from Tennis Magazine (issue of August 1988)
by Guy Barbier
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
New Wimbledon champion, Stefan Edberg can do just about everything on a tennis court. But, most of all, he owns a gift of backhand, a tremendously effective shot, from the baseline as much as on the volley. A shot that has still been his n. 1 weapon in his victory against Boris Becker, who, on the other hand, suffered on "his" Centre Court a setback of fortune that he didn't expect. And it was a delighted Wimbledon that fell in love with Stefan Edberg and wholeheartedly shared his crazy happiness.
He holds the golden trophy in his hands. But his head says "no". And his lips say "I can not believe it". Edberg's happiness. Edberg's smile. His quiet pride and typical modesty. All the Wimbledon Centre Court has been under the spell of the slender attacker from Sweden, whose apparent sweetness after the victory has almost made people forget that he has smashed Boris Becker in four sets: 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
The joy from Stefan Edberg, the first Swede to win the singles title in Wimbledon since Borg's last victory in 1980, was well calculated to warm all hearts, starting with those spectators who braved the challenge of rain to follow a final which ended on Monday and after three episodes: the first of 22 minutes on Sunday, the second of 16 minutes followed, 90 minutes later, by the third and last, two hours and fifteen minutes long.
You can easily imagine the suffering of our two finalists for this fragmentation of the biggest event of the year. The waiting hours in the locker rooms, plus a night not being able to stop thinking about the miserable early five games played.
And it is in this context of perfect war of nerves, against probably the most formidable opponent on grass, that the one whose fighting and champion qualities we still put in doubt here and there has revealed - and by far - the most solid.
His fight against Becker proved he is, with the "real" McEnroe, the best server and volleyer in the world. But he also made some progress on return, as Becker forgot his slice serve, committing too often the error of using it on his backhand, Edberg's magical side, which cost him only two or three real errors throughout the match.
Mentally, this first triumph at Wimbledon, in addition to his two wins in Australia, definitively proved that Edberg has the size of these monuments out there, that his time has come at the age of 22, he, the former winner of the Junior Grand Slam who gently, but firmly, raised to the second place in the world.
"I'm mentally stronger than he is", Becker had had the imprudence of saying before the final, probably referring to their "head-to-head" record (9-4 for Becker before Wimbledon) and his recent victory against the same opponent in the Queen's Club final, their only meeting on grass as professionals. This statement was fatal to Becker: it was him who mentally broke down after losing the second set tiebreak, Edberg didn't choke, but a little when he served for the match. "Yes, it is hard, to serve for the title", later the Swede recognized peacefully.
It is true that, in the semifinals, Edberg had given all the evidence of his moral strenght by coming from a two sets deficit against Miloslav Mecir. But in fact, he had to fight at every round, apart from his fourth match against Australia's Youl. Forget, Reneberg, Flach, Kuhnen all took a set away from him before Mecir. And we have to admit that that Edberg was the logical extension of an until then halftone season. Beaten by Wilander in the semifinals in Australia, by Perez-Roldan at the fourth round of the French Open, beaten again in three finals (by Becker in Dallas and at the Queen's and by McEnroe in Tokyo), he had only won Rotterdam (against... Mecir) and his best win was still the fifth decisive match he won in the Davis Cup quarter final 9-7 in the fifth set (after leading 4-1) against... Mecir!
But Wimbledon - he said after winning - was for him and his coach Tony Pickard, the major target and Edberg didn't want to miss it like in last year's semifinal against Lendl. This time he nailed it, and it was Becker who paid the price.
In stark contrast, Boris Becker came to London seeded n. 6. He was the favourite in the final. If he had not, by hurry, missed three match points in the tiebreak against Lendl in the semi-final, he would have reached the end of his course without losing any set. Winner earlier in Indian Wells, Dallas and Queen's, and motivated by his failure last year at Wimbledon against Doohan in the 2nd round, Becker seemed better armed this time to win his third title at the All England Club.
His victories against Cash and Lendl were impressive. However, Becker would lose for the first time in his career on Wimbledon Centre Court and also for the first time in this event a match in which he had won the first set.
It is clear that Becker committed serious misconduct not taking Edberg seriously enough. He also implicitly recognized it later making this strange statement: "I had got something else to do with my half of the draw, than think of Edberg as a possible opponent in the final. I beat Cash, the defending champion. And Lendl, the world No. 1. I almost wondered why I still had to play a match!".
Unfortunately for him, this match was the one who counted most - the final. His two matches against Cash and Lendl certainly weighed at the end for the physical and mental energies that costed him. But the reasons for Boris' failure - maybe as much as Edberg's backhand volley - is this serious disease for a champion called superiority complex.
It may be that this problem, coupled with the fact that he arrived in London this year with the rage in the belly, full of wish for revenge, that explains a behavior in which anger is always present when an opponent tries to resist him. Boris had better keep such a temptation away, if he wants to resume, at 20, the path of his great success.
Together with a partly thoughtless if not selfish, attitude (as discussing with a linesman while Lendl was about to serve to save a match point) that could pass for anti-sports behavior, a charge already carried by some players (including Cash and Edberg...) and relayed by the British press, that Boris does not deserve - a priori.
Anyway, this Wimbledon final has pitted the top two specialists of grasscourts of the moment. Ivan Lendl, as we know, can not claim to borrow traces of these gardener feet. But he did play the last two finals and he was still there in the semifinals this year, against Boris Becker.
If Wilander had been a "survivor" at Roland Garros, Lendl then was a "living dead" on the lawn of Church Road. His path was arduous, chaotic... and courageous. In the second round, Cahill took him a set, then Schapers pushed him to the fifth. It was then Woodforde who had match point at 8/7 in the 5th (Ivan saved it with an impeccable serve and volley) and who bowed at 10-8 in the fifth set. All this before
Lendl found his old rival Mayotte that he had beaten 11 times in the past 11 (including three on grass) and over which he exercises a radical psychological hold. And if their quarter final had two tie-breaks, Lendl safely won them 7-2 and 7-1: in 10 tiebreaks played to date between the two men, Mayotte was never able to win one.
Boris Becker, we have seen how, ended the suspension of this sentenced. But not without difficulty, at the 9th match point and under circumstances that might suggest that Lendl was protected by Gods, he looked as detached from his own fate, as events inevitably turned in his favor, in a sort of heavenly recognition applying to an almost touching obstinacy, bordering on mortification.
The big bandage that Lendl wore on his left thigh in the second part of this semifinal accentuated this impression. Like in Roland Garros, the world N. 1 is out of Wimbledon accompanied by a medical report. After the right pectoral in Paris, it was the "vastus médialis" in London. No luck, really, even if Ivan attributed his defeat - more than to his injury - to Becker's power and especially to the grasscourt, the source of all the suffering for him.
"My game, he stressed again, is based on power shots from the baseline. On hardcourts, I will put the opponent at the net out of position. On grass, it is impossible. I don't have time to adjust my shots and the rebound is too irregular to consider to remain at the bottom". So nothing new on the horizon for Lendl, on the grass even if in one match (against Mayotte), he seemed to be comfortable on this surface. What is new, however, was his chronic lack of success this season on special occasions. Beaten in the semi-finals in Australia, in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and at the semi in Wimbledon, Lendl has therefore not yet played one Grand Slam final in 1988. We must go back to 1980 to see Lendl absent from all major finals. He is always by the numbers, the world No. 1, his lead is comfortable but it is shrinking. And in fact, today, the king is naked. Monte-Carlo and Rome are his only victories. And if he fails to keep his title at the U. S. Open on his favourite surface, Flushing Meadows, it could look like a change of reign, as was the case in 1984... when Ivan sat on the throne of the world at the expense of McEnroe.
It turns out that one of his pursuers is Czech like him, he has also reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon without the benefit (not more) of all his physical potential: Miloslav Mecir. This devil with a poisonous game was actually the most surprising member of the last four. Out of competition since last April (eliminated in the 3rd round of the Japan Open by Matsuoka) due to a new back injury (he had previously undergone surgery for a herniated disc like Leconte) Mecir could hardly see his ambitions here, on this which is not his natural surface.
But round after round Volkov, Acuna, Masur were dismissed on tiptoe, with languid shots and Mecir, still sporting a protection belt under his shirt, put out the perfect match to defeat Wilander in 3 sets and hold Edberg after his racket. Since a long time it is known that Mecir has got the art of making his opponents look like distracted or dizzy, since they are always found where
the ball is not. But to reach the semi-finals in Wimbledon (where he had been a quarter-finalist in 1986) after such a long rest and some fishing in Czechoslovakia is a tremendous achievement, at the extent of the character.
Above all, he will remain the one who stopped Mats Wilander halfway on the road to Grand Slam. Winner of the Australian Open and Roland Garros, Wilander approached his dangerous obstacle at Wimbledon where he had never gone beyond quarter finals (1987). After three warm-up rounds, passed without losing a set, the danger materialized for him in "Bobo" Zivojinovic's impressive form, who went so close to beating him 15 days earlier at Roland Garros and who eliminated him from Wimbledon in 1985.
To everyone's surprise, Wilander, passed in 3 sets on the body of the Yugoslav colossus not yielding an inch of ground in front of his attacks and by controlling the opponent's terrible serve. He still needed three steps to continue his dream, but he stumbled on the first in the quarters, facing what remains his nemesis: Mecir. He had already beaten him six times out of 10 in the past, the latest - cruel memory for Mats - in Davis Cup in Norrkoeping. But they had never played on grass and Mats realized that, on this surface, Mecir was even more diabolical.
Seven games only in three sets, it was an execution that almost made Wilander look resigned. Actually, he would admit, Mats still doesn't know how to prepare - mentally especially - to face Mecir. "While I perfectly know how dangerous he is, it worried me less than Zivojinovic. I thought I had a better chance against him on grass". Reality was cruel. Wilander lacks the power to prevent Mecir from handling the rally as he likes. However for Mats remains the goal of the US Open, the "Small Slam" performance to emulate what Jimmy Connors did in 1974.
The other big beaten of the quarterfinals, Pat Cash, didn't lack power, but came across someone more powerful than him - Boris Becker. Their confrontation was brutal, ruthless and fast.
The double Wimbledon champion against the defending champion, there was enough to make a beautiful final poster and this is one of those that can be expected in the future. Becker came out the great winner, in three sets. But Cash, who had a 5 sets alert at the second round against Argentine Frana, who played in Wimbledon for the first time, did not play this year the destroying tennis of his last season. The determination was the same, the band was checkered well in his place, but it was not quite the same player and Cash - who was beaten at the 3rd round of the Queen's by Cahill - was the first to admit it: "My game has not developed. No consistency in returns and I do not play well in the important moments. It was like that since the beginning of the tournament". All said with red wig on the head in the press conference to parody Boris Becker who didn't like it that much.
Several other matches rocked Wimbledon this year - including those played by McEnroe (but there were only two) and Jimmy Connors, 35, eliminated 6-3 in the fifth set in the second round on the Court No. 2 by German Patrick Kuhnen. This Kuhnen, 22, with his brutal and aggressive play, was the sixth player in his country and 90th in the world before the tournament, and so held the role of only "unseeded" player in the quarter finals.
Connors, in the previous round, had delivered another of his legendary fights against his young compatriot Derrick Rostagno, winning 7-5 in the fifth after being led two sets to one...
But room had to be made for the young, as we have seen. Edberg, as he repeated, is not keen to become a star, like one of those glorious former, or like... Boris Becker. He would continue to walk around the streets of London - where he lives - without being disturbed. "After winning Wimbledon, this may be more difficult, he recognized. I admit that some things may change". Before adding, with a little killer smile: "But I will remain Swedish, and that nobody can change!".
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