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Edberg Serves Himself to a Title, 6-4, 6-2

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Stefan Edberg’s kick-serve claimed another victim Sunday night. Not that it’s anything new. The 19-year-old Swede’s high-bouncing serve has been driving opponents mad--and to the far edges of the court--since the start of his two-week binge of superior tennis.

Tell Johan Kriek about it. He might as well have bought courtside tickets since that’s the location Edberg’s spinning serves finally reached. Edberg’s serves--and his much-improved all-court play--overpowered Kriek, 6-4, 6-2, in front of 9,260 in the final of the $277,000 Transamerica Open tennis tournament at the Cow Palace.

It’s the same factor that caught Kriek in last week’s Los Angeles stop on the Grand Prix circuit. Edberg eliminated Kriek but lost to Paul Annacone in an epic three-set, three-tiebreaker final at the L.A. Tennis Center.

So, the serve is no secret weapon. But what do you do about it?

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“It’s not that I played badly,” said Kriek, who reached the finals by eliminating a flu-suffering John McEnroe. “It’s just that I didn’t get a chance to play. If you don’t return well, he’s got you out of the court. Last week, his (Edberg’s) serve was even more overpowering. If a guy serves full throttle and gets 80% of his first serve in. . . . “

Kriek threw his hands up to express his frustration. Edberg’s kick-serve has become a plague to some players on the tour. In this case, to be forewarned is not necessarily to be forearmed. In a week of tennis here, Edberg has lost only one service game.

Opponents have tried nearly everything. They can’t poach forward to take the serve sooner, before it has a chance to gain height, because of the tremendous velocity the 6-2 Edberg is able to generate. That height advantage puts players the size of the 5-8 Kriek into a hole from the start. He’d need to drag a ladder to the service line to make it up.

Kriek might have used one Sunday night. Edberg broke Kriek in the first game of the first set, just as he had done in Los Angeles. He used another similar strategy. Edberg won the coin toss and gave Kriek the first serve.

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“I was not warmed up enough in the first game,” Kriek said. “I was going to let him serve first if I had won the flip.”

Edberg was also moving around the court with more authority Sunday, more bad news for the tour.

“I don’t know why, but I move better indoors, I always have,” Edberg said. He won $42,000 for the victory, and Kriek won $21,000. “I like Supreme Court (textured vinyl). I think it gives me more time on my stroke. I felt I played well last week. But you never know when you play indoors.”

Edberg said he thought the past two weeks have been his most fruitful in his two years on the tour. He says he’s confident and sure of his serve. It’s no secret why he’s winning.

“Confidence, that’s the whole thing,” Kriek said. “He thrives on the pressure. He knows he’s going to win his serve fairly easily, so he can take more chances on his own service return.”

Edberg returns to Sweden today to prepare for Davis Cup competition against the Australians. Good news for Kriek and others, not so good for the Australians.

In the men’s doubles final, Paul Annacone and Christo Van Rensburg defeated Brad Gilbert and Sandy Mayer, 3-6, 6-3 and 6-4.


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