By Robin Finn, The New York Times, 4 December 1989

After a bridesmaid’s season in which he had twice been the runner-up in Grand Slam tournaments, a beaming Stefan Edberg was only too thrilled to get a grip on the flower-filled Tiffany trophy that pronounced him the champion of the 1989 Masters, the last event of tennis’s year and the last run of the tournament at Madison Square Garden.

It was, for Edberg, a whirlwind of a weekend, during which he knocked down the top two players in the world: Ivan Lendl, a five-time Masters champion, and Boris Becker, the defending Masters champion.

Those victories were the only tonic he could imagine that would restore a self-image that had suffered this year as he gained a reputation for making progress to tournament finals only to crumble. Until he defeated Becker in four sets yesterday, Edberg’s record in 1989 finals was a discouraging 1-6, and he had failed in five consecutive finals.

More than any other player here, Edberg seemed sincere when he conceded, before the Masters began and after the tournament was over, that he had not only wanted to win the tournament; he needed to.

”I’ve been waiting for this one,” said Edberg. ”It’s something I really needed. I’m going to start believing in myself, and that’s something I needed to do, because I know I’ve got the game and the talent to challenge for the No. 1 spot.”

Edberg, an even-tempered Swede who has been No. 3 in the world since last spring, followed his defeat of Lendl in two close sets in the semifinals Saturday with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 dethroning of Becker, in a 3-hour-2-minute match yesterday afternoon.

”It’s not the easiest thing in the world to beat Lendl or Becker on two consecutive days,” said Edberg, who prefers an understated approach in his analysis of matches but could not help being bowled over by his achievement here. ”I played the best tennis of my life in those two days.”

Fadeout After First Set

Becker, whose banner year included two Grand Slam titles – Wimbledon and the United States Open -attributed his deflation as the match wore on yesterday to a simple case of burnout. After he had won the first set easily and come within a point of claiming the second-set tie breaker, Becker’s resolve, usually omnipresent, vanished.

”I was getting tired physically and mentally,” he said. ”Not many people understand how close a match can be. One set, and if I make that shot in the tie breaker, it’s an easy three-set win for me. But sometimes I’m just empty. I’m exhausted, and that’s the bottom line.”

Becker had needed to resort to acrobatics to force the second set to the tie breaker in the first place, saving himself from Edberg’s well-aimed backhand pass at a break and a set point with a somersaulting backhand volley at the net.

Fateful Forehand Pass

He pumped his fist after two strong serves put him up, 6 points to 5, in the tie breaker, but lost his edge when Edberg, who had double-faulted twice at the start of the tie breaker, presented him with a service winner, then an ace, to take a 7-6 advantage.

Edberg won the tie breaker, 8-6, by returning Becker‘s second serve with a swift and unretrievable forehand pass.

”After I took the second set, I could see his serve breaking down,” said Edberg, whose play, with the exception of a single game in the third set, only grew steadier. Consistency, from the back court and at the net and eventually on his serve, again paid off for Edberg.

Becker briefly made as if to run away with the third set, where he broke an angry Edberg to take a 2-0 lead. But after changing from a worn-out racquet to a fresher one, he was broken by Edberg. That left him fuming for the rest of the match, in which he won only 2 of the last 13 games.

Beginning of the End

The new racquet did not survive for long: Becker stalked away and smashed it after the third game of that set. ”I picked out a bad one,” he said, ”and the racquet is now gone.”

In the final set, Becker progressively unraveled, raising his eyebrows at his own mistakes and raising them in grudging surprise as Edberg calmly splattered his passing shots off the side lines and laced his netside volleys with a geometry the West German could not solve.

Becker double-faulted three times in the course of losing his serve in the fourth game. When Edberg smashed an overhead to the court’s hinterlands to go up by 4-1, he clenched his fist in an uncharacteristic display of bravado.

With careful, classic ground strokes, Edberg broke Becker to take a 5-1 lead. Then, serving for the match, he did not allow Becker a single point, ending the contest with a sharp backhand volley into a court his opponent did not bother to guard.

Big Plans for ’90

Edberg was so excited about celebrating with his longtime coach, Tony Pickard, that he nearly forgot to shake hands with Becker.

Becker, acknowledged by all of his peers, but not by the computer, as 1989’s finest player, said later that he expected either Edberg or himself to take the No. 1 spot away from Lendl in 1990.

”If we stay healthy and play long enough, I think it’s definitely the case one of us will be the next No. 1,”

said Becker, who has a rematch with Edberg in two weeks when the two compete in the Davis Cup final in Stuttgart, West Germany.

”Now I’m kind of the unofficial No. 1,” Becker said. ”To have it written down on paper that I’m No. 1 and Lendl No. 2: that I would like to see.”

Mats Wilander

Enjoy the second edition of Break Point, our monthly roundup of the best tennis-related articles on the web:

– 7-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander turned 50 on August 22nd, learn more about his life as a tennis vagabond in this Men’s journal article.

– another veteran player, Pat Cash talks about life on the Seniors tour: A Week With Tennis Champions: Private Planes, Celebrities and Locker Room Gossip

– ever wondered what it’s like to be a ballboy at the US Open? Enjoy this Grantland post: I Tried Out to Be a US Open Ball Boy and Saw Dave Chappelle, and All I Got Were These Two Lousy T-Shirts.

– in May 1984, six of the world’s Top 10 were American, as were 24 of the Top 50. 30 years later, there are only 3 Americans in the top 50, with a chance at winning a Slam really close to 0. Can US Men’s Tennis Rise Again?

– the story of Irish player James McGee, who qualified for the main draw of the US Open for the first time of his career: James McGee rekindles fond memories of grinding out wins in Gabon as he aims for the bright lights. Also James great blog post on financing the tour.

why Wimbledon defeats the #USOpen game, set and match in the social media arena, by Tennis Buzz contributor Andreas Plastiras.

– and finally, Mauro’s article on how Stefan is transforming Federer into an “Edberg 2.0”

Photo credit: Margaret

By Selena Roberts, September 1, 1996, New York Times

Stefan Edberg realizes his top 10 years are behind him, tucked away with everything else in a hope chest of sorts. Edberg’s career is something to be opened years from now, when his velvet volleys will be re-discovered, when his gentleman’s demeanor will likely seem antique with the new breed of player crashing around the courts now.
Edberg is elegant, as classy as a chandelier, hanging over tennis for so long that no one wants him to go out. That’s why Stadium Court, madhouse central, was packed to its railings Tuesday afternoon as Edberg opened his last U.S. Open with a roaring upset of fifth-seeded Richard Krajicek.

They jumped to their feet again Friday night, popping up like submerged corks when he wore down an injured Bernd Karbacher. Amazing how an injury can be the cause for such celebration.
That’s because so many see Edberg as one of a kind, not just another champion who has kissed two Wimbledon trophies, and lofted another two at the Open, all among his six Grand Slam titles.
This is his last chance to add another. No more Slams, he promises. He will not reappear like an aging prizefighter. It’s time to go at age 30, eligible for the senior discount in tennis years. But is there one more Slam left for before it ends?

“I’m always being realistic,” he said Friday night after Karbacher, who was down two sets to one, retired with a hamstring pull. “I think there’s very little chance, but nothing is impossible. If I play great tennis, that could take me a long way. A lot of things can happen, like tonight, when a guy gets injured. Maybe it’s going to happen more, who knows? I’m two for two now. Krajicek had a nosebleed, so …”

So there was laughter. Edberg broke up the place, a witty side of the often reserved Swede that he has kept to himself for years. He is not keen on outbursts, always the perfect fit for a game that falls silent during a point.
That makes the site of the Open an odd match for Edberg. But it seems he has grown accustomed to the LaGuardia flight patterns, the rumblings of the 7-Train, the Long Island Rail Road and crowds that have strengthened their vocal cords through years of hailing taxis.

“There were times when it was difficult to cope with the conditions,” Edberg has said. “It’s New York and there’s so much happening.”

But winning can make you comfortable on a pin cushion. Whatever prickliness Edberg might have had for the Open at one point, it was soothed when he won the title in 1991, slipping by almost unnoticed when Jimmy Connors was all the rage at the end of his career, the player making all the noise in so many of the night matches.
But nighttime has been the wrong time for Edberg in the past, his 7-4 Open record in the dark being one very good reason. And in the past, the stirring in the seats might have annoyed him. Now, with time, he finds the things that go bump in the night almost charming.

“The crowds can be very loud, especially when you’re playing in the evening,” said Edberg. “I’ve been here playing against Connors and it can be very, very loud. It makes it exciting at the same time.”

Connors made a late-stage run at the Open at the end, thrilling everyone with his semifinal appearance in 1991. Is it Edberg’s turn? Could he become the crowd mascot?

“I don’t think that’s going to happen too many times,” Edberg said. “I think in 1991, when Jimmy got to the semifinals, it was just incredible all of the people coming out. It was like Connors-mania in America. I think it takes an American, somebody special like Jimmy. For me that year it was actually great, because all of the attention was on him. I could sort of quietly go through that year.”

That’s just like him, silent and serene. It’s only now that people have really started to take notice. Isn’t that always the way it is? When a champion leaves, suddenly people realize what this person has meant to the game.

“I think Stefan is a professional that every young person, every athlete should strive to emulate,” Andre Agassi said.

Agassi is a guy who is often a loud bang to Edberg’s muffled ways, a splash of fluorescent color to Edberg’s conservative tennis whites. Yet, even Agassi realizes what style Edberg has.

“I think he reflects discipline, commitment, ability and talent,” Agassi said. “He gives back to the game.”

All of those gifts will be stored away when Edberg departs, gifts only to be discovered again and again.

“He only adds to the game,” Agassi said. “Really, his image and his person is impeccable.”

Stefan Edberg, 1992 US Open champion

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.