By Alison Muscatine, Washington Post, September 14, 1992
It was a long time coming, but Stefan Edberg repeats U.S. Open title. In a match of second, third seeds and last two champions, Stefan Edberg punches out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Pete Sampras.
Stefan Edberg mustered just enough energy to win the U.S. Open today. The battle-weary defending champion outlasted an exhausted Pete Sampras to win the final in Louis Armstrong Stadium, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 Edberg’s victory capped one of the most arduous fortnights in recent memory. Coming into the match, the 26-year-old Swede had played more sets than any finalist since 1951, including three straight five-setters. But today his perseverance was rewarded as he claimed his first Grand Slam title of the year and regained the No.1 ranking he relinquished to Jim Courier five months ago. When Sampras thumped a backhand service return into the net to end the 2-hour 52-minute match, Edberg leaped over the net, shook Sampras’s hand, and ran to the friends’ box to give his wife, Annette, a long embrace.
“I really earned it this year, I think,” the mild-mannered Edberg said as he ogled his sixth Grand Slam trophy. “I really worked hard.”
Instead of a riveting dogfight, the final was more like a battle of the walking wounded. The third-seeded Sampras was plagued by acute stomach cramps at the end of his semifinal victory Saturday night over top-seeded Courier, and afterward was given fluids intravenously to combat dehydration. Overnight and early this morning he suffered from diarrhea and intestinal cramps, but took some medicine to settle his stomach and insisted that he felt fine when the match began at 4 p.m.
By the fourth set, however, the 21-year-old American visibly faded. His body slumped, his shins were sore and his feet seemed glued to the court. For both players, it was almost a relief when the match ended.
“I just ran out of gas,” Sampras said. “I was just very tired, very exhausted.”
Seldom had two finalists arrived on court having been so physically and mentally strained. The second-seeded Edberg had survived a record-setting 5-hour 26-minute semifinal against Michael Chang on Saturday and had played 24 sets in his first six matches. He hadn’t had a day off since Wednesday.
Sampras, meanwhile, had played two five-set matches back-to-back earlier in the week and obviously was fatigued by the time he encountered Courier in the semifinals.
Despite their respective conditions, both appeared remarkably fresh when the match began on a cool, dry afternoon. Edberg had warmed up for 90 minutes to overcome lingering stiffness and said he felt mentally stronger than at any point during the tournament. And Sampras, at least at the outset, was strong enough to rifle some big serves and claim the first set.
It was a rare match-up of serve-and-volleyers and of two of the most elegant players. They had played four times, with Sampras easily winning the last two.
Inevitably, today’s match was a duel for control of the net. Edberg routinely chipped and charged on Sampras’ second serve or approached off the first short ball. Sampras followed his big serve in and hoped to take advantage of Edberg’s weaker ground strokes. But that only worked well at the beginning. In the second set Sampras’s serve began to falter — he missed 56 percent of his first serves — and Edberg stepped up the pressure with skidding returns to the corners that he followed with volleys.
“I think my serve really let me down today,” Sampras said. “Maybe it was the occasion. I was a little more tight than I would normally be. I think that affected my serve.”
Edberg‘s plan was to try to stay with Sampras as long as his body would hold up. Fortuitously, he found his groove on serve and held easily in the second set. He also was determined to take advantage of any mental lapse on the part of his opponent. Although Sampras staved off three break points at 2-3, he gave Edberg another chance serving at 4-5. A double fault at 40-30 brought the score to deuce. A backhand long gave Edberg break point. And a trademark backhand volley down the line by Edberg ended the set.
The tenor of the match shifted markedly at the end of the third set. Sampras broke Edberg at 4-4 and served for the set at 5-4. But, again troubled on his serve, Sampras double-faulted on break point to even the score at 5. He was equally lax when they went into a tiebreaker. He double-faulted at 4-5 in the tiebreaker to set up two set points. Then he launched a backhand passing shot wide, resulting in a 2-sets-to-1 lead for Edberg.
“Once I got the third set he lost momentum,” Edberg said. “I put a lot of pressure on him.”
While Edberg became increasingly authoritative on his volleys and more confident overall, Sampras’s energy and conviction seemed to wane. He lost the first game of the fourth set with another double fault on break point. Serving at 0-2, he watched flat-footed as Edberg rifled a forehand passing shot cross-court and then a forehand service return down the line to get another break.
“I could see him drop a little bit,” Edberg said. “I noticed that he got a lot slower and didn’t move that well.”
Sampras tried to remain confident but his body was too sore to allow it. “It was more mental than anything,” he said. “I was just telling myself that my body couldn’t do it and as a result it didn’t.”
Edberg, by contrast, served better and better, a welcome relief after a disastrous day on Saturday when he fired 18 double faults. He hit only five double faults in this match.
Most important, Edberg’s serving prowess enabled him to take full advantage of his volleys. By the fourth set he was unerring, often winning points on the first shot, and taking total control of the net. In all, Edberg approached 133 times, compared with 65 for Sampras.
“The longer the match went on the better I felt physically,” Edberg said. “I was a bit surprised, actually.”
For Sampras, the loss was a painful finale to his best Grand Slam year ever. He had advanced to the quarterfinals on clay in Paris, to the semifinals on grass at Wimbledon, and had hoped to build toward a title here. His prospects looked good. He had won 10 matches in a row and claimed back-to-back titles in warm-up tournaments in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
He also had a new appreciation of what another Open title would mean. After becoming the youngest champion here in 1990, at 19, he struggled with his newfound fame for most of the next year. But in the last eight months his improving tennis had been accompanied by a new maturity and a new outlook.
“I said coming into this tournament that if I could win, it would mean more to me than in 1990,” he said. “In 1990 it all happened so fast, probably too fast. I didn’t realize the importance and the history of the tournament. Coming in today I definitely knew of the importance. It was a huge match.”
But a summer of tennis that stretched from Wimbledon to the Olympics to the U.S. hard-court season clearly had taken a toll on his body. Despite his hard work and his dreams, Sampras had little left to give by match time today.
“I came close but it wasn’t enough,” he said. “I had my chances. I couldn’t finish it off. It was just a pretty tough day at the office.”
By Arthur Ashe, September 10, 1991
When I see a match score such as 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, my first reaction is usually this: the winner broke serve twice in the first set, the loser regained his composure in the second set, and either the winner blew him away in the third set or the loser gave up But Jim Courier, loser to Stefan Edberg in the U.S. Open men’s singles final, is not a quitter. Never has been. He just never got the ball past the mid-court stripe. Edberg’s full-court pressure was relentless, precise and effective. The new Open champion has the best volley, best overhead smash and best backhand in the game. His strategy on all surfaces is centered on getting to the net as soon as possible. Thus he takes advantage of any opening to approach the front court. During normal baseline exchanges, Courier can expect his opponents to trade ground strokes with him until a shot lands short in the service court. But for 2 hours 2 minutes Sunday, Courier had to try more passing shots than ground strokes.
Edberg had been in the so-called “zone” (when an athlete can do no wrong) since the fourth round, when he dispatched Michael Chang in straight sets. In this mind-set, he believed he could do anything at any time. He tried shots that usually qualify as risky, and they worked.
Edberg started the match serving down the middle to crowd Courier. Several serves were so well-placed that Courier’s return was more self-defense than forehand or backhand. Courier tried moving his return position up, back, to the left, to the right. Nothing worked. There was one opening at 4-4, 15-30, Edberg serving in the second set. Called for a first-serve foot-fault, Edberg spun in a second serve to Courier’s two-handed backhand, which he nailed cross-court. From knee-high level, Edberg deftly side-spun a backhand volley just inside Courier’s forehand sideline for a clean winner. Courier just smiled the smile of resignation.
On the next point, Edberg was again called for a first-serve foot-fault. Again, he won the point at the net on the second volley. It was Courier’s last stand. He didn’t win another game.
Still, Courier has had a phenomenal year. He is reigning French Open champion and is one of two U.S. men who can presently win major championships on any surface. Andre Agassi is the other one who can, but hasn’t as yet. Although Agassi has garnered more headlines, Courier may well be the anchor in the Davis Cup semifinal against Germany in Kansas City later this month.
That match is on slow clay, so Courier will have to switch surfaces within 10 days. Germany’s Boris Becker, former world No. 1, has announced he is not playing because of a strained right thigh muscle. Agassi was on the squad that beat Australia in last year’s finals, but obviously is not in good form now. Courier will land in Kansas City next week as the No. 1 U.S. player.
Two other results of this year’s U.S. Open: Edberg will enjoy what could be a lengthy period as the best player on the planet and Jimmy Connors will bask in new-found respectability.
Washington Post, September 9 1991
There is nothing more beautiful or more breathtaking than Stefan Edberg‘s tennis game when he is on. Every stroke is poetic, every movement lyrical. And today, showing unerring form and grace, Edberg confounded and frustrated Jim Courier to win his first U.S. Open title Edberg’s 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 dissection was evidence that the 25-year-old Swede has overcome his Open phobia and found his center of gravity in New York. Overshadowed all week by the hysteria over Jimmy Connors, and almost forgotten amid the publicity about a pack of new young stars, Edberg’s flawless performance in Louis Armstrong Stadium was a jolting reminder of why he is the top-ranked player in the world.
“It was almost like a dream out there,” Edberg said when the 2-hour 2-minute match ended. “I played as well as I think I can.”
The title marked Edberg’s fifth Grand Slam victory and it offset an otherwise disappointing year. Although ranked No. 1 for most of 1991, he lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon. He had never made it to the final of the Open and was upset in the first round last year; he compensated today with a brilliance and consistency seldom seen in such high-pressure contests.
With his mellifluous strokes and delicate footwork, Edberg danced around the court as gracefully as Fred Astaire. Even Courier, the winner of the French Open in June, recognized that Edberg was on automatic pilot today. “All you can do is hope he goes off,” Courier said.
Always uncomfortable with the hullabaloo of this event, Edberg strategically changed his environment here this year. He played fewer tournaments this summer because he felt his stunning upset last year was a result of fatigue. With his fiancee, Annette Olson, he rented a house on Long Island instead of staying in a hotel in Manhattan. And he delighted when, day after day, Connors stole the attention.
“Nobody was talking about me. That kept the pressure off me, and that’s the way I like it,” said Edberg, an amiable, mild-mannered sort who is most at ease in the peace and quiet of his adopted home, London.
Despite the changes, Edberg, the No. 2 seed, looked shaky in the early rounds. But his game finally clicked when he defeated spunky Michael Chang in straight sets in the fourth round.
“That was the turning-point match,” Edberg said. “I had this feeling maybe I could do it this year, although you’re never really sure.”
By comparison, fourth-seeded Courier, who had a much tougher draw, looked impressive throughout the two weeks. He had not dropped a set, even against defending champion Pete Sampras, whom he ousted in the quarterfinals. A bulldog on the court whose style is a cross between the gutsy Connors and the power-packed Ivan Lendl, Courier hoped to dominate with his big serve and disrupt Edberg’s serve-and-volley game with his thunderous forehand.
Courier had reason to be hopeful. His first title as a professional came two years ago in Basel, Switzerland, when he beat Edberg in the final. In their last meeting, in the French Open quarterfinals, Courier trounced Edberg in four sets. With new-found powers of concentration and a hard-hitting game to go with it, Courier had never lost in the four times he’d reached a final. But whatever optimism Courier had coming into the match quickly crumbled.
He was broken at 1-1 in the first set, a victim of Edberg’s superb passing shots. And he could not convert two break points when Edberg served at 3-2, thanks to an exquisite topspin lob that Edberg hit after loping to the ball.
In the first game of the second set, Courier had a brief flash of brilliance when he staved off three break points with two aces — clocked at 116 and 114 mph — that momentarily put Edberg on the defensive. But that was just an idle diversion.
Never blinking, Edberg continued to arch his whirling, twisting serve deep to the corners with so much kick that Courier occasionally had to block the ball back from above his head. “I was trying to get out of the way of it sometimes,” Courier said.
Even when Courier managed a sensational return, Edberg, as crisp and cool as ever, plucked the ball from the air and smothered a volley. “I was hitting some great shots and he would come up with shots that made mine look like I don’t know what,” Courier said.
Tugging at his ever-present white baseball cap, and with his sweat-drenched shirt hanging out of his shorts, Courier tried to find the grit he needed to thwart Edberg’s relentless attack. He tried clubbing passing shots at Edberg’s feet. No way, Edberg said. He tried elegantly angled slices. Sorry, Edberg said. He tossed up gorgeous lobs. Forget it, Edberg said.
At one point, Courier turned to a fan in the stands and shrugged his shoulders. He sighed, “Wow! What can you do?” The most that Courier could assemble was an occasional winner on his service return, usually a reflexive punch that simply deflected the ball at an incredible angle. Courier finally resorted to standing his racket on its handle to show the umpire the spot where he thought an Edberg ace had landed out.
Edberg’s serves and volleys were so impeccable that he won a staggering 84 percent of the points when his first serve went in. Courier had three chances but never scored a break in the match.
Toward the end, there was nothing more that Courier could do but watch his own demise with awe. “I’ve been pummeled before,” Courier said, “but this is the worst beating I’ve taken all year.”
Edberg, meanwhile, found new affection for this tournament and for New York.
“It is really something to actually win it here,” he said. “I felt so relaxed out there. It’s hard to describe. I’m just a happy guy right now.”
Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein
The person many people were picking to win was the new No.1 – Edberg. he was, without question, the hottest player in the world. In fact, he had not lost a match since the Bruguera debacle in Paris – a streak of twenty-one matches and fou tournaments. He had won all three events he had entered after Wimbledon: Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and the Hamlet Cup, on Long Island, the week prior to the Open.
In the past, Edberg had played two weeks before the Open and then taken off the week before it began. He had changed that this year because of a new touring-pro deal he had signed with the Hamlet, a golf/tennis resort that had once employed Jimmy Arias as its touring pro. Part of the deal – which was worth $2 million for four years – was that the touring pro played in the Hamlet tournament. Edberg not only played, he won it, playing three matches the last two days because of rain delays.
That may have had nothing to do with what happened to him on the second morning of the tournament. After all, his pre-Open preparations in the past had not produced sterling results, so a change might not have been a bad idea. Or maybe it was.
In any event, Edberg showed up for his match with Alexander Volkov with the hangdog look he had worn in Paris. He didn’t play quite as poorly as he had against Bruguera, but he came close. Once again he was bounced from the first round of a Grand Slam and once again it was in straight sets.
“I just never felt comfortable,” Edberg said. “I can’t tell you why. I thought I would do well here. But it’s all over now.”
Volkov had been so certain he would lose that he had committed to play in German League matches that weekend.
“I was supposed to fly out of here tomorrow,” he said. “I was surprised Stefan played so poorly.”
Volkov made it to his German League commitment. The day after beating Edberg, he lost to Todd Witsken in straight sets – winning only seven games.
Almost everyone had expected an Edberg-Lendl semifinal in the top half of the draw. Now that was out of the question. But the craziness was just beginning.
“In the second round at the US Open, I destroyed a young Swedish upstart named Stefan Edberg, 6-1 6-0 6-2, then burned a swath through to the semifinals without dropping a set. On what came to be known as Super Saturday, after the three-set men’s 35 year olds division final, after the Lendl–Cash semi (which ran quite long, Lendl winning a fifth-set tiebreaker), after Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert Lloyd in a three-set women’s final – Connors and I finally walked onto the court at close to 7 pm!
Here was Jimmy’s chance for revenge. In the press conference after the Wimbledon final, I’d said that I now felt all I had to do was play well and I should beat everybody out there. Connors had taken grave exception. ‘That’s an awfully big statement to back up for the next four or five years’, he said.
Now, at Flushing Meadows, it was put-or-shut-up time. Jimmy had won the tournament the last two years in a row; he could work the New York crowd like nobody’s business. He was angry, and hungry.
But so was I. I really didn’t want Connors to open my three-Opens-in-a-row record, and I really wanted to get through to the final and get revenge on Lendl for the French.
The match with Jimmy was a slugfest from the start, an exciting five-setter that wound up running until 11.15 PM. The Flushing Meadows crowd, exhausted with over twelve hours of tennis, started filing out of the stadium when we went to a fifth set. It killed me that we were playing such a great match, but that the stands were only a quarter-full by the time we finished.
But by the time we finished, I was the winner, 6-3 in the fifth – 51 games, 3 hours and 45 minutes later.
I got home very late, still so jazzed up (yet exhausted) from the match that it was past two AM by the time I finally got to sleep. I could barely imagine having to play a final against Lendl. I woke up at noon on Sunday and staggered out of bed. By the time I got to the locker room at Flushing Meadows, I was so stiff I could barely walk. I was very worried – until I crossed the room and saw Lendl (whose match against Cash had gone 3 hours and 39 minutes) attempting to touch his hands to his toes. He could barely get past his knees!
He’s worst than I am I thought. A jolt of adrenaline shot through my body.
I felt that if I could just get in a good two hours of tennis, I could beat him. My body was saying That’s enough, but in some weirs way, the fatigue worked for me that afternoon. The fact that I was tired made me concentrate better, the more tired I felt, the better I seemed to hit the ball. It was a purely mental thing – push, push – and I didn’t get angry at anything because I needed every ounce of energy I had.
I won the first set 6-3. At one juncture, after I double-faulted in the second game of the second set, he had a break point. I came to net on a first serve at 30-40, hit the volley, and Lendl uncorked a huge forehand to try to pass me on my backhand side. The ball hit the tape and cannoned up at a weird angle, and I swung around in a full circle and hit the forehand volley for a winner. Sometimes it helps to be unconscious!
Second set 6-4. That was when visions of the French final flickered through my head. However, I knew I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – choke this one away. I gave the third set everything I had: when I broke his serve once, that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to drive a stake through this guy’s heart. I got the second break, went to 4-0, and even though Lendl never stopped trying (the way it seemed he had the previous year, in the final against Connors), I had too much momentum. Final set 6-1.
I had my fourth Open.
It was the last Grand Slam title I would ever win.