from Matchball (issue of April 18th, 1984)
by Rino Tommasi
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
contributed by Il Museo del Tennis
The 18-year-old Swede won in Milan an event that already looked Wilander's after McEnroe's and Connors' walkovers. Now he has a future that really looks bright in front of him.
MILAN. When, last year, I bet my tennis credibility on the future of Stefan Edberg, who had impressed me in Wimbledon losing a five set match against compatriot Henrik Sundstrom on court number 7, I didn't think that I could go to the cash so soon. The statement is only apparently in contrast with the bet I did and promptly paid after the victory of the last of Borg's heirs against the penultimate. The truth is that, despite having bet against Edberg, I found myself rooting for him, together with Gianni Clerici, during the commentary of the semifinals and the final of the Italian Indoors.
The explosion of Edberg, who won in Milan his first but certainly not last tournament of the Grand Prix, is very important for tennis, perhaps even more important than it is for Sweden, that already this year have a chance to beat United States in the Davis Cup, if the final will actually be the one predicted.
Edberg is important because he proposes an enjoyable style of tennis and an admirable model of behavior, two equally important aspects for a sport that needs to be renewed and, however, to increase the number of its protagonists.
Those who had seen Edberg play in Rotterdam, where he only lost 7-6 in the third against Ivan Lendl in the semifinals, say that the young Swede played even better than he did in Milan. I was not in Rotterdam, but in Milan he continued to amaze me, firstly for the effectiveness of his second serve, secondly for the way he played the important points, lastly for the level he reached in the final against Wilander.
In the end, before the final, Edberg had won four matches that looked within his reach on paper. With Buehning he had already won at Richmond and then the American is a hard hitter without too much strategy. The derby against Jarryd seemed more complicated, because of the Davis Cup rivalry and implications, but technically also this one was not a too difficult match because Jarryd is good at exploiting the opponent's speed of ball, but probably is not worth his computer ranking (fifteenth place).
Edberg found his most difficult hurdle in the quarter-finals, where there was Curren, who had played a great final in Milan last year and who was committed to defending the points won on that occasion, before the computer will wipe them out to replace them with those of this year.
Curren, however, was recovering after a bad start of the season and was not exactly brilliant, since he had lost by Holmes in Richmond, by Testerman in Memphis and even by Boileau in Brussels.
More comfortable was the semifinal against the Australian left-hander Brad Drewett, who made himself room in a corridor of the draw badly defended by an out of shape Lewis and a listless Kriek.
In these four matches Edberg had only lost one round of serve (against Buehning on 2-1 in the first set), but had canceled four set-points (three against Buehning and one against Curren). Even more significant, however, is the count of break points that he had to deal with, as many as 25. Well, of these 25 points Edberg won as many as 24, 96 percent, a percentage that the most expert of the champions would envy.
All this, however, to get to say that in order to beat Wilander he still needed to raise his level. Edberg did it playing a perfect match in which his serve and backhand have more than offset the few uncertainties of his forehand, the stroke on which Edberg still needs to work.
Of Edberg, like on the other hand of Borg and Wilander, I admire the humbleness with which he is able to accept both victory and defeat. Kipling's sentence written in the Wimbledon locker room seems made by them, not for them, and they apply it in a wonderful way.
Right Wilander came to my microphone and then in the press room immediately after the defeat to praise his rival, to explain the match, to say that nothing tragic had happened, that you can lose against an opponent who plays so well. What a contrast with the comedy of many players, even not so good as them!
The tournament didn't certainly lose prestige because, in the golden book, the names of Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe (three times), Guillermo Vilas and Ivan Lendl have been joined by Stefan Edberg. Wilander would have ensured a more prudent regularity of level, but Edberg is a safe bet.
How many times will we read that Edberg got his first major success here in Milan?
It is also important for the event that, despite the two painful absences of the eve, the audience has increased, compared to the previous edition. It is the first time, in recent years, that one of our tournaments reacts positively to an alarming decline of attention from the crowd.
The 6,823 spectators paying for an all Swedish final are a great success compared to the two thousand who had assisted last year at a final between Arias and Higueras at the Foro Italico.
All in all the blows of fate of the eve allow to measure a self consciousness of the tournament which by now should have earned a permanent place among the sporting events in Milan. That said, reminded that the final was worse than the one of 1983 between Lendl and Cunen only in terms of emotions, and worse than the one of 1981 between Borg and McEnroe only as far as the prestige of the protagonists, I will try to make a small summary of what has happened.
FIRST ROUND. Three Italians in the draw, one directly admitted (Ocleppo), one as a wild card (Barazzutti), one passed through the qualifying (Colombo). I'm glad to have bet and lost a hundred thousand lire at three against one on Colombo, only defeated by Gerulaitis at the third set. I had never seen Colombo play. I like his temperament, I am concerned about his athletic limitations, I'm encouraged by his unusual talent (for an Italian) to play at the net.
He wasted time because he is 21 and has only recently played at a good level, he can retrieve something and maybe be good for the Davis Cup doubles, if we're able to find for him a more consistant partner than Bottazzi and a more aggressive one than Cané.
Barazzutti came to play reluctantly, almost as an employee who has to go to the office. With no particular motivation, he was sentenced to defeat against Drewett, who then proved not to be a bad player. But we are there. Corrado got angry with Daniele Parolini, who had accused him of laziness, but it is common ground that had Barazzutti played three or four tournaments he would have beaten Lloyd in Telford and Drewett in Milan.
The only Italian to pass the round was Ocleppo, who needed to save two match-points against Hooper, ending up to impose himself only with nerves in the tiebreak of the third. Ocleppo had not played for three weeks and has paid the lack of competition, more dangerous for someone like him who has not so much talent.
Among the other matches of the first round, Ilie Nastase deserves a mention for beating 7-6 in the third set Hank Pfister in a match ended at three in the morning. At that time Ilie is much more lucid than many others, but, jokes aside, even in Metz he had passed a couple of rounds, which means he can still fool any opponent and entertain the audience.
SECOND ROUND. Ocleppo's path was stopped by John Fitzgerald, the Australian winner of the Davis Cup, but an opponent who was within the reach of the player from Turin. Fitzgerald had beaten Vilas in a match only played for signature honor. Vilas would have withdrawn if only the organizers could have afforded another walkover, after those before the event started.
So Ocleppo had a good start. He missed a ball for 4-1 and a second break, he went 5-3 up, but on 5-4 he caused a long break when he asked and obtained, in spite of the protests of the accused, that the line-judge he retained guilty to have intentionally damaged him (in Ocleppo's words), would be removed.
I repeat the words what I wrote elsewhere: if you want to make mess on court you need to be McEnroe or a bad guy like Gardini. If you are only Ocleppo, it is better, much better, to keep quiet. Imitations of Connors may also be good sometimes, but if for a quarrel and an interruption you lose the thread of your game, you lose seven games in a row and hit as many as seven double faults (four in one game!), then better change strategy.
In the second round the most interesting matches were those between Gerulaitis and Smid and between the two Swedes Edberg and Jarryd. Of the latter I have written before, while Gerulaitis has prevailed for more fantasy and personality on the more solid Smid, who had beaten him in Madrid.
QUARTERS. Hence onwards, the tournament has not had matches in three sets. Gerulaitis downsized Fitzgerald. Wilander beat an ever dangerous Leconte, Drewett beat Hlasek, who had eliminated a dismissive Kriek, finally Edberg beat Curren beginning to raise the hope from organizers, and not only, for an all Swedish final.
SEMIFINALS. Against Edberg Drewett was very good up to the tie-break. Indeed it was the Australian who had the only break points and defended his serve more easily, never allowing Edberg to win three points in the same game. But then in the tiebreak the balance was broken. Edberg won it 7-1, in spite of missing a very easy ball and in the second set Drewett was never close.
We were hoping for a good match match between Gerulaitis and Wilander, instead the Swede played too well for Vitas and went out of sight in a desperate attempt to cope with him. We had to pity poor Gerulaitis, who lost nine games before being able to hold serve. Vitas was very good anyway to win, only with pride, a game on Wilander's serve after saving three match points on 5-1 before surrending in the following game.
THE FINAL. I have already written about it, in some way. Wilander wasn't able to slow down the pace, since Edberg ended up breaking him on speed. Having held up to 4-4, Wilander had perhaps the illusion that Edberg couldn't mantain that level, instead he took control of the match and ran away.
Taken a bit from anxiety, Wilander tried to win the rally from the baseline, but did not play enough on his opponent's forehand, he packed himself in a couple of painful double faults and, in short, could no longer get himself out of the hole. Only on 5-1 in the second set Edberg allowed himself to miss four points, but he was already thinking of the moment he would serve out for the match.
Of the doubles, as usual, I saw little. The more reliable specialists (Slozil-Smid and Curren-Denton) reached the final and the Czechs won, but we were all listening to the Swedes and busy to write that a new star was born in Milan.
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