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THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 4 : Tennis : Relaxed Edberg Is Easy Winner Over Austrian

Times Sports Editor

Tennis returned to the Olympics as a full medal sport for the first time since 1924. But instead of coming back with a bang here Tuesday, it returned with a whimper.

Stefan Edberg of Sweden, the winner in 1984 at Los Angeles, where tennis was a demonstration sport and nobody over the age of 21 could compete, fittingly played the first match on the center court. He won easily, beating Horst Skoff of Austria, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3.

But Edberg expressed little excitement for the history of the moment, even though he had carried the torch on its opening day for a sport that had been snuffed out in the Olympic movement after the Paris Games, 64 years ago.

“I don’t really know whether we should be here in tennis,” he said, “but it is worth giving it a chance.

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“It needs some time. In the 1920s, there weren’t that many countries competing in the Olympics. Now, here, all the top players aren’t playing, so that hurts it a little bit. Plus, we have all the Grand Slam events we play in, and those are the most important right now to us.

“But this is only played every 4 years, so there’s nothing wrong with trying it.”

Skoff, ranked No. 65 in the world to Edberg’s No. 3, took roughly the same tack about playing here.

“Obviously, I got a real bad draw,” he said, “but I enjoyed coming here and playing for my country. It is a bit different, because we aren’t playing for money. But that’s OK, because we are playing to make tennis more popular.”

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The Edberg-Skoff match drew about 600 spectators to the stadium court, a beautiful facility that can seat 14,000. The other featured match of the day pitted veteran players Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia against Eric Jelen of West Germany. Jelen is best known as Boris Becker’s Davis Cup doubles partner, and Mecir as the one player that Edberg, not to mention the other top Swedes, has a consistently tough time beating. Mecir lost the first set to Jelen, 7-5, then prevailed, 6-1, 6-2, 7-6.

Edberg said that he didn’t feel as if he were playing in a first-round match of a big tournament.

“I wasn’t even nervous at all out there,” he said. “I guess it is nice to play so relaxed, to not have to think about your (Grand Prix) points or your computer ranking.”

For a while in the late stages of the first set, Edberg played almost too relaxed. He had broken Skoff’s serve early and was cruising along until he served at 5-4 and Skoff broke back with a let-cord passing shot.

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That eventually forced a tiebreaker and Edberg won that, 7-3, after Skoff casually returned a long second serve past the baseline that the linesman failed to call out.

“It might have been different if they hadn’t miscalled that serve,” Skoff said, “but we had a long way to go.”

After Edberg won the first set, the rest was routine. Even Skoff knew that, at one point hitting a shot from Edberg with a soccer header rather than his racket.

“It was pretty well over by then,” he said. “I’d never played him before, but I could see it would be pretty tough to come back against him.”

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An ’84 Olympic tennis flashback:

In 1984, Edberg won the gold medal in the demonstration event in Los Angeles. But who did he beat in the final?

Edberg beat Francisco Maciel of Mexico, 6-1, 7-6. To get to the final, Maciel, now ranked 233rd in the world, beat Derrick Rostagno of the United States, Jorge Bardou of Spain, Jakob Hlasek of Switzerland and Paolo Cane of Italy. Hlasek, seeded No. 5, was the only seeded player he faced and Cane, a top Italian player who had taken out second-seeded Pat Cash in the first round, defaulted to Maciel in the semis after losing the first two games. Maciel is the No. 3 Mexican player here.

In the women’s final, Steffi Graf beat Sabrina Goles of Yugoslavia, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6. To get to the final, Goles beat Susanne Lee of South Korea, Patricia Hy of Hong Kong (and UCLA), Kathy Horvath of the United States and Catherine Tanvier of France. Going into the final, Goles was favored to win. She had been seeded No. 7 in the tournament, Graf No. 8.

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