from Matchball (issue of March 22nd, 1990)
by Enrico Schiavina
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
On the Californian hardcourts, Edberg suddenly finds his best form and beats Agassi in a very close final.
INDIAN WELLS. In what's undoubtedly the most unusual scenario the tennis world can offer - a 10,500-seat tennis stadium in a residential complex for billionaires in the middle of the California desert - Stefan Edberg has found his first success of 1990, brilliantly wiping out the criticisms addressed against him in the previous week and showing all his best tennis, that according to many should take him to the first place in the world rankings.
Returned to the Tour the week before in Memphis after the injury that had forced him to retire during the Australian Open final, Edberg had given the impression not to have recovered, losing immediately and very clearly against Gary Muller (and going away after one day with 100,000 dollars of "engagement" in his pocket).
On the other hand, in California, the Swede suddenly found fitness and strokes, swept away the first four opponents he met (Scott Davis, Bruguera, Gunnarsson and Courier, dropping from 3 to 5 games per match) and then played an excellent final against Andre Agassi. Four sets and three hours and 25 minutes of spectacular and very close match, despite a strong wind, for the satisfaction of the 10,500 spectators who crowded the beautiful stands of the Grand Champions Resort.
A final decided by only 6 points of difference in Edberg's favor on 328 played in total, a great battle, in which the Swede, maybe bothered by the strong wind during his service action, remained at the baseline much more than usual, surprising Agassi a little, who hoped to find the points to win in his passing shots.
Instead, the "Flipper" from Las Vegas had to conceed the first set to a surprisingly patient and precise Edberg, won the second not without suffering (from 3-0 to 5-5 before the decisive break), and then unsuccessfully fought until the tie-break in the third and fourth sets (in which he served at 5-4), ending up to lose 8 points to 6 in the last game.
The Agassi we saw in Indian Wells is definitely on his way back to the levels of two years ago: winner of this year's tournament in San Francisco, Andre seems to be just finding that incredible condition that brought him up to the third place in the world in 1988.
Nevertheless, in California things were not all smooth for him, and perhaps for the first time in his career the twenty-year-old from Las Vegas has known the feeling of playing without the help from the crowd, but with a part of the audience decidedly against him.
Everything started mid-week, when Tom Gorman, United States Davis Cup Team captain, officially announced the players for the quarter final tie in Czechoslovakia: Gilbert and Agassi in singles, Leach and Pugh in doubles. Despite his apparent good shape, however, Andre let Gorman know he considered his state of form "precarious" and that, in short, he didn't feel like playing in Davis.
Gorman (who already has to do without McEnroe) calls Krickstein, but Agassi's "great denial" doesn't remain unnoticed, and the American newspapers ail the fire publishing highly controversial statements by the two protagonists.
On Friday, for the quarterfinal match against Emilio Sanchez (bright winner on Gilbert, to whom he left 6 games) Agassi enters the court "booed" by part of the crowd, who continue to show him some hostility - or, better, not to show him the usual great sympathy - also during the rest of the tournament. "I absolutely didn't realize it - said Andre in any case, after getting rid of Sanchez (7-3 in the second set tie-break) and performing the classic launch of his t-shirt to the crowd, for the delight of many fans... who had remained "loyal" to him.
Saturday Agassi was still the protagonist in an almost perfect semifinal against Boris Becker. Becker had come this far with lots of problems (a tie-break against Javier Sanchez, and, especially, an 11-9 third set tie-break win against Horst Skoff), but looked transformed in the fourth round played against Jay Berger, a match that, for the German, had the taste of revenge from last year at Indian Wells.
In fact, Becker had collected one of the worst defeats of his career (6-1 6-1) against a Berger just at the top of the big climb that would take him in the top-ten: Boris is the kind of guy that doesn't forget such things easily and immediately took the opportunity to avenge the "snub" giving Berger a resounding 6-1 6-2, allowing him just 5 points on his serve. "When we shook hands at the end of the match - said the American - Boris told me that I was still a game ahead...".
While Agassi swept Becker away, in the other semifinal Edberg stopped the good run of Jim Courier, the blond pupil of the Bollettieri Academy who maybe does not shine for talent, but shows a remarkable physical and mental consistency ("I bet all my chances on Paris, this year," he said).
Courier had eliminated No. 4 seed Krickstein, beating him in a second set tie-break that meant a lot to him: "After losing 9-7 the tie-break in the third set against Kratzmann in Philadelphia - said Courier -, I could not sleep for three consecutive nights. Those points were always in my mind, it was like a nightmare. Now I hope to have come through it."
Too strong, too inspired, however, was Edberg for Courier, who got back to the locker room with a 6-4 6-1. Edberg was very close to perfection, effective on his serve (86% of first serves in the quarterfinal match against Gunnarsson!) and completely recovered physically.
"The race for the world number one - said Stefan at the end - remains between Lendl and Becker. But I don't think I'm too far behind them."
The tournament directed by the former American player Charlie Pasarell is archived with a great champion and a great success. Beautiful weather and landscape combined with a relaxed atmosphere have always enticed players and crowd to come to Indian Wells.
The ATP Tour tournament this year has "boomed" a million dollars in prize money, offering a strong player field, maybe even better than the multimillionaire "Lipton" of Key Biscayne that follows in the calendar. As a reward, they received 70,000 spectators during the week, with three "sold-out" sessions, in one of the most beautiful permanent structures for tennis in the world.
GRAINS OF SAND
The "Grand Champions", where the tournament takes place, is one of the very luxurious residential areas in Palm Springs, of which Indian Wells is one of the satellite locations, in the desert of Southern California (200 miles from Los Angeles, you can get there with a half hour flight on a 15-seat plane). The billionaires who reside there are countless, and according to tradition during the tournament actress Linda Evans (the blonde of "Dynasty") organized a very successful mixed doubles tournament with professionals and celebrities. Actors, stars of the show-biz and of American sports are frequent visitors here.
Boris Becker explained the upset suffered here last year against Jay Berger with... golf, that in this area - paradoxes of the Desert of billionaires - counts endless courts of lush green and thousands of fans. "Before playing against Berger last year I had made a final round of 18 holes and at the end I was very tired. This year, even if it costs me a lot, I have not even touched the clubs," said Becker, who then refused to make his golf score public.
Becker has also retained his title in the doubles tournament, he had won last year along with Hlasek and this year with Guy Forget. Curiously, the French is still unbeaten in the doubles tournament in Indian Wells, he has already won three times with three different partners: in '86 with Peter Fleming and '87 with Yannick Noah, before the success with Becker .
"Stefan, have you ever been world number one in your career?" asked Edberg a journalist who evidently knew little about tennis during a press conference. "Yes, I've been - replied Stefan with a grimace - in doubles."
Installed next to the scoreboard, a display showed the viewers the speed of the players' first serves on Centre court. Becker, as expected, recorded the fastest serves. At a point in the tournament, however, the device has been turned off after complaints from some players (among the most critical Jim Courier) disturbed by the sudden appearance of digits on the display during the rallies.
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