NEW YORK -- At times, Stefan Edberg couldn't believe how his forehand volley deserted him, couldn't fathom why his timing was off.
But as his match with England's Tim Henman moved through its second and into its third hours, Edberg's 30-year-old body loosened up, his volleys hit their marks, and the man who has been on the verge of saying farewell to his pro tennis career here for more than 10 days showed that his desire to put off his departure is strong.
The match on Stadium Court at the U.S. Open, in front of another partisan crowd, will no doubt be tucked away in Edberg's heart for a long time.
Yesterday, with muscles straining, the Swedish star overcame the up-and-coming Henman to win, 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-4.
The victory carries him into the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 26th time, and for the first time since the 1994 Australian Open, 12 Grand Slams and 2 1/2 years ago.
"It feels good," he said, with his usual placid smile. "I saw my chances this week. The draw opened up a little bit, but I had to fight really hard to get here. I had to fight extremely hard today.
"But now, in the quarterfinal, playing Goran [Ivanisevic], I'll be the underdog and some of the pressure will come off."
It is the first time Edberg has made it to the U.S. Open quarterfinals since he won it in 1992, and that Grand Slam title remains as the last of his career six.
"You could say I'm pretty hungry," he said. "I gutsed my way through it. It is my last Grand Slam. It is a special time. It's great PTC that I can perform and win these matches, because it's not easy playing best-of-five sets. It's hot and humid, and you need to be physically pretty strong and mentally strong to come through. "
Tomorrow, against Ivanisevic, who beat Andrei Medvedev, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), to make the quarters, it will be a far different match from this one. Instead of Edberg's serve-and-volley game against Henman's developing all-around game that Edberg says resembles that of No. 1 Pete Sampras, he will have to contend with one of the tour's biggest-serving players.
"Always with Goran the key is to get his first serve back and get his second serve back in play," said Edberg, who has beaten Ivanisevic twice this year on clay and grass.
"If you do that, then you have a chance to beat him. If you don't get enough serves back, then it's really difficult. Hopefully, I'll serve a little bit better and raise my game a little. I feel I have a chance in my next match. That's all I need. It's not an impossible task."
Yesterday, the key was staying composed and patient until his game came into focus, and when it did, it was, of course, a wonderful sight. He put 64 percent of his first serves in, had 10 aces and only two double faults. He swooped into the net 132 times and put away 87 points.
Across the net, Henman was giving Edberg a massive headache -- in a number of ways. He came back from a breakdown to win the first set in a tiebreaker and then matched the veteran point for point to force another tiebreaker in the second.
Said Henman: "I think, at times when he's serving and volleying, you feel you're putting a bit of pressure on yourself because he's who he is and that's his game. I think that makes you go for a fraction too much."
Henman was going for the fractions, no doubt, when with Edberg up a break, serving at 30-0 and approaching the net off his serve, he unloaded a forehand return that hit Edberg square in the forehead.
"There are times when he covers the net so well, sometimes you go either side of him," Henman said. "At that stage, I thought I'd go straight down the middle."
The ball bounced off Edberg's head and went long. He dropped to his knees and then fell back as if knocked out, drawing Henman to the net with concern.
Edberg and Henman live just four miles apart in London, and before the busy summer season, the two would meet to hit together at the Queens Club. Edberg said those workouts allowed them to know each other's game, but added that Henman is much more confident since his run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Pub Date: 9/04/96