Edberg shows class on the grass

Tennis
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The Independent Online
Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, both members of the grass-court aristocracy, face off today in a sentimental finale at the Stella Artois event at Queen's Club. Eight years ago the pair played each other in west London for the title, with the then 20-year-old German beating the 22- year-old Swede in three sets.

Nearly a decade on, the boyish Edberg, retiring in November at 30 with six Grand Slam crowns, and the bearded, brooding 28-year-old Becker share much in common: both are married fathers, both have been competing consistently at the elite level for years and both love the grass and Wimbledon.

Edberg had perhaps the most satisfying semi-final match yesterday as he fought back to defeat the Austrian Thomas Muster, 6-7 6-3 6-2, to reach his first final in 11 months. Becker, who won his first Tour title at Queen's 11 years ago today, dominated the South African Wayne Ferreira, 7-6 6-4.

Becker will be aiming to duplicate John McEnroe's feat of four titles here; Edberg would love to polish his Wimbledon preparations by taking his first crown since January 1995, when he won in Doha, Qatar.

"It's a classic," said Becker. "I can't even remember the last time we played a final [Stockholm in 1991, with Becker winning in five sets]." Becker and Edberg boast a long rivalry, having played each other 34 times, with Becker ahead, 24-10. Becker has dominated recently, winning their last seven matches.

"When Stefan is in good form, he is one of the best on grass," Becker said. "He's giving it all he's got now that he realises that his career will soon end. Both of us are coming back - me from a thigh injury and Stefan from a few months of poor form."

Edberg's grass game shone through as his match against Muster wore on. "I really got going in the second set," Edberg said. "My break for 5-3 [despite three forehand errors in the game] made the difference. In the third set I got some free points. I'm eager, hungry and want to win badly on grass."

Muster, the 1995 French Open champion, leaves for Halle, Germany - his second event in as many weeks on grass - with a new respect for the grass. "I'm leaving with a positive feeling," said the world No 2, who added that he would be disappointed if he was not seeded within the top four by the Wimbledon committee. "If they choose not to follow the ATP Tour rankings, then we should have rankings for different surfaces."

A week highlighted by three grass-court victories - his only ones in Tour tennis - will not be easily forgotten by Muster. "When I come back in a week to play at Wimbledon, I'll be prepared like I've never been before on the grass.

"I've played better every day. If you had asked someone about Muster on grass before this week, he might have said, 'nothing much'. But now, I've heard some voices saying that Muster is not so bad. I think that I can get respect on grass, but it will never be my favourite surface."

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