Juan Aguilera (photo contributed by Il Museo del Tennis)
MONTE CARLO. Night was falling, on Monte Carlo Country Club, when world number two, Stefanello Edberg, tried in vain to hook Juan Aguilera's last passing. On the stands, full of VIPS during all the afternoon, there were no more than two hundred fans left, the real ones: they knew Aguilera is on his way back to be the player we all admired five years ago.
The Catalan had just reached the semifinal in Estoril, and even won in Nice, last week. Most of all, he had been playing for months on clay, while Stefan Edberg had avoided it as plague after last year's Roland Garros final, the one against Michelino Chang.
Edberg had entered the tournament in Monte Carlo not only to prepare the French Open, but also because, like Becker, he is a faithful subject of the tax-free principality.
Already in the first round, Stefanello had had his problems, against another former champion, Jimmy Arias. Jimmy was up 5-1, wasted three set-points, before Edberg could settle back and rebuild the puzzle of his game.
The Swede's game, as we all know, is made of elementary simplicity. In the good days, that serve and volley tactic of his, or those quick backhand net approaches, followed by sliced volleys, can have the light of genius.
If he's not at his best, though, or the clay keeps him down, he looks like an amateur, ends up to look like a little foolish: a day a friend of mine, general Veneziani, made me notice a certain similarity with the best Stan Laurel. Today's Edberg wasn't a disaster at all. Juan Aguilera is a guy who would keep up with Bordin (ann. great Italian marathon runner), and never misses one of his sliced backhand, performed with a short and elegant gesture.
Stefan, though, was leading quite comfortably 5-4 when, on the score of 15 all, he wanted to smash a volley that he just needed to caress. Aguilera would defend from that furious ball using the racquet to protect his brown face. The ball came back to give him the 15-30. An unexpected crisis of the Swede would give him the 15-40 and then the game.
A rain delay didn't seem to help Stefanello's mind clearness. 3-1 up in the tie-break, he couldn't take advantage of two serves. Aguilera ran, didn't miss, and surely started believing he could do it. The Catalan looked again like the 22-year-old guy who had climbed the rankings to break in the top-ten in 1984.
In September of that year, records give him at number seven in the world. As we know, computer rankings are much easier to climb than to defend. Aguilera's fall had looked paradoxical to the ones who didn't know him, a real slip that had led him, in 1988, around number 370.
Unfortunately, also for a professional, life is not only sport. Very fond of his father, Juan had assisted his long, tormenting illness. The ups-and-downs in Aguilera's ranking had reflected the graph of his father's health. The lowest point of his fall had coincided with the end of that suffering. Since that day, Juan had slowly started to live again, had found the courage to take seriously again what, in the end, remains a game.
While Edberg pushed, in the second set, refusing to quit a compromised match, Aguilera didn't give anything away, remained stuck into the match as an old rusted nail. He managed to come back from 4-5 down again, he came back in the tie-break again, and ended it with one of his delightful passings.
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