Tennis: Salvation depends on Korda: As the Australian Open begins, a former Wimbledon champion bemoans the shortage of showmen in an era of 'selfishness'

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The Independent Online
JIM COURIER and Stefan Edberg presented an interesting contrast during a flight from Adelaide yesterday morning on the last leg of their journey to the Australian Open.

Courier, who defeated the Swede in the previous two finals at Flinders Park, was seated listening to music through headphones while Edberg paced the aisle nursing his baby daughter, Emilie. On arriving at Melbourne airport, Courier chatted with his coach, Brad Stine, while Edberg, who had lost to the American the night before in the final of the Rio Challenge, busied himself setting up Emilie's pram.

Priorities tend to adapt with time and experience, though Edberg, who will be 28 on Wednesday, the day after his first-round match against Javier Sanchez, has always shown a healthy awareness that life extends beyond the court. This quality can be invaluable when disappointments become more frequent than triumphs.

Whether Edberg is capable of adding to his six Grand Slam titles remains to be seen. He has been blessed with a good draw, though that was also the case at Wimbledon last summer, when events conspired in the former champion's favour to the extent that he did not have to face a seed until the semi-finals. At that point he was defeated by Courier.

Edberg, who has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since his debut at Wimbledon in 1983, has prospered by playing excellent tennis and leaving the showmanship to others. Unfortunately, the sport is running short of showmen, and certain leading players who would wish to be viewed in a similar way to Edberg have attracted some unfavourable responses.

John Newcombe, who won the last of his five Grand Slam titles on home ground at the 1975 Australian Open, is the latest to find fault with Courier and Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon and United States Open champion: 'Two players whose true natures are not getting across to the public.' he said.

The way Newcombe sees it, Sampras and Courier are 'very classy young men' who do not always advertise the fact. 'If they could just become a little less tense on court,' he ventured, 'it would allow them to realise the public are people and they, the players, are actors playing out a real life drama.'

Newcombe broadened the theme when discussing the obligation players in general have to the sport. 'It is a non-fulfilment of duty and a selfish act,' he said, 'to simply play matches, take the money and have a 'to hell with everyone else' attitude.

'Unfortunately, the public has this image of many of our leading players. If it was me up there today, I would be ashamed, as I would be letting down all the great champions who have created the history of tennis. What a disaster to leave behind selfishness as your legacy to tennis. I know there is a lot of money around and it is hard to be agreeable when you are young, a celebrity and a millionaire, but there is more to life than those things, and the ones who realise this end up the happiest.'

There was not a happier camper on the tour last year than Petr Korda after his extraordinary triumph at the dollars 6m ( pounds 4.2m) Grand Slam Cup in Munich in December. In defeating Sampras and Michael Stich in five-set marathons on consecutive days, the Czech left-hander provided all the drama one could wish for.

Stich, hardly a song and dance man, had already thrilled the German public in the preceding weeks with his performances in winning the ATP Tour Championship and his inspirational form in the Davis Cup final against Australia.

Those images of tennis helped atone for a largely disappointing 1993. In both instances, the effect was created naturally. More of the same would be greatly appreciated.

The women's game requires a similar stimulus, and Jana Novotna and Mary Joe Fernandez will be keen to improve upon their near misses. Fernandez, twice a runner-up at Flinders Park, could have hoped for a better omen than yesterday's 6-4, 6-2 defeat by Kimiko Date in Sydney.

Mary Pierce, who is hardly likely to forget the late night drama of her quarter-final defeat by Gabriela Sabatini here a year ago, is another capable of making a bigger impact.

We must put our faith in the Korda factor.

(Photograph omitted)

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