by Stefano Semeraro
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
With Sampras and Stich immediately out, Ivanisevic with a flu, in Qatar Edberg's star shines. Finally fit again, the Swede now launches the challenge to the young lions for 94...
DOHA. On the Sunday of the final our Arabic friends breathed a sigh of relief. Last year they had opened their nice tournament with a blockbuster: Becker, Edberg, Ivanisevic and Cherkasov - the first four seeds - in the semifinals, Boris the Sheikh the champion.
This year Stich and Sampras lost in the first two rounds and they were in danger of finding themselves with Haarhuis and Schaller in the big match, two respectable players which, however, do not make audience, and do not reward, in terms of advertising, so much money and good will profused by the organizers.
Needless to explain them - still not used to the pitfalls of the professional "grand tour" - that many big players primarily use the beginning of the season to dispose of rust and regain confidence with carpets and outdoor rebounds, and in today's tennis "upsets" are just a daily business. The excellent Qatari only succeeded to relax in their dish-dash, the long always incredibly candid shirts, when they saw Edberg raise the cup after a dazzling performance of old, dear, elegant serve & volley on the center court of the Khalifa Stadium.
The accidental tourist
Pete Sampras arrived in Doha on Sunday night, after an exhausting flight from London, preceded by a week of relax on the golf course of Florida. Ali Al Fardan, Chairman of the Qatar Federtennis, went to welcome him at the airport. To have four of the top ten players in the world he had laid a million dollars on the table, a large chunk of which ended up in Pistol Pete's pocket (400,000 dollars, ensure good sources, the rest being divided among Edberg: 200,000, Stich: 300,000, and Ivanisevic, 100,000).
The world number one made his debut on Tuesday night against qualified Alami, but the humidity come after the sunset - about 95% - soon turned the rebound ace of the centre court into a pond (it has happened for two consecutive nights), forcing the supervisor to suspend the match on 3-1 for the American in the first set.
The next day the match was resumed under the sun but Sampras was not able to find inspiration. Inaccurate, lazy, little brilliant, after exploiting the accumulated advantage to close the first set, Pete was harnessed in the wise mix of rallies and attacks by the Moroccan. A break up early in the second set, Sampras lost his serve twice (on 2-2 and 4-2 for Alami). A double fault costed him the set, and again he found himself up in the third set, again he was rejoined. On 5-4 for Alami he has finally served a disastrous game concluded, on 15-40, by a forehand approach sunk in the net.
"Maybe I should have come earlier, but it is easy to say now," Sampras admitted at the end of the match with the smile of a sleepy macaque. Then he also shamefully "dissolved" in the doubles, disappointing his partner Stefan Edberg who did everything possible to save the match.
Two days after, the phenomenon even managed to irritate his generous hosts, who had prepared for him a jeep tour in the desert with a big TV crew. At the very last moment, when the large group had been waiting for him for an hour in the dunes, Pete announced that he and his girlfriend Delayna didn't feel like coming, and he closed himself in his room.
Unfortunately there is not even any misunderstanding stardom, but the empty character and education of a big champion who proves that - no matter if he finds himself in Paris, Doha or Cleveland - the only thing he can appreciate off the court is the quality of the room service.
From the number one ranking, first tennis ambassador around the world, it would be reasonable to expect something more.
Better than him has behaved Michael Stich. The "Master" came from a long rest, after the Davis Cup he had not actually held the racket. On the court, first he demolished Frenchman Stefan Simian, then struggled with little success against a tough day and the inspiration of Ronald Agenor, the 29 year-old Haitian, number 58 ATP, who, against the German champion, nailed his best game for a couple of years now.
«I have a kind of game that bothers Stich - explained the nice Ronald, who fluently speaks eight languages, including Swahili and Arab - I do not allow him to attack and I don't come to the net so he doesn't have opportunities to pass me». It sounds easy, but then Agenor, like Alami, failed the confirmation test. While the Moroccan has surrendered to a very determined Haarhuis («After the win against Sampras I was hardly able to sleep, I was excited, everybody called me from Morocco to congratulate until late at night»), the Haitian lost his rhythm against Schaller.
Agenor has blamed the judges - one of of which dared to call him three foot faults - and the unfair cheering by Schaller's supporters (mostly German tourists on vacation), but the "scabby" Gilbert earned his victory honestly.
Karim Alami, 21, number 205 in the world before the tournament, signed the upset of the tournament in Qatar by beating Sampras. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman have nothing to do with him, despite the constant allusions by David Mercer, commentator for BBC from Doha; rather Alami and El Aynaoui - as Matchball had reported last year - are laying the groundwork to form a competitive Moroccan team. Alami has passed three qualifying rounds in Doha, is an old acquaintance of Andrea Gaudenzi, who beat him in the semifinals of the under 18 Roland Garros in 1990. Youness El Ayanoui is his stronger "twin", number 50 in the ATP, last year he beat Goellner, Gustafsson, Emilio Sanchez and Bruguera - and against Ivanisevic, in one of the most vibrant and exciting matches of the tournament, showed with a mix of forehands and serves that he has the body and the engine to push more and more.
The problem for the two Africans, who were accompanied in Doha by El Ayanoui's dad, Boumedien, are money and sponsors. «The Moroccan Federtennis does not have a lot of money - complained Youness - I pay transfers by myself with the prize money that I can win; with what I gained here I can go to Australia. Unfortunately I suffer the lack of a coach: to improve I need someone to give me the right advice, who makes me understand what I do wrong. And now my colleagues beware from doing so...".
To be or not to be
The only Italian in the tournament in Doha was Stefano Pescosolido, others had preferred to desert palm trees for the Hawaiian see or as Gaudenzi, the hardcourts of Adelaide. Grappling with the license problems (he may not play in Dubai), the ordinary soldier Pescosolido played two good matches against Javier Sanchez and Delaitre and then surrendered without fighting to an ill Ivanisevic, who - as El Ayanoui and Haarhuis proved - was far from his best standards, especially on his serve...
Pesco argues that he struggles against left-handers, but it's upsetting however, to see him enter the court so defeatist and discouraged.
After skilfully dominating Sanchez (seeded sixth), showing, among other things, that the fitness work made with his coach Edoardo Infantino and Pino Carnovale at Le Pleiadi begins to bear fruit ("He never runs - complained Javier, furious after the match, the third out of three he loses against Stefano - but when he plays with me he looks like a rocket"), with Delaitre Stefano won without playing at his best, but controlling an annoying wind and wisely attacking on the French's insecure forehand.
Total darkness in the quarterfinals instead against "Crazy Horse". Undecided whether to attack or defend, inconsistent on return (8 points won on Goran's serve, three of them in the last game of the match), still on his legs, Pesco has hit one of his classic amletic days, those in which he seems almost afraid to use his best weapons.
Too bad, because the two or three times that Stefano drove on the right side of the Croatian Ivanisevic threw the rally away. His still remains a good start of the season. Last year he began with eight first rounds out of nine tournaments - and the provision of confidence earned in Doha will help him face more calmly the rest of the year.
The power to perfection
Out Stich and Sampras, the tournament immediately lost also Marc Goellner (fifth seed, which consulated himself going skiing on the dunes with the young Russian Merinov) and Andrei Cherkasov (number 7), thrown out by the awful Braasch, maybe the most graceless tennis player on the entire ATP Tour.
Ivanisevic has spent three days with a bad fever: he suffered much humidity and he had to surrender in the semifinals to a truly inspired Haarhuis in the most beautiful match of the week. Also in doubles he reached the semifinals, alongside Leconte, while Bob Brett, not to suffer too much, coached the son of the future sheik dispensing smiles.
Henri the Frenchman, accompanied by his busty girlfriend Beatrice, performed the usual show: he rode on a camel, played with glasses against the tiny compatriot Vitoux, then put on a little show in the match against Edberg, railing against the line judges, finally acted as coach for the young players in an open to the crowd training camp the Arab organized on centre court.
For the French colleagues then he said to be ready for this year to win at least a Grand Slam, said he felt at the peak of his motivations, but Riton is used to shoot big. May God preserve him in tennis long, however. To see him play is always good for the eyes.
In Doha Stefan Edberg seemed again the one of '91- '92. More tonic on his serve, he is volleying again with authority, performing in a couple of matches - the final against Haarhuis and the quarter-final with Leconte - to the limit of perfection. With a bad final of second set he unnecessarily complicated his semi-final against the double-handed Schaller - today number 58 in the world, one who never gives up - but to sweat a bit must have benefited him, since, against Haarhuis, he walked in the air.
The poor Paul, who also played very well, didn't really know what to do in front of that lightning who served him twisted first and second balls, who took him time with a divine fluency and seemed to lay down his volleys on lines and corners with the palm of his hand, rather than with his Wilson racquet: a delight.
He was not even sorry, the flying Dutchman, at the end of the lesson lasting just an hour and a quarter; rather admired and marveled: "If he plays well who stops him? Today I tried to pass him, to pass over him and also to pass through him with my shots, but there was nothing to do - he said in the press room - In my opinion he can easily win the Australian Open."
Trusting in God, "inshallah" as they say here, we rediscovered a champion.
- Stefan Edberg: Andy Murray made the right decision
- Edberg to play Royal Albert Hall Masters in London
- Norman: «I thought Edberg could never beat me»
- Edberg beats McEnroe in thrilling Stockholm final
- McEnroe vs Edberg in Stockholm final
- Edberg: 71 minutes, $87,500
- Down the Coast
- Edberg, the pain and the dream
- Effusive Edberg serves up warning: Near-perfect Swede gains sweet revenge
- Little and big heroes
- Paris, oh dear one
- Champion of style
- Nice-guy Stefan falls foul of club official
- Emilie Victoria, pretty as a queen
- Bruguera bows before a flawless Edberg