from Nuovo Tennis
by Roberto Lombardi
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg's US Open victory, cheering lovers of classic tennis also because obtained against another wonderful exponent of this style of play, has made justice about the fighting qualities of a player often considered not a model of combativeness
26 years old, at the top of his mental and physical maturity, Edberg dared winning three consecutive matches on the long distance in which he had to recover a break of deficit in the deciding set, coming out at the right time against opponents like Chang and Lendl who make of endurance and fighting spirit their peculiarities.
"The match against Chang was definitely the hardest because I found myself down 0-3 in the fifth and 15-40 on serve and again down 2-4," said the Swede after the final victory, retracing the steps of his feat.
Against the Sino-American Edberg has undergone as many as 54 winning points with rebound shots, mostly returns and passing, but he was able to maintain about the 60% of conversion on his net attacks, a remarkable percentage against a returner and passer like Chang.
Moreover, the effectiveness at the net was the key to his victory as the distinguishing feature of his game. Overall, throughout the tournament he came to the net 981 times getting about 66% of the points. In the last edition of the tournament he had had a difficult start, this year "in the first week I played better because I found confidence with the victory in New Haven."
But he did his masterpiece with the marathon victories. "To win a tough match helped me a lot because I had to stay on court a long time and find confidence," he said after the first of the risky victories against Richard Kraijcek.
Against the tall Dutchman he had lost the two previous head-to-heads, so he had the exact perception of how difficult the match would be, even though "I know it will be tough but I already look way ahead of this meeting," he said on the eve of the match against one of the "enfants terribles" of '71.
So there was not pre-tactics in his statements from which an awareness emerges of his own strength, of the consistency of his game. Against Edberg's percentage tennis everybody's ambitions were dashed, beginning with Ivan Lendl against whom the Swede had started to show the problems with his serve (8 double faults) then culminated in a disastrous performance in the match with Michael Chang (no fewer than 18 double faults).
But with Lendl he was saved by his courage to take the net straight after the return and by a positive balance of 70% overall on net attacks. And even in the solution of the problems at his bad serve, that has never been good enough this season, is a large part of the victory.
Edberg is not a player able to get a large number of straight points out of his serve, but the consistency and depth of his groundstrokes allowed him to take the net with considerable chances of winning the point with the following volleys. If the service action does not work, especially if there's no coordination between the arm swing and the ball toss, it will be a problem for him to be as fast as possible on his way forward. The result was 18 double faults against Chang, some of those committed to try and weaken the qualities of the returner.
In an attempt to change his move a bit, looking for a faster speed, he had lost coordination in his action and good for him that he was able to find the necessary fluidity in the final. "I lowered a little the ball toss, not much, but I had to do something after yesterday's double faults," he said, forgetting to point out that not only he had committed just five double faults in the final, but also that he had been managed to compete in terms of straight points on serve against an opponent usually capable of getting a considerable revenue out of that shot (8 aces against Sampras' 10) .
With the victory he also returned in possession of the first position in the ranking. But it was not important to him. "It's more important to win the tournament than become number one. Besides, I have come here to confirm last year's title." The victory, his sixth in a Grand Slam event (2 titles for each Major, but Paris) establishes a sort of new found compatibility with the tournament, in which, before last year's victory, he had done little, often defeated by largely weaker opponents. The Swede lives in London, a city he deeply loves and whose sweeter rhythms are still compatible with his peaceful character.
To get used to the Big Apple he needed to reach maturity. He has comprehended his need to stay away from the bustle of Manhattan to which he preferred Long Island. He learned to manage his feelings, especially letting himself go to some gesture of healthy competitive attitude that have surely been appreciated, however, within an elegance of behavior, by the New York audience, inclined to approve demonstrations by showmen like Connors and McEnroe.
Watch out, the Swede hasn't suddenly become a clown, indeed, only while maintaining an overall composure, he learned to express his anger with little outward signs.
It is as if it had a therapeutic effect because, while crediting him of finalizer skills in important occasions, we had never seen him solve such a sequence of so difficult and complicated matches.
So he brilliantly saves a season in which he had only scored two victories before the Open, one of which even on the clay of Hamburg.
Speaking of his pupil coach Tony Pickard gave his version of his psychological problems. He talked about Stefan's inability to make decisions, perhaps alluding to the fact that Annette, his wife somehow had become mistress of his life.
It was not very generous of his coach to denounce private causes in the decline of the player's performance, especially knowing him. The change needed to be digested a bit. Although in fact his life had not changed, psychologically the burden was different. Stefan needed time to take counter-measures, a little as he did with the Big Apple.
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