There is something to be said for the quiet, if not the meek, among us. There is a serene beauty in the subtle and--as of Sunday--a reward for the modest. There is Stefan Edberg.
Edberg the Iceberg, he has been called. Stoic Swede. Emotionless. Edberg, who is ranked No. 3 in the world, has quietly absorbed all of these characterizations during his career with hardly a rebuff. It’s not his way.
In his reserve lies his strength--that is what he revealed Sunday in winning the Newsweek Champions Cup. Edberg beat Andre Agassi, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6), in a match that took 3 hours 25 minutes and one that each player described as hard fought. The thing about Edberg is, when he’s out there fighting to wrest control of the match, there is little sign of the battle. Agassi, by way of comparison, grunts and grimaces and pumps his fist and, via body language, beams out updates of the struggle.
Sunday’s struggle was not only between the tennis players but also with a chilly and fickle wind that made every shot an adventure. Winds in the stadium court swirled at 30 m.p.h., gusting up to 40 m.p.h. and causing the players to alter not only their serves but most shots.
“The wind made it difficult for both of us, but I think more so me,” Agassi said. “I’m more of a straight court player. He likes to do a lot of junk, drop volleys and stuff like that. I think it threw me off a little more.”
The conditions were an equalizer that added a natural and unpredictable element to a match that was filled with sparkling shots from two players with complementary styles. Edberg is the elegant serve and volley master, Agassi the whiz at return of serve and the passing shot.
While Edberg started fast, breaking Agassi in the first game of the match, Agassi rose to the challenge to break Edberg in the fourth game. Edberg broke again in the seventh to take the first set.
Agassi came storming back in the second set, as the wind kicked up and the sun faded behind dark clouds. He broke Edberg in the second game and set out on a strategy of serves and volleys that was successful, until Edberg broke him in the ninth game. Agassi prevailed to win the set, to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Inability to hold serve was a hallmark of the match. Agassi lost his serve in the first game of the third set. He got even by breaking Edberg in his first service game of the set. That happened again in the fifth and sixth games. In the match, each player had 18 break-point opportunities and converted on six.
The third-set tiebreaker went all Edberg’s way, with a hapless Agassi frustrated and bewildered. Edberg snapped a forehand passing shot past Agassi to go up 6-0, a shot Edberg called his best of the match.
“I played a great tiebreaker in the third set, which helped things a little bit,” Edberg said. “It would have been tough to lose that third set. It was one of the best tiebreakers I’ve ever played. I really went for it.”
The fourth set began with, what else, a service break. Agassi broke Edberg at love and would later serve for the set. Agassi’s career record in five-set matches is 1-5, a statistic that caused him to prickle in the post-match interview. He pointed out that he had lost those five-setters on teen-aged legs (he’s now 19). But for Agassi, who has at times been criticized for giving up in matches, merely to be to hanging tough in the fourth set was a hopeful sign.
He played better in the fourth-set tiebreaker, too, but Edberg fired two aces and simply out-steadied Agassi.
If anyone would have noticed, it’s what Edberg did all week. Saturday, he was asked if--given a victory Sunday--he would peel off his shirt and toss it into the stands, a la Agassi.
Edberg’s quiet laugh caused his shoulders to shake, so inconceivable was the image.
This was Edberg’s first full tournament since defaulting from the Australian Open final against Ivan Lendl because of pulled stomach muscles. Before that, he had beaten Lendl and Boris Becker to win the Masters.
“I think things are looking quite bright at the moment,” he said. “Last year was a little bit of a struggle for me because I lost a lot of finals. I thought winning the Masters, beating Lendl and Becker in two successive days, to me was a little bit of a turning point. It gave me confidence. I played some great tennis in Australia, I played some great tennis this week. If I can continue to work hard and not get another injury in the near future, I’ve got a good shot at doing really well this year.”
Someone suggested that he “snuck in” the final, with all the talk this week of Boris Becker and the flamboyant Agassi.
Edberg merely smiled.
“That’s the way to do it,” he said. “I don’t really mind. I do my business on the court. That’s where I perform. I don’t really see myself performing (for) the press. I just do the things I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to go out and win on the court. Those guys are maybe a little bit more glamorous than I am. People like to watch them. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“A lot of people are talking about Becker and Lendl going for No. 1. That’s fine with me. I can come from behind. That’s the way I like it.”
Edberg paused, mulling over this revelation. Then he added, “But don’t write too much.”
The team of Boris Becker and Guy Forget won the doubles final, over Neil Broad and Gary Muller, 6-7 (7-3), 6-2, 6-4 . . . Sunday’s weather blew both hot and cold, prompting tournament director Charlie Pasarell to remark, “I think we experienced winter and summer, about three minutes apart.” Pasarell reiterated his goal of bringing a two-week Grand Slam style-tournament to Indian Wells. “It is my goal today, and it will continue to be my goal. I’m trying to create a tennis Mecca.”