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THREE DOWN, ONE TO GO
Curry Kirkpatrick
July 11, 1988
At Wimbledon, Steffi Graf won the third leg of the Grand Slam, and Stefan Edberg his first men's title
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July 11, 1988

Three Down, One To Go

At Wimbledon, Steffi Graf won the third leg of the Grand Slam, and Stefan Edberg his first men's title

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John McEnroe departed from Wimbledon more than a week early, but despite his protestations, tennis isn't dead yet. Wet, yes. Soaked, sopped and agonizingly waterlogged; interrupted and delayed—all while missing its biggest drip. But not dead. "Nobody is doing anything special," said Mac before he lost. "The guys are just no good."

Notice that McEnroe's nasty review didn't mention the women, possibly for fear that Steffi Graf might wind up and explode that grenade forehand of hers in his vicinity. Graf, 19, won her first title at the All England Club—she is the first female German champion since Cilly Aussem in 1931—and she almost certainly will win others. After granting eight-time champion Martina Navratilova a set and a 2-0 advantage in the championship round, Graf thrashed her 6-2, 6-1 in about 21 (rain-delayed, of course) seconds. The victory gave Graf her third major title of the year. If she wins the U.S. Open, she will become the first player since Margaret Court in 1970 to win the Grand Slam.

As for the men, even the debilitating drizzle that all but drowned Wimbledon's closing days did not obscure the scintillating performance of another new star. In what may have been a historic Wimbledon—one that introduced a new generation of both sexes—Stefan Edberg, 22, finally fulfilled his promise. As enigmatic as he is photogenic, Edberg is that rare Swede who can serve, volley and hold a racket with one hand.

Nonetheless, the junior Grand Slam Edberg won at 17, his two Australian Open crowns (in 1985 and '87) and his 14 other tour victories weren't enough to quell suspicions about his heart or his traditionally lame forehand. Edberg's coach, Tony Pickard, has worked on both while all of tennis has waited. Last week Edberg showed he possessed the will. In the midst of being outshot and outfoxed by the bearded sorcerer Miloslav Mecir in the semifinals, he produced the fortnight's best match, after having been down two sets to love and 3-3, 0-40 in the third. It was a comeback no man with a supposed inspiration block had any business even thinking about, but Edberg prevailed 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. "The key to my Wimbledon," he said. "It made me really strong."

After that he contrived a way to take on Wimbledon's favorite bullyboy, Boris Becker, on his own terms; to block out the tension gathering over a 24-hour postponement of the final (Edberg had jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Sunday before the rains came, with the score 3-2 in the first set, and delayed the proceedings until Monday morning); and to shrug off a one-set deficit. He would use his reputation for fragility as motivation. "I've responded to what people said and proved something to myself, too," said Edberg after he served brilliantly and hardly missed a volley in his 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over the heavily favored Becker.

Boom Boom had crushed the defending champion, Pat Cash, and the world's No. 1, Ivan Lendl, in succession. He also had defeated Edberg in two finals this year—including one on grass at Queens, the Wimbledon tune-up tournament—and in nine of 13 matches over-all. "I am mentally stronger." he said.

But he wasn't. As Edberg stood a good eight feet behind the baseline to receive Becker's huge deliveries; as the quality of Edberg's net play shone brighter and brighter in the wet, dank gloom; as Edberg took a 5-0 lead in the second-set tiebreaker; Becker tried some delaying tactics and then raged against the fates. After Edberg flashed three service-return winners, one off his no-longer-vulnerable forehand, to get an early break in the third set, Becker angrily flung his racket.

"The tournament was too long," said Boom Boom afterward. "I was thinking I beat the champion. I beat Number 1. What the hell was I doing here? Stefan was more psyched up than me."

Edberg has the best second serve in the business, tossing the ball far to the left to achieve tremendous kick. Becker could not deal with it, or with Edberg's first delivery, for that matter. He scored all of 11 points against Edberg's serve in the third and fourth sets. Conversely, Edberg repeatedly drilled Becker's kickers, hitting down on the ball to set up openings for his classic backhand.

Post-tiebreaker, the match was not close. Postmatch, Edberg could return to his flat in London's borough of Kensington, where he has quietly resided for three years. He likes London, especially the weather. It's similar to Sweden's. And, he says, "I understand the language here."

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