Edberg finally solves Open riddle Swede routs Courier for championship

September 09, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- Stefan Edberg was always the stranger in this strange land of hard courts, harsh crowds, made-for-television schedules and screeching subway trains. The U.S. Open tortured him, played tricks with him, defeated him. Home was Wimbledon, a place with grass and royals and history and silence.

But yesterday, Edberg made one last stand at trying to conquer Flushing Meadow. The 25-year-old from Sweden brought a high-kicking monster of a serve and a gorgeous volley into Louis Armstrong Stadium. He went against a 21-year-old American player named Jim Courier and had himself a perfect day.

The crowd arrived expecting to see "Dances With Wolves" and instead had to sit through "The Silence of the Lambs." The Open ended with an exquisite blowout, with Edberg winning, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, to claim the men's title and solidify his hold on the world's No. 1 ranking.

"It was really hard to believe," Edberg said. "It was like a dream out there. I felt like I could do anything."

Jimmy Connors may have owned the Open for 13 days, but Edberg finished the show, raising a sterling-silver trophy while camera flashes flickered like hundreds of fireflies in the night.

Asked later if he felt overshadowed by the saga of Connors, the 39-year-old man who crashed the semifinals, Edberg said: "Fifty years from now, you'll look in the record books and you'll see my name. What has happened in the Open this year is great for tennis. Jimmy Connors' performance here has created a lot of publicity around tennis, and it has given the U.S. Open a boost. So I thank him."

The Connors Show gave Edberg the peace and quiet he cherishes. His game is charismatic, a blend of beauty and athleticism in a sport gone power-mad. But he remains expressionless. Others will pump their fists and scream at the umpires, but Edberg, who says, "There are emotions inside of me that are hard to express," just plays.

"I'm a little poker-faced out there," he said.

A two-time winner at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, Edberg was an eight-time loser at the Open. He advanced to the semifinals in 1987. He was favored to win last year, but was beaten soundly in the first round by Alexander Volkov of the Soviet Union.

"I had everything to gain this year," Edberg said. "I had what I consider a bad summer, and sooner or later, if you keep working, your game is going to come back and it came back right at the right time."

He lost two sets in seven matches. He got on a roll by beating Michael Chang at night in the fourth round and embarrassed Ivan Lendl in a straight-set semifinal demolition Saturday.

Pity Courier, a blue-collar baseliner who wears a white baseball cap and lugs around a racket like a lunch pail. His season was marvelous. He dug himself into the red clay at Roland Garros and produced a gem by winning the French Open. At the U.S. Open, he devastated defending champion Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals and mercilessly pounded Connors in the semifinals.

"I had no idea what this year would bring for me," he said. "I'm playing on a different level."

But in the final, Courier could do nothing to contain Edberg, who stood at the net and turned passing shots into a winning volleys with the grace of a conductor leading a symphony.

"I was hitting some great shots, and he was coming back hitting I don't know what," Courier said. "I've been pummeled before, but this is the worst beating I've taken this year. Life goes on."

There was this one point when Courier was trying to get a foothold in the match in the second set, trying to break Edberg's serve in the 10th game. Courier whipsawed a forehand at 15-30, and Edberg clipped this backhand volley and the ball landed perfectly inside the line and spun toward the flowerpots. All Courier could do was look at a fan in the stands and say, "Wow."

"It was one of those shots that you see on the tapes that Rod Laver made 20 years ago," Courier said.

Edberg isn't Laver -- yet. He's not even Bjorn Borg. His next goal is to win the French Open, to make himself the complete all-court player of the 1990s. But he finally got himself a title in New York.

Flushing Meadow isn't Wimbledon, and Edberg isn't Connors or John McEnroe. He's an artist who turned himself into a champion.

"I know what it takes to win the Open," he said. "It takes a lot of guts."

Edberg-Courier box score

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E . . . . C

1st-serve percentage. . . . . . . . 56.. . .55

Service winners. . . . . . . . . ... 1. . . .0

Aces. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. . . 3

Double faults. . .. . .. . . . .. .. 1. . . .4

Pct. 1st serve points won. . . . .. 84. . . 59

Pct. 2nd serve points won. . . . .. 69. . .,38

Service games held. .. ... .. ..... 12. . ...6

Winners. . . . . . . . . . . . ... 33. . . 16

Unforced errors. . . .. . .... .... 18. . . 20

Pct. break points conversions. . .. 43. . ...0

Pct. advances to net. . . . . . ... 72. . ..55

Points won at net. . . . . .. . . . 68. . ..12

Total points won. . . . . . . . . . 96. ... 61

Time of match -- 2:02

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