends up on the psychologist's couch. So, since the ATP ranking was born, in 1973, the “number ones” have only been ten and when they have fallen, they have never recovered again, with rare exceptions.
All credit to Courier, therefore, for his ability to hold on at the top in a moment when more than one opponent would be ready to take his seat. Last year the triumph of the Yankee boy disguised as a red pepper, for the problems caused by the Australian sun on his skin, was welcomed as a variation on the theme, always possible in a weird sport as tennis is.
Jim Courier, moreover, had also collected sympathy from the opponents, for the little fair manners used for him by the local media: they had called him “Mister Nobody and, in the end, he had remarked it with bitterness: «How can you write now that your tournament can also be won by a Mister Nobody?».
This year “Nobody” was the favourite, and the Swedish community itself was convinced about it. Reached the final without losing a single set, and in front of an opponent crippled by a sciatica, there was no surprise in seeing him triumph for the second time in a row.
What impressed – in a hard more than beautiful match – was the easiness with which Courier dominated long parts of the final, mixing up an opponent who has in lucidity one of his better weapons. Only a lapse from Courier, in the third set, as if the sun and the heat had made him numb.
In front of such a powerful and determined display, the first impression was that of a victory destined to leave a deep mark in the competitors. The second, instead, is that Courier can still grow and lose that glaze of baseball fan and beer drinker nice guy from the American province.
He will have to learn to give a lighter weight to what the press write, for instance, because, since tennis is tennis, the number ones are aware of what they are worth and don’t need the media glamour to support them.
And keep on working, as he has been doing, on his not excellent, even if very solid, arsenal of shots. Maybe the guy is still all to discover. Surely he can be very humble and goes around saying that you never end learning in tennis. In the meantime, even if Edberg was less lucid – if not colder than usual – Courier confirmed to have found the right timing to return the Swede’s first serve.
If our impression should be confirmed, Edberg would face unexpectedly hard times. And it would be up to others (Sampras? Becker?) to take the role of official rivals. Becker, the real one we mean. Not the one seen in Australia, who lost in the first round against “Grandpa” Jarryd and then came to tell that he doesn’t like the Australian Open in January and would like them to be in March (and who knows if they won’t please him, since his suggestion will soon be presented by John Alexander at the ITF and ATP board). But Becker, as we now know, is a greatest champion of masochism. There are several ways to explain a defeat: through the numbers, through percentages of backhands ended just out and aces just missed or through a more difficult and careful examination of the emotiveness that rules our sensitivity and makes us more or less reactive, more or less positive or negative.
In Becker’s case, who managed in the not easy exploit to throw away a match he had dominated in Melbourne, his system of feelings looks like a labyrinth with no exit.
In the end, every now and then, our hero feels the need to give himself a share of slaps. To fix what? Maybe to fix his feeling self-righteous (because he is and doesn’t like it), his being enormously rich but leftist, his being a German who doesn’t feel comfortable in Germany, for instance. Hard to understand, you will say, and probably it’s like this.
And it would be even less if there wasn’t a curious inhabitant inside of us, our "double", so developed in Becker to suggest an extraordinary case of split personality. Probably there are two Boris Beckers and one does not appreciate much the other. He ended the year by winning the Masters in Frankfurt, has reopened the season beating Edberg and Ivanisevic in Doha, Qatar. Boris was in shape, and great favourite at the Australian Open. What better opportunity to give himself a public punishment? Champion of self-harm, then. How can he?
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- Courier despite Edberg
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