GREAT RIVALRIES Edberg VS. Becker The stadium was on fire when they played…KARTHIK KRISHNASWAMY
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, two blond men lit up tennis with a clash of styles and personalities heightened by the scent of grass. For three straight years, Stefan Edberg met Boris Becker in the Wimbledon final, each occasion serving to raise a toast to serve-and-volley tennis.
Power Vs. finesse
Becker was all power and athleticism, Edberg all finesse. “He (Edberg) must be a wonderful dancer. If they were playing in tall grass, I don’t think he’d bend it a bit, whereas Becker approaches it like a middle linebacker filling a hole,” commentator Dick Enberg said of their styles, likening the German’s propensity to fling himself headlong at hard-to-reach balls to the high-octane motions of American football. The serve was Becker’s most potent weapon, made unstoppable by the perfect release of all the coiled energy stored in his deep knee-bend. “He could serve me off the court,” Edberg said of Becker when BBC’s Sue Barker interviewed the two great rivals. “He would break me once in each set and that would be it.”
Edberg’s preferred mode of point-gathering was the checked backhand volley, the stroke that best showed off his prescient positioning and manipulative hands. “At the time he was the player with the best footwork,” Becker said of the Swede. “He would get to all the balls … especially at the net. You’d think you had an opening, but somehow he had the racquet on the ball and would put it back.”The duo’s first meeting at Wimbledon came in the 1988 final. Becker had won the title twice in the previous three years, and had beaten Edberg in the final at Queen’s two weeks previously. When the big German took the first set 6-4, it looked like he was on course for a third title.
But once Edberg took the second set tie-break 7-2, the tide turned irreversibly, the Swede racing to 6-4 and 6-2 wins in the next two sets. The match ended with a rally typical to these contests - Edberg a foot from the net, turning this way and that to fend off the increasingly frantic attempts to pass him, before collapsing in joy when Becker finally failed to clear the net cord.Becker proved too hot to handle in the 1989 final, the only one that ended in three sets. But the following year, Edberg made it 2-1 in Wimbledon finals when he won in five sets, mounting a typical comeback from a break down in the final set to win 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4. In all, the two met 35 times, Becker winning 25 but only one of their four Grand Slam encounters.
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