Roland Garros 1996: an unflinching Edberg scores a grand upset

Article by Robin Finn, New York Times

He has never won a French Open championship, and if he doesn’t win this year’s, he never will.
But the 30-year-old Stefan Edberg, unseeded for his final campaign at the only Grand Slam event to elude him, took a never-say-never attitude into his match with Michael Chang today and turned a gloomy afternoon incandescent with his serve-and-volley artistry.

“I played some of the best tennis I’ve done for a very, very long time,” Edberg said after his 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (7-1) third-round victory.

“I’m not going out there giving him anything just because he’s 30 and it’s his last year,” said the fourth-seeded Chang. “He is not the type that wants any free handouts. I lost a little bit of timing in the third set and from there the momentum definitely shifted.”

By doing the little things right, said the 47th-ranked Edberg, he gave himself a little chance to retire from the game with all four Grand Slam trophies in his possession — an honor no male player has achieved since Rod Laver and Roy Emerson in the 1960’s.

“There’s a tiny little chance,” he said, “because I’m not feeling tired, I’m moving well, I’m serving a lot better than I’ve done for a long time. Little things that make a difference.”

Edberg didn’t cringe at the notion of squaring off against the very player who shut the window on him in the 1989 final here. Instead, he relished it. And today he got partial revenge for the loss that allowed Chang, at 17, to become the French Open’s youngest male champion and forced the Swede, then 23, to wonder if he had blown his best chance to excel on his worst surface.

Now Edberg, who bumbled away a dozen break points in the fourth set of his 1989 final against Chang, has the chance to become the French Open’s oldest champion since Andres Gomez in 1990.

“It does get tougher, but it’s possible, there’s a tiny little chance,” said Edberg, who admitted he would rather have beaten Chang in their only other meeting on clay — the 1989 final — than today.

With four rounds separating him from record-book immortality, Edberg said it will “take another four matches to make up for” what went wrong seven years ago.

One auspicious sign for Edberg, who prefers to deal in facts but didn’t mind hearing about a positive portent, is that he has won all four Grand Slam matches he has played against Chang since 1989. More important, at Wimbledon in 1990, and at the United States Open in 1991 and 1992, Edberg went on to capture the championships.
If he does it here, he’s certain to have ample support in the stands.

“You’re popular when you’re young, and then when you’re old, the people start cheering for you again,” said Edberg, who definitely had the sentiment and sympathy vote against Chang.

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