Tennis: Effusive Edberg serves up warning: Near-perfect Swede gains sweet revenge

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The Independent Online
IT may have been Boris Becker's week, but it was emphatically Stefan Edberg's weekend. The Swede emerged in characteristic style, without fuss or fanfare, to defeat Goran Ivanisevic and collect the winner's cheque for dollars 355,000 ( pounds 145,000) at the climax of the Eurocard Open here.

While the heralding of Becker's rehabilitation as a competitor was a boon for the sport in general, Edberg's excellent form served as a warning to his rivals, particularly the Americans Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, the only players now ahead of him in the world rankings.

Even the normally reticent Edberg was effusive about his performance after reversing the four-set defeat by Ivanisevic he suffered in the final here two years ago to win, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2,

6-2. 'I played a near-perfect match,' the 28-year-old Swede said. 'It was one of those days when you feel hardly anything can go wrong.'

Such has Edberg's confidence grown since last year, which yielded one title, surprisingly on clay in Madrid, that he now believes he is in shape to add to his six Grand Slam championships. 'It would preferably be the one in Paris if I had to pick one,' he said, referring to the French Open, which he needs to complete his collection. 'But I will take any of them. I have my best chances at Wimbledon and the US Open.'

Ivanisevic, who ended Becker's run in the semi-finals, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, was unstoppable when beating Edberg here in 1992. It may be remembered that his 32 aces against the Swede brought his total to 105 in five matches. The Croat subsequently won their next five contests, the first meeting after Stuttgart coming in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, Ivanisevic advancing to amass a

total of 206 aces before falling to Andre Agassi in the final.

The Croat served 21 aces yesterday, bringing his number to 71 for the week. In spite of that, his serve was never allowed to dominate the final; indeed, it became a liability as the match progressed. The components of Edberg's smooth, attacking style were so much in unison that Ivanisevic gradually lost faith in his game.

Edberg was returning serve and reading his opponent's responses so well that Ivanisevic found himself changing his mind while tossing the ball. 'I felt as if I was drawing a picture for him of what I was going to do before every point,' he said.

A breathtaking match point encapsulated the level of Edberg's performance. He returned Ivanisevic's second serve and sprinted across the court to meet a backhand volley with a forehand down the line. Ivanisevic looked long and hard at the line, convinced that the ball had landed wide, but he heeded the crowd's acclaim for Edberg and did not bother to complain.

'The thing that I did really well today was return,' Edberg said, 'and I was volleying unbelievably well.' One volley in the opening game of the final set wrong-footed Ivanisevic so completely that he staggered backwards as though he had spent too long in a bierkeller.

Edberg served seven love games and dropped only two points in his last six service games. Though he produced only five aces, the consistency of his shots did all the damage necessary. He double-faulted six times, once less than Ivanisevic - the one, perhaps, with which the Croat handed him the second set.

The crowd, impeccably

behaved for most of the tournament, had to be warned for making a noise between first and second serves, particularly when Ivanisvic was about to deliver. The frustrated Croat also received his third caution of the tournament, on this occasion for aiming balls into the audience.

But at least his parting shot left them laughing: 'I know you're a bit disappointed because I beat your little hero yesterday. But I hope you enjoyed the tennis today and I hope to see you next year.'