Defending champion Edberg finds New York joyful noise

September 03, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Stefan Edberg still looks out of place on the stadium court at the National Tennis Center.

Wimbledon is his tournament of choice, grass his favorite surface and silence his preferred sound while playing tennis.

But he has learned to cope with the wall-to-wall noise of the U.S. Open, drowning out the clamor of ushers screaming and fans rustling with the sport's most beautiful all-court style.

Yesterday, Edberg returned to the Open, the reigning men's champion, the No. 2 seed and by almost any other standard the chalk favorite to win again.

There was nothing fancy about his 7-5, 7-5, 6-2 first-round win over Luiz Mattar.

Edberg's backhand was so balky, he kept looking at his racket strings as if they were caked with a fungus.

But his serves sent Mattar wide to the flowerpots and his volleys were laced with touches of artistry.

"This is a fascinating place," Edberg said. "There is the crowd. The noise. A lot of things going around."

Yesterday, what spun was the world of tennis, awaiting Jimmy Connors' prime-time return to the U.S. Open.

The Open has gotten off to a start so slow that Bjorn Borg's comeback appears breathtaking by comparison.

But there are still hints of drama to come.

For 10 games, defending women's champion Monica Seles had all sorts of trouble against Lisa Raymond, a University of Florida sophomore who is the reigning NCAA champion.

Seles even grunted. And then, she won eight straight games to prevail in the second-round match, 7-5, 6-0.

"She played great and there were a few shots that she just really zoomed in," Seles said. "I mean, I was surprised. But I think it was important that I was just sticking in there, not getting frustrated."

Ivan Lendl was caught in a 4-hour, 22-minute opening-round marathon with Jaime Yzaga that could have taken place at the French Open. The only thing missing was clay. But this is New York and the U.S. Open, so fans headed for the exits during points, a pane of glass cracked open in the press box and paper cups flew on to the court.

Still, Lendl finally emerged from this baseline bashing with a 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

"I couldn't finish what I started," Lendl said. "But it's over, and you go on. I just hope I can play better."

Michael Chang also showed up, a No. 4 seed with a muscled-up game and an aggressive attitude. Chang beat Ellis Ferreira, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), and sent a message that he won't be shoved around by the bigger, stronger players in the bottom half of the men's draw.

"When you work on your game, things are not going to come overnight," Chang said. "It has been about a year and a half now where I have really tucked my head down and tried to concentrate on my serve and my volleys and tried to become more of an aggressive player. And I think it is beginning to come together. By no means do I have a Stefan Edberg combination, though."

In men's tennis, there is Edberg's serve-and-volley game, and there is everyone else's. Imagine John McEnroe with quickness and power, or Boris Becker with a soft touch, and you have an idea of how good Edberg can be.

For a second straight year, his best and last hope of winning a major comes at the Open, in New York. Once, the National Tennis Center was the scene of his worst moments, defeats such as a straight-set blow-out to Connors in 1988, and a first-round embarrassment to Alexander Volkov in 1990.

Now, believe it or not, the stadium court is beginning to feel like a second home to Edberg.

"I know what it takes to come back and defend a title," Edberg said. "You have so many matches. Seven of them. It's a long way to go before you can see the light at the end of the road. You know here, that fans are going to be patriotic, that things are going to be different. But you get used to things. This place has been good to me."

After all these years, the Swede is starting to sound like a New Yorker.

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