Tennis: Courier's defence of the title goes swimmingly

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The Independent Online
STEFAN EDBERG congratulated Jim Courier on defeating him in the final of the Australian Open for the second consecutive year, and told him to 'have a good swim in the river'. The world No 1 collected the trophy and his cheque, thanked everybody, and did exactly that. Old habits die hard.

The Yarra is so polluted in parts that it is known locally as the river that flows upside down. Courier was not aware of this when he and his coach, Brad Stine, leapt into it a year ago to celebrate their triumph, and it was so hot yesterday that they were probably past caring when they took the plunge after the American's 6-2, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 victory.

There had even been a possibility of the 100th Grand Slam tournament of the open era being concluded indoors. Fears of a curried Courier and a fried Edberg as the air temperature rose to 40C and the Centre Court a blistering 67C prompted a suggestion that the stadium's retractable roof be closed.

The players were not impressed. 'I was going to fight it,' Courier said. 'If they said they were going to close it, I wouldn't have gone out on court, and they would have been real stuck. This is an outdoor tournament. It shouldn't be closed unless it is raining.'

Edberg agreed. 'It would have been wrong to play a Grand Slam final indoors, so I would have been totally against that,' he said. 'It would have been better to cancel the day. But how do you cancel the day when it is sunny out there?'

Neither player could remember having to cope with such extreme heat before. Edberg said the conditions were 'brutal' and described how 'at one stage you feel like death, then you feel a bit better, and then it hits you again'. He was relieved that his back injury had subsided and that he could play without wearing a support. 'I think I would have died in that today.'

Courier, who had not won a tournament since the French Open seven months earlier, said that physically yesterday's match was the hardest Grand Slam final he had played. 'You are just looking for any shade between points,' he said.

Edberg took the precaution of wearing a cap for the first time. This was discarded after the Swede was broken in the eighth game to lose the opening set in 35 minutes. 'I'm not used to it, and I started to watch the cap instead of the ball when I tossed up for my serve,' he said.

The cap was only part of the problem. Courier was so dominant that he dropped only two points on his first seven service games, and was two sets to the good after only 62 minutes. 'I was wondering what I was doing out there,' Edberg said. 'I didn't feel like I belonged in the match at all. I didn't quite find my timing, and Jim played some unbelievable tennis.'

Tenacity had helped Edberg win the United States Open last September after all had seemed lost in the fifth set in three matches, and the same quality enabled him to leave the court with an air of respectability here.

The Swede was also disappointed, for after attacking Courier to take the third set he seemed on the verge of forcing a tie-break which would have given him an opportunity to force the contest into a fifth set.

Even after double-faulting to be broken for 5-6 in the fourth set (serving into the net after being called for a foot-fault for the ninth time in the match), Edberg managed to put Courier under pressure in the concluding game.

After saving two match points and hauling himself to deuce with a block volley, the Swede failed to take advantage of two second serves by the champion, and the cause was lost. Edberg, the Australian champion twice on grass at Kooyong, had lost his third final on the rubberised concrete at Flinders Park.

'God, was I pleased to win that last game,' Courier said to Stine on being greeted by the coach in the locker room. Stine was pleased, too. 'A tie-breaker or a fifth set always favours the guy who attacks, like Stefan, and puts the pressure on,' he said. 'I feel a fifth set would have been very tough for Jim to win.'

The coach was equally frank about the luck needed to win a Grand Slam tournament. 'Jim was down to play Becker in the semis, and he's never beaten Boris,' he said. 'Who knows what would have happened if Boris had come through the draw?' Another Swede, Anders Jarryd, took care of that particular problem on day one.

Seles calling the shots,

Results, Sport in Short, page 27