Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion
By Rex Bellamy, London Times, Tuesday July 5 1988
Edberg, aged 22, became Wimbledon champion last evening by beating Boris Becker 4-6 7-6 6-4 6-2 in a final that began on Sunday, was played in three phases, and lasted for a total of two hours and 50 minutes. This was the first Wimbledon singles final to begin one day and end the next.
Edberg is the first Swedish winner since Bjorn Borg in 1980. The title has passed from Pat Cash, an Australian with an apartment in Fulham, to a Swede with an apartment in Kensington. In January of last year Edberg beat Cash in the final of the last Australian championship played on grass.
Five years ago Edberg, having beaten Becker in the first round, won the Wimbledon boys’ title. Becker was favoured to win their long-deferred return match on the famous old lawns but, ultimately, was clearly second best to a man giving a classic demonstration of the serve-and-volley game. Edberg’s mixture of services teased Becker throughout the match.
Becker said later that his preceding matches with Cash and Ivan Lendl had taken a good deal out of him, physically and mentally, and that consequently he was unable to “push” himself when the quality of Edberg’s tennis demanded it. Edberg led 3-2 in the first set overnight but Becker, having won five consecutive games, went to 5-3 and quickly tucked the set away. But he was soon under stress. In the second set Edberg had four break points, Becker one. In the tie-break Edberg instantly took the initiative and Becker, between points, sometimes reeled about like a boxer who was taking too many punches. Edberg was two men in one. Between rallies, he ambled about like a quietly watchful gunslinger. When the ball was in motion, he reacted like lightning, shot from the hip, and seldom missed his target. His serving, volleying, and return of service were exhilarating not least when he was volleying or driving on the backhand.
Always springy in the forecourt, Edberg usually gave a little hop of satisfaction after putting away a volley. There was many a fleeting hint of a private smile. Edberg sometimes punched the air, too.
Such indications of pleasure were never excessive and were always swiftly suppressed. Edberg is no man to make a fuss, or to be discourteous to his opponent by giving any sign of gloating. He was happy because he knew that he was playing his best tennis, whereas Becker was not. But Edberg was aware that it could all change, at any moment.
Edberg broke to 2-1 in the third set and in the next game Becker irritably threw down his racket in frustration and was given a warning. Becker changed his racket but in the next game he was briefly embarrassed when he slipped and sat down in the forecourt: and Edberg lobbed him. Again, Becker angrily swished his racket.
Edberg was remorseless. He clinched that third set with a run of four service games in which he conceded only three points. Becker, often shaking his head, was riddled with self-doubt. His usually formidable power game was spluttering the blazing services and returns too sporadic to give Edberg persistent cause for concern.
Yet the tension remained almost tangible, because we knew that although Edberg could play no better, Becker might. But in the first game of the fourth set Becker, serving, went 30-40 down: and a voice from the stands cried “Bye, bye, Boris”.
Becker lost that game with a double-fault and, head bowed, went to the changeover with one strong hand hiding his face. If there was any further doubt in his mind, or Edberg’s, it was dispelled when Edberg broke him again, to 4-1. In that game one of Edberg’s backhands exploded down the court like a shell. Edberg’s service games remained impregnable even in the last game, in which his six services were all second balls. Becker was a broken man. In the last rally he had Edberg at his mercy but dumped an easy backhand into the net. Edberg fell to his knees, hardly believing his luck.
But Edberg had made his own luck, because in the last three sets he never gave Becker the slightest cause for hope, the slightest chance to take a breather and get his act together. So this was not the all-German year. It was the year of Steffi and Stefan.