from Tennis de France (issue of Juanuary 1986)
by Francis Haedens
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Wimbledon had offered Becker's disclosure, Kooyong has given us a comparable surprise with Edberg's confirmation. We knew the Swede was talented since he had achieved the junior Grand Slam in 1983, but he delayed a little longer to prove it at high level. This has now been made. In addition to a sort of lymphatisme, he often suffered from personality failings when pressure was too high or when events turned against him. He washed all the doubts away in Melbourne, where he not only played with the aim to shine for himself , but to earn a place in singles for the Davis Cup final. Double burden that his shoulders of a 19-year-old guy (he will turn 20 on January 19th) have beautifully sustained.
It was during his victory over Lendl that he had the best chance to show his new "guts", because the Czech, besides playing well for most of the match, put up against him a challenge from which a boy would have probably not recovered.
To start with, Edberg didn't let himself down when he lost the first set in the tie-break having been six times in a position to take Lendl's serve in three successive games and without ever having been, on the other hand, threatened on his own. Later, when the Czech was drifting, having lost the third set 6-1 against an opponent at his best, and asked for a three minute break to treat his knee, Edberg lost concentration, dropped his serve at the start of the fourth set, but managed to return to 4-4. Only Lendl knows if his injury was real or he asked for the three minutes to break Edberg's momentum. But all the eye-witnesses of the match, starting with the Swedes, had the distinct impression that Lendl's injury was "tactical".
When, after an hour and a quarter break due to rain, Lendl took a full speed start to win the fourth set and go up a break in the fifth, we could immediately see that Edberg was always there and well there.
When finally Edberg missed three match points in the tenth game committing a beginner-like error on the third, he was not discouraged.
It was with this indomitable spirit as much as with his talent that he managed to come on top of Lendl, who wanted the title of Australian champion much more than he was willing to admit.
This tournament that Edberg had started as a gnome, to the point that he had to save two match points against Masur in the second round after a very close first round against Anger, he finished as a giant. If we first wanted to talk of his semi-final, it is because he managed to make his final against Wilander a one-sided match crushing his compatriot 6-4 6-3 6-3 in one hour and thirty-six minutes without letting him in the match for one second and only having to save two break-points on fourteen rounds of serve.
"He is simply too good for me when he plays well," said Wilander. It's also true that Edberg's tennis suits grass much better than Mats'. His service is huge and his second ball the best in the world as far as weight, spin, deepness and consistency. His volley is imperial, especially the backhand one, and the smash is of the same caliber. However, to these prodigious attacking shots Stefan Edberg added shots of defense and counter-attack to make many followers of this style pale with envy.
As much as his serves, these stabbing shots that he is able to play on return or on the backhand passing (but also with his forehand, because he has significantly improved on this side) are those that helped him murder Wilander and beat Lendl. One can even say that he beat these two masters at their own game.
The defeat of Wilander, who played his third consecutive final there and was looking for a triplet, reopens the debate about the throne of world champion, that would have probably not escaped to him, if he had added to this trophy a likely Davis Cup victory, all the more so since he will be well "supported".
A debate that brings to another: the one about the importance of winning the Australian Open.
After his defeat against Edberg, Lendl, to which the question was asked whether Wilander, in case of victory in two Grand Slam tournaments, would deserve to be considered the n. 1 player at the end of the year (although he is not n.1 in the ATP ranking), replied that he doesn't consider the Australian Open as a real Grand Slam tournament and he put it at the level of the Masters, the WCT finals, or the ATP tournament (Delray Beach).
This is obviously the first question about this event and it is hardly surprising that Lendl gives the answer that suits him best. It is certain that the Australian Open, with its wobbly 96 player draw hasn't got the density of the other three major tournaments. In the first week matches are rare, top players, exempted from the first round, go on court starting from Wednesday or Thursday and the crowd is not piled around the courts. On this point, Melbourne is lagging behind Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.
Still, among the top ten players in the ATP, only Connors, Noah and Jarryd had not committed, Curren being out due to injury. If one sticks to the top five, only Connors was missing. This is better than all the tour events, except the Masters.
Can the Masters, with his 16 player draw, be compared to a tournament which brings together 96? Lendl thinks so... but Becker, beaten by Schapers is there to prove that the more are the crazy the less you're allowed to laugh, like Smid, beaten early by Lloyd, or Scott Davis eliminated by Zivojinovic.
No, dear Ivan , a victory in a tournament where you have to win at least six matches to clinch the title, defeating along the way some outsiders in state of grace, will always be worth more than four rounds to win the Masters. The Australian Open is not the Roland Garros, but is still something more than the Masters, especially since it gathers the majority of the best players in the world.
To estimate the value of this tournament, the motivation of the players must also be taken into account. Are they coming or not with the desire to give the best of themselves? If we take for example Wilander, Edberg and Becker (who arrived several days before the others to prepare better) the answer should be "yes, no doubt about it". Taking the example of McEnroe, one is tempted to believe that the tournament doesn't attract champions. But looking more closely, we see that this year Mac has not showed greater motivation in Wimbledon than in Kooyong and that he was not much better prepared before the Roland Garros.
The strategy of minimizing the importance of a tournament, either before or after a defeat, is often used by some players. For a long time it was the case with Connors or the specialists of the fast surfaces, when they didn't come to the Roland Garros.
It's no longer credible about the French Open, but you can always use it with the Australian Open.
Lendl and McEnroe did it. For Lendl however , his behaviour does not quite match his statements. He fought until the end and using all means to try and get himself off Edberg's claws and he didn't succeed.
It is certain that his game on grass is still far worse than the one he can play on any surface, but we saw him more tense and nervous than we ever see him in smaller, medium size tournaments that he plays all the year. In Melbourne we saw Lendl's typical expressions of when he loses his temper in big occasions, as has often happened in Grand Slam or Davis Cup.
To his statement of the secondary importance of the Australian Championships, one can answer that it's right because they are actually more important than he wants to admit that he has still never managed to play completely relaxed.
Besides Lendl's sad adventure, the trouble caused by rain, that split in two the Wilander-Zivojinovic semifinal, and in three the one between Edberg and Lendl and delayed the final to Monday, the tournament was overshadowed by other clouds like Becker's early exit, McEnroe's failure and the "chance of the century" missed by Leconte in the fourth round when he faced the American.
Becker, who once again played the role of scarecrow after his Wimbledon victory impressed the world, miserably fell in the second round (which was his first) against Dutchman Michiel Schapers. Giving all the credit to Schapers, who has perfectly taken his chance, one must clear out that Becker played one of the worst matches in his career, particularly showing himself unable to return successfully or play a decent passing shot at times when it was indispensable.
The German, which is not a bad loser, could not help saying after his defeat: "It is not him who won the match, it is me who lost it." This was perfectly true.
These are such huge failings that it is out of question to draw conclusions. Simply saying that, for the shoulders of a boy who celebrated his eighteen birthday just two days before the start of the tournament, the label of the man to beat taken in Wimbledon is very difficult to bear.
It is possible that the disappointing exit of Melbourne undermined his confidence and he may suffer the consequences during the Davis Cup final, in which the Germans have, anyway, a very difficult task. Should Becker lose his two singles matches in Munich and still suffer one or two defeats unworthy of his talent, we might then expect to see him go through a period of doubt one never knows how a champion manages to escape.
The misfortunes of Noah and the impact they have had on the following of his career since his victory at Roland Garros are a warning. We'll have to follow closely Boom-Boom's next performances.
A case which seems even more serious is that of John McEnroe. Being a champion like he is, he completely missed the season, highlighting, in Melbourne as at Wimbledon, a lack of fighting spirit that sends him back to the rank of an ordinary player. If Zivojinovic played an excellent match to beat him in the quarterfinals, it must be said he looked like a champion who has lost the taste for victory and that he can thank Leconte for wasting the opportunity to achieve the "feat" of the tournament.
McEnroe spent his time complaining during the Australian Open: against the court, the photographers, the referees, the journalists. On many points, including those relating with his privacy, we can certainly understand him. But these background rumours lead to anxiety. So it happens that in a moment he enters his second states, uttering, beside sensible words, the worst absurdities like suggesting to play the Australian Open on covered courts in the middle of summer. Everyone knows that it never passed through Mac's head, but he comes to a point where, when he talks of indoor halls, one can not help thinking he's talking about internment halls. It's rest, a lot of rest that John McEnroe needs today. If he fails to find it and retrieve his fighting spirit and desire to win that made of him the champion we all know, there is a danger his career ends at short notice.
To complete the resume of this Australian Open on a lighter note, we should deal a little with Henri-Riton Leconte. He came to Melbourne with the intent to qualify for the Masters taking his chances on a surface that is perfectly suited to his explosive talent. He superbly filled his contract, qualifying for the fourth round, as required by his rank of n. 16 seed, beating McNamara, Amos Mansdorf, and then John Sadri, who, although he's no longer in his prime, is still a good grasscourt player.
All these matches were ended by Henri in three sets.The fact that he was then beaten by McEnroe would have disappointed nobody hadn't he had a hundred times (as did Zivojinovic in the following round) the opportunity to beat the American and brilliantly end a season marked by two Grand Slam quarter-finals with victories over Noah at Roland Garros and Lendl at Wimbledon.
For some masterpieces signed by Riton on crucial points, he missed McEnroe at Kooyong (and even more, if he is qualified or not for the Masters is yet unknown at the time we're writing). What remains "delightful " with Henri Leconte is his optimism, not to tell his innocence (in the biblical sense of term) which led him to declare at the end of his masterpiece of missed opportunities, he had a great match and he was very pleased. This is what is called "positive thinking", as the Anglo-Saxons say .
In this area Leconte still showed a unique talent. Wish he retains it for all his life.