Stefan Edberg stared straight at the bright sun when he tossed the ball to serve, his eyes wide open.
Then, “sometimes, you’re almost half-blind when you come to the net,” Edberg said.
And sometimes, you just close your eyes, and you can almost see Edberg serve and volley in another final. He got to his sixth of the year on a sunny Saturday at UCLA, where he defeated 18-year-old Pete Sampras, 6-2, 6-7 (7-2), 6-1, in the semifinals of the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament.
Just to prove there is nothing new under the sun, Edberg will play Michael Chang in today’s final, their sixth meeting in less than two years. Edberg has won three of the previous five.
Under the lights, Chang defeated Gary Muller, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, in their Saturday semifinal. It was a match interrupted slightly when someone watching apparently fell from a tree beyond the grandstands.
Muller could have prevented the accident.
“I mean, I had a spare ticket if anyone needed it,” he said.
Against Chang, Muller had too many spare errors--35 of them. Coupled with his failure to break Chang’s serve, Muller was constantly frustrated.
“I got to the stage where I wanted to catch it and throw it over,” he said.
Chang was resilient. He saved a set point in the first set when he caught Muller leaning the wrong way on a passing shot, allowed only 11 points on his serve and reached his second final in two weeks. Chang won at Toronto last Sunday.
Because he played at night, Chang’s day was free, so he used part of it to watch Edberg. Chang’s reaction: “Impressive.”
Edberg’s victory was as much a matter of experience over youth as anything. It was a curious matchup of poise and power.
There was Sampras, knocking his serve in at speeds up to 113 m.p.h. Edberg countered with simple strategy.
He won the first set on the fifth set point with a first serve of only 73 m.p.h., the ball dropping to the court as if it were coming by parachute. Sampras mistimed his return and pushed the ball long.
“You have to mix it up,” Edberg said. “It was just a matter of thinking out there a little bit.”
Sampras has moved swiftly through the rankings to No. 15, his pace quickened by a rapidly maturing serve-and-volley game. Down a break in the second set, Sampras got it back, forced a tiebreaker and then closed it out in a hurry to cause a third set.
When Sampras tossed the ball to serve, he looked into the sun, too, but he couldn’t see himself winning. So relieved to be in a third set with Edberg, Sampras said he didn’t care what happened.
Only 33 minutes later, his cares were over. He fell down two breaks, trailed, 4-0, and already knew he had no chance. Sampras said he was merely being realistic.
“Losing to go down 0-3, it was basically over then,” he said.
It was Edberg’s view that Sampras hadn’t really run out of gas in the third set. “I was out there, too,” Edberg said.
As for Sampras, who began the year ranked No. 81, Edberg said he expects a top-10 ranking is possible by the end of the year. But Edberg cautioned against expecting too much too soon.
“He plays unbelievable at times, and then he doesn’t,” Edberg said. “But that’s normal. If he didn’t, he would be in the top 10 already. He’s got to give himself a little bit of time.”
Chang took little time, only 76 minutes, to defeat Muller, a South African who lives in Los Angeles and whose girlfriend, actress Ann Turkel, owns a gourmet takeout restaurant near the Beverly Center.
Like Sampras, Muller lined up behind Edberg in the final against Chang.
“If I had to put my money on anyone, I’d put it on Edberg . . . or a house, condominium, mobile home, VCR,” Muller said.
Playing at home hasn’t really worked for Rick Leach and Jim Pugh, the top-ranked doubles team, who lost to Scott Davis and David Pate in the semifinals, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
In two other appearances at the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament, Leach and Pugh lost in the first round in 1988 and lost in the semifinals last year.
“We just don’t seem to do very well here,” said Pugh.
It was Leach and Pugh’s first hardcourt tournament, and they will play at Cincinnati and New Haven, Conn., before the U.S. Open.
“This isn’t a setback, it’s just a little disappointing,” Pugh said.