Lendl outlasts Becker in 5 to cap 13-hour day

September 09, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- It was the Greatest Day of Tennis -- the sequel.

Four men's matches. Nineteen sets. More than 13 hours of wall-to-wall drama at the U.S. Open.

And it was only the fourth round.

Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Michael Chang and Wayne Ferreira were the winners of this long day's journey into night at the Open.

It was tennis for the city that never sleeps and it took place on the eighth anniversary of Super Saturday, Sept. 8, 1984. Back then, the headliners were McEnroe, Connors, Cash, Lendl, Navratilova and Evert.

But on this day, and night, and day, the stars crossed all tennis generations.

It began yesterday at 11 a.m. with Edberg, the reigning champion and No. 2 in the world, beating Richard Krajicek, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, in 4 hours, 18 minutes.

And it ended at 12:46 this morning, in a half-empty stadium, with Lendl and Boris Becker, the new old-guard of tennis, playing 5 hours and a minute in the longest match at the Open since the advent of the tiebreaker system in 1970.

Lendl finally blasted one last backhand pass by Becker to win, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-4.

There was more. There were two young Americans, Chang and MaliVai Washington, pinned on the baseline for 3:34, unloading groundstroke after groundstroke, until Chang finally prevailed, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

And almost lost amid the five-setters was Ferreira, a South African with a hard serve and the patience to cope with topspin returns, needing only 2:32 to beat Emilio Sanchez of Spain, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

In all, it was wonderful stuff.

The tennis personalities are gone from the Open, replaced by the best players in the game.

Look at Edberg. First came the towel throw. Followed by the racket slam. Then, the clenched fist. And finally, the double pump. The way he was going, you half expected him to finish off a running forehand by racing to a television microphone and shouting, "Did you see that Vitas?"

Edberg, the original stoic Swede, was imitating Connors with all of this fist waving. Why, he almost wiggled his hips, for goodness sakes.

"It was exciting and I wanted to win," Edberg said. "And then it helps if you push yourself, you know, you keep the fist going. And it helped to have the crowd going again."

Edberg against Krajicek wasn't pretty tennis, but it was compelling. Krajicek, the 20-year-old Czech-born Dutchman with a space-aged racket, hadn't lost to Edberg in two previous matches, and he had taken Lendl into a fifth set in last year's Open. Krajicek kept banging out subsonic serves and Edberg, swinging from the heels, fought his way into the net and picked off the volleys at his knees.

The whole thing turned on luck -- and a little Edberg magic. A blocked backhand return turned topspin lob gave Edberg a service break that brought him back to 2-3 in the fifth set and triggered his last run under a broiling sun.

"It hurt a little bit in my heart and my stomach when the shot went in,"Krajicek said. "I start to hate the stadium a little bit. Twice in a row, I lost hard matches. I blew it again. I should have just killed him in the fifth."

He didn't.

Washington also had the fifth-set shakes. But who could blame him? He was stuck against Chang, a gnat in tennis shorts who simply won't go away.

"I don't think I play poorly in fifth sets," Washington said after absorbing his seventh consecutive fifth-set loss in a Grand Slam. "I don't know, maybe I should grab a gun and shoot the guy, or something, and maybe I will win the fifth set."

Chang, who had to keep pacing after the match for fear of cramping, was exhausted, yet ecstatic.

"I dodged a few bullets," he said. "I think I was fortunate to get out of this one. Mal is a very, very tough player."

But the toughest players of all were the veterans, Becker and Lendl. Becker charged the net at every opportunity, and Lendl countered with topspin groundstrokes, looking desperately for any angle for a pass.

Becker won two tiebreakers but Lendl wouldn't quit. He smashed a racket. He threw towels by his seat. He kept changing shirts.

And then, Lendl finally won.

"It was difficult," he said. "Losing those tiebreakers was hard."

But in the fifth set, it was Lendl who got the service break to go up 4-3, and it was Lendl who closed out the match, one last pass whizzing by a desperate Becker.

"Probably when I wake up, then the pain is going to start," Becker said. "I gave everything I had. It was two men battling for five hours, and one had to lose."

Great day. Greater night. And there's more to come. Lendl vs. Edberg and Chang vs. Ferreira in the quarterfinals.

Only at the Open.

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