Edberg has final word, outlasts Chang Defending champ to face Sampras

September 13, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- You knew it would be a long tennis match when Michael Chang skipped rope, asked for an umbrella, and horded a supply of towels dipped in ice water.

And this was before the first ball was even struck on a cloudless 60-degree morning.

You knew it would be a day to watch the clock when Stefan Edberg started acting like he was caught in a Bergman film, striking all these mad-against-the-world poses, shaking his head from side to side, waving his arms, finally taking a seat and giving New York and the U.S. Open this thousand-yard stare.

They played so long yesterday they could have finished the New York City Marathon. Twice. They could have watched every Kentucky Derby ever run, or witnessed a Grateful Dead concert or flown non-stop from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

And when this match finally ended, after 5 hours and 26 minutes, after 60 games, after two tiebreakers, after 404 points, all the winner earned was the right to play again.

Today.

Welcome to the U.S. Open men's semifinals.

Edberg, the No. 2 seed and defending champion, defeated No. 4 Chang, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-4, in a match that was, well, long.

It took grittiness more than greatness for Edberg to advance to today's final against No. 3 Pete Sampras, the 1990 Open champion.

Sampras overpowered Jim Courier 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the other men's semifinal last night.

"That's probably the worse tennis I've played in a big match," said Courier, who will lose the top ranking on the men's computer. "C'est la vie."

The winner of today's final will emerge as the top men's player.

But Sampras will have to recover quickly. Stomach cramps forced him to hurry through the final two games with Courier. And moments after he closed out the match with a backhand, Sampras rushed off the court to undergo medical attention.

He was unavailable for comment after the match, yet was expected to appear for today's 4 p.m. match.

While Sampras suffered and won, Edberg and Chang made history.

They played the "mother" of all Open matches.

Longest ever by time. Yes, even longer than that 5-hour, 1-minute epic staged by Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker that began Tuesday night and ended early Wednesday morning.

Longest semifinal by games. Edberg-Chang going 60 games exceeded the 54 Lendl needed to beat Pat Cash in 1984. You have to go back to the pre-tiebreak, pre-Open era to find U.S. championship semifinals as long.

You want tired? You want exhausted?

Edberg, normally the most elegant of players, was pushing in shots like an American League pitcher forced to take an at-bat in the World Series.

Not very pretty. Neither was his serve. Would you believe 18 double faults from a guy who is more stable than the dollar?

And Chang, the human backboard, who you swear would climb into the stands to retrieve a shot, actually stopped running.

But they gave this tournament some moments. A little after noon, there was Chang, on his eighth set point, ripping in a forehand return to win the first tiebreak.

An hour later, Edberg was coming back, putting away a backhand volley to even the match at 1-all.

Then it was like something out of Rocky. Edberg throwing punches and Chang catching 'em all on the face and the body, and refusing to go down.

So they would come down to this fifth set, the place where Edberg had been working all week. He had to come from behind to beat Richard Krajicek and Lendl. And he was going to have to come back again, trailing 0-3, down 15-40 on serve, wandering around the court like a guy looking to make a quick exit.

But Edberg is stronger than all that.

"The longer the match, the tougher I get," he said. "You have to give a lot."

And he gave New York and the Open his heart. He held his serve. He started to break Chang down. And when he got a last break at love, to go up 5-4, Edberg came sprinting off the court.

Chang wouldn't go easy, either. He fought Edberg to deuce in the last game, charging the net, working the volley. But Edberg, fighting the wind all day, finally brought out that big booming serve, and Chang pushed one forehand return into the net, and then sent another one sailing long, and just like that, 5 hours and 26 minutes after it all began, Edberg had finally won.

"It was really something," Edberg said. "I had chances. He had chances. It was just incredible."

The players were so spent they went back to the locker room for hours of stretching.

And then Chang went home. Call him a loser if you want. But the man played more than five hours and took the defending champion into the fifth set.

"I just couldn't put it away," Chang said. "In the end, he was able to pull out the tough shots."

You play that long, you lose a few brain cells.

Edberg goes on. Another match to play. His fourth Open appearance in four days.

"Anyone has to be proud of something like this," he said. "I've been in a lot of trouble here. I've been strong when I have had to be strong. I'm playing good tennis. I'm fighting for my life out there."

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