NEW YORK -- Richard Krajicek's first serve in yesterday's match was supposed to send Stefan Edberg a message. Instead, it was Krajicek who got the message.
"If you were looking for signs, it was probably the first one," said Krajicek. "A big first serve and he hits straight away a big forehand winner. . . . Yes, a big sign. I knew from the beginning it was going to be a difficult match."
Aging grace met young power at the U.S. Open, and to the delight of the large Center Court crowd, it was Edberg, playing his last Grand Slam tournament, who made grace prevail for a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory reminiscent of more youthful days.
"He put me away so fast," said Krajicek, 24, this year's Wimbledon champion. "There was not even time to get nervous when you get killed like that."
The victory over the fifth seed moves Eberg into the second round, where he will meet Bernd Karbacher, a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 winner over Jonathan Stark.
"It's an upset on paper, but it's a little upset, I would say. Not a huge one," said Edberg, allowing himself a rare shoulder-shaking laugh. "I still have my days where I feel great out there physically, where I really feel I'm doing the right things. There are days when it's -- for one reason or another -- not there. You don't understand why, and that's the big problem. That's what has been happening over the last period of time, and I don't know why. It just happens."
And it's because of that unfathomable inconsistency that Edberg, at the relatively early age of 30, is retiring at the end of this season. This is his last Open and 54th consecutive Grand Slam. The last time for the fans here to appreciate his impeccable manners, his graceful play and his traditional starched white tennis togs.
He is nearly the last of a breed of tennis player: the kind who strategizes points, the last to embrace the volley as a weapon and the last to always behave as a gentleman. No one has ever seen him do less than his best.
"I think when you see Stefan, you see a real champion," said Krajicek. "After 15 years, I think he's playing on the tour, he's still got the aggressiveness and the desire to win every match."
When he is gone, there will be only Boris Becker and Pete Sampras, and even they cannot lay claim to all of Edberg's attributes.
"If you're looking for a role model for kids, I think he's your guy," nTC said Sampras, who beat Jimy Szymanski, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. "He's one of the nicest guys we have on the tour. He just goes out and plays, and I've always looked up to him when I turned pro, the way he presented himself, just a class act."
It's why he now hears voices singing out encouragement to him in the crowds who watch him play.
"It's sort of like a pleasant background music, and that's how it should be," he said. "I had a lot of support [yesterday], and it is always a great help. I'm feeling very good being here in New York. Much better than for a long time."
For a number of years, Edberg didn't like the Open. It was noisy and disconcerting and "very, very tricky." But then he made a couple of semifinals and won for the first time in 1991. After that, his perspective changed.
"Since I won the first time, I've loved it ever since," he said.
Especially 1992. It was that year that Edberg had heard criticism of his fortitude and set about changing everyone's mind, and, strangely, it was Krajicek who played a role in the turnaround.
It was the fourth round and Edberg was down a service break in the fifth set to the young native of the Netherlands. Edberg rallied to win that match. And then he followed that up by coming back from service breaks down in the fifth sets of his next two matches against Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang, and then he beat Sampras in the five-set title match.
"Stefan is someone that's pretty quiet and not emotional," said Sampras. "But winning four straight five-setters to beat me in that final, well, deep down I think he's got it.
"That was the most special Open," said Edberg. "The way I won it, being down all the time and playing all those five-setters. That's probably, tennis-wise, the biggest achievement of my career."
Pub Date: 8/28/96