Tim Henman, Wimbledon 2001

This article is part of a new series: what if? … rewriting tennis history. Enjoy the read and feel free to leave a comment below.

If you used to watch tennis in the late 90’s you surely remember Henmania taking over Wimbledon each summer:

“Henman made his name on Centre Court in 1996, when he defeated reigning French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and expectation has snowballed ever since. Fans wave, or paint Union Jacks on their face, and shout, ‘Come on, Tim!’ like he is one-man football team. Outside Centre Court hundreds more pile in front of a big screen on the side of Court One that has come to be known as Henman Hill.
Most fans don’t care how their hero performs the other fifty weeks of the year so long as he is up for it during Wimbledon fortnight. They believe the first six months of the season are spent leading up to it and the next six are spent recovering from it.
During those two weeks in the summer when Henmania sweeps through Britain, he gets more attention than David Beckham or the royal family, and most of them are in the Royal Box watching him. He becomes the focus of national hero worship as he progresses through the early rounds. Then he is beaten and derided as a serial loser, a choker, and becomes the butt of countless needless jokes.” [1]

Tim Henman reached Wimbledon semifinals 4 times (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and had his best chance to reach the final in 2001 when he faced Goran Ivanisevic in the semifinals. Henman had come back from a set down to take the lead by 2 sets to 1 before rain stopped play. Henman ended up losing this match played over 3 days.

After Henman’s split with long time coach David Felgate in 2001, David Lloyd suggested Henman should copy Davis Cup teammate Greg Rusedski by working with a former player for specific tournaments only (Rusedski worked briefly with 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash). Former Davis Cup captain Lloyd is known to say really stupid things at times ( just before the Davis Cup final last year, he claimed Andy Murray doesn’t give enough back to British tennis), but his advice to Henman totally made sense back then:

“I always thought that someone like Edberg should have been brought in long ago to help the team for the big tournaments. He had a similar style to Tim and the same kind of problems, like his serve suddenly going and losing his forehand. But he learned how to control it.” [2]

“Edberg had such a similar game to Tim’s. Tim’s serve still tends to go on a big point, and he tends to hit his forehand too hard. Edberg was like that. He could have helped Tim, because, when you’re playing someone like Agassi or Hewitt who plays their ground shots so well, you’ve got to get a big percentage of your first serves in.” [2]

As a coach, Edberg would have helped Henman improve technically, but he would also have helped him handle the pressure he faced every year at Wimbledon.

Lleyton Hewitt: “British tennis is waiting for a Grand Slam champion – and Tim is the best chance going. In the locker room, everyone knows the pressure and expectations that Tim has to deal with at this time of the year. And everyone respects how well he deals with it. The way he handles the pressue and comes back and plays extremely well at Wimbledon year after year is a credit to him. He’d fully deserve it if he comes away with the Wimbledon crown one day. Even if he never wins Wimbledon, it’s pretty amazing what Tim has done there.” [1]

Despite his pairs’s praise, Henman was considered too soft, and his nerve and fighting spirit were forever being questioned. Early in his career, Stefan was also accused of lacking a burning desire to win. Long-time coach Tony Pickard did transform him into a player who had “fire in his belly”. He showed nerves of steel when he was down 3-1 to Becker in the fifth set of their ’90 Wimbledon final, and proved all his critics wrong during his epic ’92 US Open run (each time down a break in the fifth set he beat Richard Krajicek, Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang).
As a player Pickard did not have quite enough talent to match his self-assurance. He soon discovered that it was the other way round for Edberg.

“The biggest problem, was to get him to believe in himself. It took nearly three years.” [3]

In 2012, Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl as a coach, and their partnership has been successful, to say the least: two Grand Slam titles (US Open 2012, Wimbledon 2013) and an Olympic gold medal, among other titles.

“Without a doubt, to have Ivan Lendl by my side was a real bonus”

acknowledged Andy Murray after his first Grand Slam victory at the US Open in 2012, nine months after the beginning of his collaboration with the 8-time Grand Slam champion. [4]

The Murray-Lendl collaboration started a new trend of former Grand Slam champions working with today’s top champions (Becker-Djokovic, Federer-Edberg, Chang-Nishikori…):

“Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change things in their game, said Sam Sumyk. This is the advantage of high level, this is not just the technique of a forehand or backhand, there are lots of parameters that come into play. The help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is on details. It can be in all areas: technique, way of thinking, or state of mind.” [4]

“I think I can really bring a little something. And maybe that little something can bring back Roger to where he was some time ago.”[4] said Edberg.

And indeed Edberg’s influence was the biggest reason behind Federer‘s regain of form in 2014 and 2015, encouraging him to shorten rallies, and take control of the net.

“Federer is a different, better player than he was at the start of this year, and a lot of the credit for that goes to that iconic exponent of the serve-and-volley game, Edberg.” [5]

So what do you think, would Edberg have brought that little something to Henman’s game to help him reach new heights and win Wimbledon?

What if Stefan Edberg had coached Tim Henman?

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Sources:
[1] From Tim Henman, England’s finest by Simon Felstein – published in 2006
[2] Lloyd: Henman should be converting ability into titles, BBC Sport, 10 April, 2001
[3] From Love Thirty, three decades of champions by Rex Bellamy – published in 1990. Read more here.
[4] From Tennis Magazine, April 2014. Read more here.
[5] The man behind Roger Federer’s success by Peter Bodo for ESPN. Read the article here.

Tony Pickard and Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1991

By Arthur Brocklebank, Tennis Week, 2008

The fox is becoming extinct in England, but deep in middle England, Nottinghamshire an old silver fox sits alive and well in his armchair reflecting on his days of coaching Stefan Edberg and reviewing the state of the spot today. Tony Pickard coached six-time Grand Slam champion Edberg, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004 and is set to make his senior debut on the Blackrock tour this year. The 42-year-old Swede will compete in Paris, France at The Trophée Jean-Luc Lagardère, September 18-21 and at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England at The BlackRock Masters Tennis, December 2-7.

Pickard still has that energy in his heart to stoke up a burning desire for anyone in the tennis profession who wants to listen and learn. He owns one of the most impressive coaching resumes in the nation, having worked with Edberg, Marat Safin, Petr Korda and a Canadian, oppphhhh I mean an adopted Brit, Greg Rusedski. Edberg amassed 41 singles titles, including two Wimbledon crowns, and 18 doubles championships in his career. Edberg and John McEnroe are the only men in Open Era history to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles simultaneously.

It was a turn of circumstances at the beginning that would bring Tony Pickard and Stefan Edberg together. I asked Pickard, when he started playing tennis himself.

“My parents never played tennis. I was nuts on football. It all started by an accident when I was 14 years old. I loved football but one day I jumped into a swimming pool and landed on a broken bottle that cut my foot. I was in a wheelchair for six months. My sister took me to the tennis court where she played and I watched. I thought this is an easy game to play so I took it up,” Pickard says with a bemused smile as he gazed up to the ceiling.

Pickard soon played county tennis and later played several times at Wimbledon. He represented his country in the Davis cup and captained the under 21 and Davis Cup teams for Great Britain.

One incident that stands out in his playing career was in Rome at the 1963 Italian Open. He was playing the big-serving New Zealander Ian Crookenden in the Italian Championships and not only the crowd, but the line judges were losing interest.

Pickard takes up the story: “It was a match point. He served and it was at least nine inches long. The umpire looked to the baseline judge for the call, but he was turned round buying an ice cream over the fence.’ Crookenden won the point and went on to win the match. I felt as sick as a pig,” says Pickard.

Was there any possibility of an appeal I asked?

“In those days you could never appeal or you would have been brought up before a governing body committee and banned. A protest was not possible.”
Read More

By Roger M. Williams, Australian Tennis Magazine, March 1986

During the fifth set of a semifinal match at the Australian Open last December, 19-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden faced what pop psychologists call a crisis of confidence. Holding three match points against Ivan Lendl, the world’s No. 1, Edberg proceeded to lose all three. No, he actually lost the first two and blew the third – a backhand sitter with Lendl off balance at midcourt.
The Edberg of old – that is, 18 or early 19 – would probably have crumpled right then. “Depression,” as he candidly calls it, would have taken command and, glowering and muttering, his head drooping like a dejected schoolboy, he would have gone on to squander the greatest opportunity of his career. As his coach, Tony Pickard, later reflected, “Those missed match points would’ve gotten to him something awful.”

But the new young Edberg is not the old young Edberg. Pulling himself together promptly and calmly, he proceeded to defeat Lendl 9-7 in the fifth. Then in the final two days later, he completed the greatest week of his life by steamrolling fellow Swede Mats Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Two weeks after that, in the deciding match of the 1985 Davis Cup final, Edberg recorded another extraordinary victory, overcoming West Germany’s cannonballing Michael Westphal, 13,000 roaring hometown fans in Munich and his own acute nervousness to retain the Cup for Sweden. All of these heroics, it turned out, were performed in the face of developing mononucleosis, which Edberg’s lean, lithe body had been harboring for several weeks. A touch of mono, it seems, would he good for all of us.

As the holder of a Grand Slam singles title and the hero of Sweden’s championship Davis Cup team, Edberg now stands with Boris Becker as the hottest young player in the game. Indeed, the reserved young Swede is now emerging from the shadow of such countrymen as Wilander, Anders Jarryd, Joakim Nystrom and Henrik Sundstrom, and threatening to overtake them all as the best of the Swedes.

His victory over Wilander, the two-time defending champion at the Australian Open, is one indication of that. So is his fiery ambition. Much has been made of Wilander’s wavering interest in gaining the summit of men’s tennis. But Edberg, now 20, expresses no such diffidence. Far from it; he hungers openly for the top and will not be satisfied until he gets there. As Erik Bergelin, Edberg’s agent, notes, “Stefan even turns down exhibitions so he can concentrate on winning tournaments and climbing in the rankings.”

Now ranked No. 5, Edberg is also more demonstrative than most of his fellow Swedes. He’s never boorish on the court, but it’s easy to tell that fire burns beneath the placid exterior. He customarily reacts to errors by grimacing and spitting out an expletive that’s sure to be a Swedish version of an Anglo-Saxon four-letter word. Asked what the word is, he grins and replies, “It’s not very nice – but it’s not very loud.”

This Swede who would be king was born and raised in Vastervik, a coastal resort town about 175 miles south of Stockholm. His father was, and still is, a plainclothes policeman. Young Stefan excelled at tennis and early on developed a serve-and- volley style that immediately set him apart from all the baseline topspinners imitating Bjorn Borg.

“I always practiced a lot on my serve,” he recalls, “the second as well as the first. And I always liked to volley.”

Nobody insisted that he couldn’t win that way on clay because, from an early age, Edberg won on that surface.
Read More

By Craig Gabriel, Australian Tennis Magazine, September 1988

Stefan Edberg wants to be the best player in the world and he knows this is a mission that demands a day in, day out routine. Most days are typical for him during a tournament as he juggles the hours between practice sessions, PR appearances and matches.
Edberg rises each morning at about 8.30 a.m., when he showers and eats breakfast, which is never heavy. A fruit juice would be followed by cereal and then toast and cold cuts of breakfast meat.
“I eat a meal depending on when I am going to play a match,” said Edberg. “I don’t like to get loaded down with food before a match because it feels uncomfortable on court and you find it difficult to move.”

Edberg returned to the Graden Plaza Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was playing the Volvo Tennis/US Indoor, and did a couple of push-ups on the floor of his room. He does not usually make use of the fitness centres that more hotels are providing because he mostly likes to be on his own.
The 22-year-old Swede may play a game different from most other Swedes, in that he prefers to serve-and-volley rather than sit on the back-fence and drill groundstrokes from corner to corner in a battle of attrition, but Stefan is still very much like his compatriots in his reserved manner.
This was a match-day for the world’s number two ranked player. He was the defending champion at the tournament and attempting to make the final for the fourth consecutive year. It was a very attainable feat, because the draw for the tournament was one of the weakest in the event’s history.

Tony Pickard, a former Davis Cup player and Edberg’s longtime coach from England, was not with his charge this week, and Stefan was quite happy to arrange most ot his own schedule. He is developing a more mature and confident attitude. He called the Racquet Club of Memphis, where the tournament was being played – it was almost next door to the hotel – and made arrangements for a practice session.
Edberg flopped back onto his bed, looking at the ceiling, thinking how most hotel rooms look the same after so many years on the pro tour. He had taken off his shoes and t-shirt and was relaxing with his eyes closed when the phone rang. It was his agent, Tom Ross, from Advantage International, the Washington-based company, calling to say that he was in town. Ross reminded Edberg about his commitments regarding appearances for the products he endorses.

It was now 9.30 and the day was already an hour old for Edberg. As a rule, he is not the type to waste time and he started to get things into gear.

“I have so many things that have to be done in a day that I don’t have time to relax or delay. People think we only play matches and then have the rest of the day off. It is just not the case,” he explained.

Tom Ross had made his way down to Edberg’s room and said there was a car waiting downstairs to take them to an adidas reception. adidas created the “Stefan Edberg Collection” two years ago. The endorsement contract was said to be worth millions of dollars, including royalties, so the more appearances Stefan made the better for his bank balance. No matter how much Edberg was prompted, he would not disclose any figures.
On the way to meet the buyers, a stop was made at the home of Lars Nilsson, who is a Swede on a tennis scholarship in Memphis. He and Edberg were friends back in Sweden and they came from the same town. Lars would be Stefan’s practice partner later in the day and his doubles partner for the week.

In the car, discussions were taking place about scheduling and where Edberg would need to make appearances over the next few weeks and what advance interviews would be needed, whether in person or over the phone.
His itinerary included tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati, which would feature the likes of Becker, Wilander and Mecir, and then Japan, where he was the defending champion.

“I like going to Japan,” said Edberg. “I have won quite a few times there and I am always looked after so well. I look forward to the trips there.”

The adidas function took about an hour, with the Edberg clothing range on display around the room. He handled himself in his usual quiet manner and then excused himself, explaining that he had to leave for a practice session as he had a match that night.

“It is a great feeling to see my name on the clothes,” said Edberg, getting back into the car. “I feel very proud. I feel the same way when they make the announcements on the courts to introduce me for a match.”

Normally, wherever Edberg goes, he is followed by hordes of screaming girls. His fair Scandinavian looks make him very attractive to the teenyboppers, whether he is in Japan, Australia or the American midwest. On this occasion, they were absent and Edberg probably felt a little relieved about that because there is a time and place for everything.
As a promotion for the tournament, Edberg agreed to go to a city store and sign autographs for half an hour. The event needed some attention. There, he was almost besieged by the girls and he tried to oblige all requests. He was constantly saying “thank you” in response to the dozens of compliments that were paid to him. The smile never left his face.

“It is part of the job,”he said. “It is hard sometimes, but it has to be done. There are so many things I like to do, such as going to the movies or out to dinner, and I like listening to music.”

It was a little after midday when he returned to his hotel room. Racquets were piled up in one corner, shoes – about a dozen pairs – somewhere else and packets of gut strings were spilling out of a bag. Even so, the room looked relatively orderly for that of a tennis player.
Edberg’s lovely girlfriend, Annette Olsson, Sweden’s top model, was not travelling with him. He took a little time to call her, but didn’t say where she was.
Room service was ordered for lunch, and again nothing too heavy was chosen. He ordered pasta. He then did an interview by way of an interpreter, for a tournament in Japan, and followed up with a one-on-one interview for a newspaper in Memphis. By this time, lunch had arrived.
Edberg phoned Tony Pickard in London, where it was about 8 p.m. They talked about the match that night against Damir Keretic, who has a solid all-round game. The West German could be dangerous if Stefan was tired; after all, Stefan had been in town only a day following his win at the tournament at Rotterdam for the second consecutive year.

It was now now a little before 2 p.m. and Edberg decided to go to the courts a little early and do some exercises. When he got to the courts, he took out a skipping rope and used it for a few minutes to loosen up and “get myself on my toes”. He then did a couple of sprints up and down the sideline, and various stretching exercises that most pros do as a protection against pulled hamstrings or groin muscles, etc.
Hitting with Nilsson, the pace soon picked up. Edberg worked on his approach shot down the line. After 20 minutes, they stopped for a breather and a drink. For Edberg, even that is an endorsement, a sports drink called Pripps.
They returned to the court and Stefan slammed down his big serve and also his hard-to-handle kick second serve. They played a tiebreak, which the higher ranked Swede won hands down. After the set was over, Edberg did some wind sprints. He said he does not like to run distances on a track or road.

On returning to the hotel, the players took showers and Edberg got onto the phone once more, this time to call his family in Sweden. He calls his parents and brother about three times a week. His father is Bengt, his mother is Barbro, and his 15-year-old brother is Jan, a good player.

“It is nice to call home,” said Stefan. “When I call them, we talk about what is happening at home and how my matches are going. We talk about a whole lot of things.”

Once the call is over, there is another meeting with Tom Ross to discuss more scheduling and business deals. Edberg likes to keep the Grand Slam weeks free from any distractions, such as interviews and endorsement appearances, so that he can just concentrate on his tennis.

“I keep an interest in where my money is going,” he said. “I think it is important to know what is happening all the time and what is being done with my investments. I find it very interesting.”

Edberg handles the unnatural lifestyle with ease. He took a bit of time to relax and lay on his bed with the television on. It was now about 5.30 p.m. and his match was in two hours, so he went back to the club for a warm-up practice session.
Match time. The stands around the main court had a capacity of 5,200 and were almost full as Edberg and Keretic walked out. Edberg was surrounded by three bodyguards, one a former secret service agent, as protection from the fans. For the multi-millionaire sportsman, this was not an uncommon practice.
Edberg won the match 7-5, 6-4, but he looked tired, and, once all the post-match interviews were finished, he went out to dinner with Lars Nilsson. As he pointed out, there were no late nights for him because of his commitment to be always at his best. Although he wanted to go to see the movie, “Shoot to Kill”, his busy schedule did not allow it.

“I know there are many sacrifices and plenty of special requests,” he said. “I don’t get to go sightseeing very often. I like to go shopping, but it can be difficult. I knew what I was getting into and I enjoy it with the travelling, but I also like to see my friends.”

It was now past midnight after a long day. And this was only the start of the week.

By Andrew Longmore, The London Times, 1991

For a man who lives so close to the edge on court, Stefan Edberg is one of life’s supreme conservatives. He abhors disorder, is disconcerted and upset by it. Edberg is the sort of man who washes up coffee cups before you have drunk the last mouthful, and he would no more leave the top off the toothpaste as he would be seen on Centre Court with his shirt outside his neatly pressed, neatly tailored shorts.

He dresses modestly, talks and drinks in moderation, still takes the underground to work, and lines up for his meal tickets just as he did when he first came on to the tour nine years ago. He does not own a car and would eat Italian food seven times a week if he could.

Nothing in Edberg’s manner signposts the genius beneath; nothing on the surface illuminates the depths of his soul. The face, fixed in a look of almost permanent wonder, like a child who has seen Father Christmas for the first time, melts the hearts of mothers from Japan to Djibouti, but it discourages curiosity.

Edberg is Edberg. Too good to be true. Boring.

“The boring Swede?” He laughs.” It doesn’t upset me. It makes me think, ‘Can I do anything about it?’ The answer is not a lot. My job is to play my best tennis and I do that when I am controlled and cool. I’ve seen myself on television and I admit I don’t look the happiest person on earth, I know. I can start to fool around, but I don’t think it would help my tennis and, I can tell you, it used to be a lot worse.”

Edberg laughs a lot more these days. Not a guffaw, you understand. Just a chuckle, delivered quickly and nervously as if there were some embarrassment in being caught in the act.

He has also mastered the art of the understatement, possibly the result of living in Britain for the past five years, or just possibly the real Edberg, more familiar with the English language now, emerging from a decade of hibernation.

It is hard to tell. Either way, his conversation is punctuated by gentle self-deprecating asides which come with the confidence of being the best in his profession, the No.1 player in the world.

That too was typical of Edberg. Boris Becker reached No.1 thunderously by beating Ivan Lendl, the defending champion, to win the Australian Open. Edberg fulfilled his ambition five months ago at the GTE Thriftway championships in Cincinnati. It was in the quarter-final and very probably only Edberg and Tony Pickard, his coach, really understood the significance of the win.

He even fluffed his second entrance. Having been briefly deposed by Becker, Edberg resumed the No.1 spot in the semi-finals of a tournament in Brussels. He lost. Hardly a clash of cymbals.

But then, unlike Becker, Edberg is not one of life’s percussionists. The agonizing public confessions that have marked Becker’s growth from child to man have no part in Edberg’s thinking. Or if they do, very few know of them.

And yet Edberg has had to cope with the excesses of stardom from almost the same age as Becker. In 1983, the year he won the junior Grand Slam, Edberg beat Becker in the first round of junior Wimbledon, the first battle in what both vaguely understood would be a long war. Their paths have crossed ever since, including the finals of the last three Wimbledons.

“We are two very different people, Boris and me. It has been much tougher for him. You only have to look at how much goes around tennis in Germany. The pressures on him are unbelievable. I was lucky that I came up with 3,000 other Swedes. Borg was still huge and most of the attention was still on Mats Wilander.”

But there is more to it than that. Cleverly, imperceptibly, naturally, since he first set foot outside the industrial seaside town of Vastervik, Edberg has kept the world at arm’s length. Everyone knows the face, but only Pickard, Annette Olssen, Edberg’s longtime girlfriend, and perhaps a few old school friends fully understand the man.

“I am naturally suspicious. It takes a lot of time before I let people come close. I like to keep my distance. You meet a lot of weird people in this business, so you have to be cautious.”

Caution permeates Edberg’s life, from the investment of his vast wealth to his vision of the future.

“I want to have a stable life. Not too many surprises. Have my things in order, a nice house and good friends around me. Maybe a nice dinner once in a while. But I don’t need a helicopter in the garden to take me there.”

The one exception to this ordered existence is Edberg’s tennis, which, despite his arguments to the contrary, is still beguilingly eccentric. Articulate as he is, only on the tennis court does Edberg express himself fully, and even then you have to watch carefully and wait patiently for the genius to flow. It can take a long time.

The main tension in Edberg’s life comes from his lust for perfection and, because he alone among the top players knows the true meaning of the word, the search can be lonely and frustrating. When you can play tennis as faultlessly as Edberg did in the Wimbledon semi-final against Lendl last year and for the first two sets of the final, mediocrity is very hard to accept.

“I am very determined and sometimes I put too much pressure on myself, expect too much of myself. Semi-finals and finals are no good to me anymore. I have to win tournaments, and if I lose I get edgy and I have to get back to work, I’ve always been disciplined. It comes from childhood.”

Wimbledon 90: Becker vs Edberg

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

When Becker walked on court for the final, on a glistening, postcard-perfect day, there was another problem. Katarina Witt, the glamorous German ice skater, had come to town earlier in the week. She was in the process of making a deal with Tiriac, and he had invited her to Wimbledon. Becker, single again, had spent some time with her.

It didn’t take long for the London tabloids to get cranked up. Now, as Becker walked on court, he looked up toward the friends’ box, expecting to see Brett and Tiriac’s assistant, Heather McLachlan, sitting there. That had been the drill the entire tournament. But now, in addition to Brett and McLachlan, Becker’s sister was there. That was fine. So was Katarina Witt. That wasn’t fine.
From his seat, Brett saw a look pass over Becker’s face. “It was a shock,” Becker said later. “I never expected to see her there. Heather had just given her the ticket to sit there without thinking about what it would me. She told me later she was sorry, that she made a mistake.”
What it meant was tabloid mania. Front page pictures galore, rumors about a Becker-Witt romance everywhere. It wasn’t what Becker needed starting a Wimbledon final.
Those thoughts, his feeling of satisfaction after the semifinal, and Edberg’s brilliance made Becker look helpless the first two sets.

“I just didn’t feel like I was in a Wimbledon final,” he said. “I didn’t even feel nervous going on court. Then I got a little distracted at the start (by Witt), and the next thing I know it’s 6-2 6-2. Then, my only thought was to not make a complete fool of myself.”

Edberg was also as shocked as Becker. How could it be so easy? He had lost three Grand Slam finals in eighteen months. Maybe it was in turn at last.
Or maybe not. Edberg had a break point in the first game of the third set. It was, for all intents and purposes, a match point as far as Becker was concerned. He came in and Edberg teed up another backhand. He ripped it crosscourt. Not this time: Becker read it perfectly and knocked off a sharp backhand volley. From there, he held. Given a glimmer of life, he broke Edberg for the first time in the next game. Maybe, he thought, I can win a set.
He won it. Then he won another. They had played for two hours and fifteen minutes. Now they would play the first fifth set in a Wimbledon final since McEnroe-Connors in 1982. Becker was wound up, stoking. Edberg was reeling.

“I was all the way to fifth gear,” Becker said. “He wasn’t there yet. I needed to take him out before he got there.”

He had his chance. Serving at 1-2, Edberg served two double faults, the second one an ugly balloon that almost went over the baseline. Becker was up 3-1. The match was on his racquet.

“But somehow I could’t keep my mind right there on the match,” he said. “I started to think about holding that trophy again. I knew that if I served the match out, I would be on the same side of the net where I had been the other three times I had won. Those were wrong thoughts at that time. If I win the game at 3-1, he’s finished. But I couldn’t keep my concentration.”

Becker needed to, as Navratilova would put it, stay in the present. Instead, he had let his mind wander into the future. At 30-all, Edberg chipped a backhand and Becker didn’t get down far enough for the volley. He netted it. Break point. Becker came in behind a serve and had an easy forehand volley. He pushed it wide.

Edberg pumped a fist. Becker had let him get into fifth gear. “He was in fifth and I was out of gas,” he said later. With Edberg serving at 4-4, Edberg came up with the shot of the match, a perfect backhand topspin lob that landed on the line, to get one last service break. He skipped to his chair while Becker slumped. Becker tried to talk to himself into it one more time but it as too late. Edberg served it out, finishing with a perfect kick serve that Becker just got to but pushed wide.

As the ball landed, Edberg hurled the ball he had in his hand toward the sky as Pickard leapt from his seat, screaming. Becker, never classier, climbed over the net and hugged Edberg. His eyes were glassy.

“I really couldn’t believe I had lost after coming so far back,” he said. “I went home the next day and wrote for hours and thought and tried to figure it out. In the end, I thought maybe it was his time. He had lost three straight finals. He had been hurt in one that he probably would have won. We’ve played so many times that we both deserve some good things. He’s a good guy. He’s different than me, it doesn’t show his emotion, but he is a great player. I decided he deserved this Wimbledon.”

For Edberg, this second Wimbledon was even better than the first because of the travails of the past two years. He even got to go to the champions’ dinner. In 1988, with the final postponed until Monday, he hadn’t been able to go. This time, he got to go. When he arrived at the dinner, he raced up to Navratilova, panicked.

“What kind of dance do we have to do?” he asked her.

Navratilova laughed. Once, it had been part of Wimbledon tradition for the two champions to dance the first dance together. But in 1978, the dinner had been moved to the Savoy Hotel. There was no room in the ballroom for a dance floor and no more first dance.
Edberg was relieved. The thought of dancing in front of a thousand people was far more terrifying than the thought of being down 3-1 in the fifth. He had survived that and he didn’t have to dance. A perfect day.

Edberg and Navratilova sat at the head table and got to hear the toast that climaxes every Wimbledon. Shortly before midnight, John Curry stood up and raised his glass.

“To the Queen,” he said

Everyone in the room stood. “The Queen,” they chorused back. The Championships of 1990 were over.

Also read:
Wimbledon 1990: Becker and Edberg in a Centre Court reunion
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg, a new deserving champion
Portrait of Stefan Edberg, by Rex Bellamy