Edberg edges back to form

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The Independent Online
Tennis

Stefan Edberg's world ranking had dipped as low as No 52 when he arrived for the Lipton Championships here. This situated the former No 1 between two British players, seven places below Greg Rusedski and six above Tim Henman.

While the Lawn Association is entitled take encouragement from the progress Rusedski and Henman have made, there is little doubt that the 30-year-old Edberg has rushed down to meet them during his farewell season on the tour.

Currently only one place above his year-end ranking in 1983, when he was a novice professional ready to stake a place in the top 20 for 13 years, Edberg has not been helped by a wrist injury, which may require surgery. "I've had problems with the wrist for five months," he said. "If it doesn't improve I might have to have injections, and possibly even an operation.''

In the circumstances, it is a minor triumph that the former Wimbledon champion has managed to string together three consecutive wins for the first time since last summer.

Yesterday, he defeated Nicolas Pereira, 6-4, 6-2. Three days earlier the Venezuelan contributed to Thomas Muster's misery by eliminating the world No 1 in his opening match.

Edberg can empathise with Muster to an extent. On the last occasion the Swede encountered Pereira, in 1989, he was knocked out in his opening match at the Stella Artois Championship in London.

There were mitigating circumstances. Edberg had just arrived from Paris after losing to Michael Chang in the French Open final - having accounted for Pereira in straight sets in the second round. Moreover, he recovered in time to advance to the Wimbledon final, losing to Boris Becker.

Seven years ago, Pereira was regarded as a player with prospects, having ended 1988 as the junior world champion, with victories in the boys' singles at three of the four Grand Slams, including Wimbledon. Now 25, and ranked No 114, he has failed to reach his potential, in part, he admits, to a lack of application.

While Pereira remains a talented player - his attacking style is a refreshing change from the customary Latin American baseliners - he was no match for a revitalised Edberg.

Since announcing in December that he would retire at the end of this year, Edberg's conspicuous lack of success in singles matches has only be relieved by a doubles triumph at the Australian Open in partnership with the Czech Petr Korda.

Edberg, who has said more than once that he is prepared to curtail his final season rather than suffer the indignity of inferior performances, has perked up in the Florida sunshine.

"Today I hit the winners like a normally do when I'm serving well," he said. "It's very little that makes the difference. The way I played today was the way I've been playing in practice. I've been a little tight in matches.''

There was no indication of nervousness as Edberg went about his business, attacking Pereira from the start. "It went pretty easy, especially in the second set," the Swede said. "After I got the break, he fell apart a little bit. I was a lot sharper today than in the other two singles matches.''

So how is he enjoying his year so far? "-wise, It could have been a lot better. But the crowds have been very positive, I feel. The key issue is to produce good tennis out there.''

In the women's singles, Anke Huber and Kimiko Date advanced to the quarter finals with straight set wins. Huber, the No 3 seed, defeated Austria's Judith Wiesner, 6-4, 6-4, and the fifth-seeded Date eliminated Silvia Farina, of Italy, 6-2, 6-2.

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