AP Was There: Edberg defeats Becker for 1st Wimbledon title

Tennis

EDITOR’S NOTE – Tennis history is filled with wonderful rivalries, and so many are remembered because of matchups in Wimbledon finals. The Associated Press is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the canceled grass-court Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One memorable rivalry involves Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, who played in three consecutive Wimbledon finals. The following story, about their first title match there, was sent July 4, 1988.

By ANDREW WARSHAW

AP Sports Writer

WIMBLEDON, England (AP)Stefan Edberg surprised Boris Becker with power and precision tennis today, winning his first Wimbledon title with a 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-2 victory.

After rain once again held up the final, the third-seeded Edberg, of Sweden, won his third major championship by beating Becker, the 1985 and ’86 Wimbledon winner.

Edberg brought images of countryman Bjorn Borg back to Centre Court. The victory in an historic match on Centre Court was built on volleys and court coverage that would have made Borg proud.

And it gave Sweden its first men’s championship at the premier Grand Slam tournament since Borg completed five in a row in 1980.

Edberg also won the Australian Open in 1985 and 1987. His Wimbledon victory gave Sweden men’s titles in all three Grand Slam events this year – Mats Wilander won the Australian and French Opens.

The final point came at 40-30 in the eighth game, and the image of Borg never was stronger.

Becker had a chance to take the long match at least one point longer. He had Edberg isolated at the net and could pick his shot as he moved in on a backhand hopper.

But the end came quickly as Becker slammed the ball into the net, right in front of Edberg.

The Swede threw his blond-haired head back, sank to his knees and then fell over on his back. It recalled Borg’s drop to his knees as he won his titles on Centre Court, in an era that was his alone.

Edberg is not to that point yet, but today – a day that began in downpours and ended in sunshine – he had the game and the mental strength to deprive Becker of a much-sought third Wimbledon title.

The match took two hours, 52 minutes to complete on court. From scheduled start to final point, however, it lasted more than 27 hours.

Rain on Sunday delayed the start of the match by 2 1/2 hours, and Becker and Edberg played just 23 minutes before more rain forced the first overnight interruption of a Wimbledon men’s championship match.

Edberg came within a point of a 4-0 lead before the rain hit. Becker steadied and had pulled to 3-2 when umpire Gerry Armstrong suspended play and referee Alan Mills then called it off for the night.

The Becker charge continued once the match resumed. Wrapped around a 1 1/2-hour rain break, the West German wrapped up the first set by taking three games in a row and holding serve on an Edberg error, a netted backhand.

Becker held off three break points in the second game of the second set, but that was his high point.

Without a break of serve in the set, it went to a tiebreaker, and that was all Edberg. He zoomed to a 5-0 lead on strong serves and powerful backhands, two of them volleys and one a crosscourt that Becker just got the lip of his racket to before falling face-first to the ground.

Edberg wrapped up the tiebreaker, 7-2, with two service winners.

Now, it was Edberg who was rolling.

He broke Becker for a 3-1 lead at love, and the West German became so frustrated at one point that he slammed his racket to the ground. That brought a warning from Armstrong.

Edberg held for 4-2 in a game that showed just how much of a groove he was in. Becker fired a forehand at Edberg at the net, point blank. The Swede just stuck up his racket and flicked a winning volley into an open court.

When Becker was winning Wimbledon, he was famed for making winning shots after diving for the ball or regaining his balance with somersaults. He was on the ground a lot Monday, too, but usually after tripping or slipping while trying to chase Edberg’s bullet shots all over the court.

Edberg held for the third set on an open-court forehand volley and pumped his fist. He had Becker on the ropes and was about to deliver the knockout blow.

Becker walked right into the punch, serving his seventh double fault to give Edberg a service break in the first game of the fourth set.

Big serves and solid volleys kept coming from Edberg, and he broke again for a 4-1 lead as Becker errors started coming faster. The two held serve, then Edberg wrapped it up on his first match point.

Although all 15,500 tickets sold for the final remained valid, there were many empty seats around Centre Court. Many of the fans remained huddled under a variety of multicolored umbrellas.

Alleyways and corridors at the All England Club, normally buzzing with activity, were strangely quiet.

With the weather forecast predicting intermittent showers for the rest of the day, prospects for an uninterrupted completion of the championship match and three other unfinished finals looked bleak.

But the skies, although cloudy, were clear of the immediate threat of rain as the action got under way.

The rain, which spared the first week of the Grand Slam tournament before turning up regularly for the next six days, hit with a vengeance Sunday and wiped out all but 22 minutes of the event’s climax.

Four and a half hours after play had been scheduled to begin, Becker and Edberg pulled out their rackets as the clouds parted and, briefly, the sun shone.

They warmed up, started play, broke each other’s service. Then the rain returned and drove the players off with Edberg ahead 3-2.

“This is the day we have always dreaded since we went to the Sunday final,” said Chris Gorringe, chief executive of the All England Club. The tournament has ended on a Sunday since 1982.

“We have no fallback like we would have if the final were scheduled for Saturday,” Gorringe said.

It was the first time in Wimbledon history that play in the men’s final had been spread over two days. It happened to the women’s final just once, in 1902.

It was also the first time for 16 years that a Wimbledon singles championship match had not been completed on schedule. The 1972 men’s final between Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase never got started, and was put off for 24 hours.

Sunday’s rain also pushed back three other finals.

The men’s doubles, called off Saturday after 2 1/2 sets, resumed just in time for Americans Ken Flach and Robert Seguso to wrap up the championship against Anders Jarryd and John Fitzgerald. The U.S. Davis Cup pair won 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Only two games of the women’s doubles final beat the weather, while the mixed doubles never got started.

It left Steffi Graf’s success in Saturday’s women’s final as the only title decided by the end of the regular Wimbledon fortnight.

The 19-year-old West German beat Martina Navratilova 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to capture her first All England Club crown and stay on course for the Grand Slam. She already holds the Australian and French titles and now has only the U.S. Open to negotiate.

Graf’s victory dashed Navratilova’s hopes of a record seventh successive Wimbledon singles title. It also stopped, for this year at least, the Czech-born American’s bid for an unprecedented ninth singles crown overall.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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