by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg speaks at the trophy ceremony in Stuttgart 1992. He has just lost to Goran Ivanisevic
The elegant serve and volley player against the hard server. Through the years of their professional careers, Stefan Edberg and Goran Ivanisevic gave life to a rivalry that reached its summit on the fast indoor surfaces of the 90s. From the Roland Garros fourth round of 1989 to the Stuttgart indoor second round of 1996, 19 episodes of the eternal battle between classical and power tennis that saw Ivanisevic prevail in the end by 10 wins to 9. Tennis was shifting to the age of high speeds…
A fast start for the Swede, who left the young Croat just one, useless success in the first six meetings, a match at the best of three sets in the Davis Cup tie between Sweden and Yugoslavia that the Vikings had already lost when Stefan and Goran met. Edberg won two hard fought back-to-back semifinals in 1991 in Sydney and Tokyo with almost the same score: 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 4-6, 7-6, 7-5, two matches that were part of Stefan’s winning streak of 20 matches in a row that had started with his first triumph in New York.
The Centre Court shows the score of the Edberg-Ivanisevic quarter final in Wimbledon 1992
But from that match in Tokyo, Goran’s streak against Edberg began. Six consecutive head-to-heads won by “Ivancrazevic” (five indoors), who seemed to establish his superiority right in the period when the tennis world started to fear the power of hard hitters. Two of those defeats were particularly painful for Stefan: the five-set loss in the 1992 Wimbledon quarter final, that marked the first time Edberg didn’t reach at least the semifinals at the Championships since 1986, and the semi in Bercy in 1993. The six time Grand Slam champion lost a nail-biting battle 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 without ever dropping his serve, while Ivanisevic was booed by the crowd in that match and in the following final against Medvedev for the extreme incidence of his serve.
Stefan Edberg and Goran Ivanisevic in the Stuttgart 1994 final
But Goran’s serve hugely depended on his changeable state of mind. That’s why he won much less than he should have. He was capable of firing three aces in a row as well as completely losing his concentration and, consequently, his control on the match. That happened in the 1994 final at the Eurocard Open in Stuttgart: after a perfect first set, Goran played a crazy game when he was 5-4 down in the second. Two double faults and two easy mistakes gave Edberg the set and the Croat never got back, while Stefan played some of his best tennis in the last years of his career. So the two time Wimbledon champion got off the “Ivanisevic nightmare” and won his last indoor title.
It was the start of a more balanced period, the last one of their rivalry. Their last four matches came in 1996, Stefan’s last year on the tour, with two wins each. The Swede took his revenge on grass, beating the Croat at the Queen’s and once again, for the third time in the history of their meetings, it was the third set tie-break who decided the winner.
Stefan Edberg and Goran Ivanisevic after the US Open 1996 quarter final, Stefan's last match in a Major
It was Goran who put an end to Stefan’s Grand Slam career, beating him in straight sets in the 1996 US Open quarter final. There was a moment in the third set when it seemed that an unlikely turn of events could happen: Edberg broke back and also gained two set points to take the match to the fourth, but that wasn’t enough. A backhand volley in the net at the end of a never-ending third set tie-break was Stefan’s last shot in a Major.
Their rivalry ended in Stuttgart where they had already played twice against each other, always in the final, with one victory each. The tournament had been moved from February to October. This time it was only a second round. Edberg, ranked 17, was unseeded and recovering ground after a season in which he had fallen to number 54 in the ranking. Ivanisevic had been number 2 that year, one of his best. It was a quite easy win for the man from Croatia. And it was also the end for one of the most contrasting challenges of the 90s.
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