Monday, November 12, 2007

1988 Wimbledon final: Edberg def. Becker

Edberg def. Becker: 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Classic: Almost
Rating: 90

The Plot: This is the first installment in a series of 3 consecutive Wimbledon finals played between Becker and Edberg from 1988 to 1990. In 1988, Stefan Edberg won his first Wimbledon title by defeating 2-time champion Boris Becker in a match that took 2 days to complete due to rain. Edberg, who had come back from 2 sets down against Mecir in the semifinal, was decidedly the underdog, having lost most of his previous matches against Becker, and Becker was hungry to regain the title he first won at age 17, in 1985.

The Match: Edberg gets a quick start and takes a 3-0 lead, but Becker starts to return Edberg's high-bouncing serve better and gets back on serve. At 3-2, rain delays the match. When the match resumes (a day later), Becker runs off another 3 games to make it 5-3, and eventually wins the set 6-4. (I believe there is another rain delay?)

The 2nd set is a tight affair, and both men are playing excellent tennis amid cold, windy conditions. It goes to a tie-breaker which Edberg takes, playing great tennis. Having gained the momentum, Edberg starts to play with more confidence in the 3rd set and starts to return Becker's serve better and breaks early in the set. Becker is getting very frustrated with his inability to return Edberg's kick-serve and is screaming at himself and throwing his racquet. Edberg wins the set, and seems to only get better in the 4th set where he is blanketing the net in his trade-mark fashion. Boris loses his serve twice to go down 4-1. Edberg serves for the championship at 5-2, and wins on his first championship point as Becker drills a backhand into the net-cord.

The bottom line: The first two sets are classic, but then Becker's level seems to slip in the 3rd and 4th set. Edberg is playing great tennis throughout: Not as smooth as he would become later in his career, but he blankets the net beautifully and his backhand passing shots are amazing. While the story-line of the underdog winning after losing the 1st set is obviously compelling, I don't feel the match is a "classic" because Becker fades so badly in the 4th set. But it is a very enjoyable match, in particular for those who remember the Becker/Edberg rivalry.

Availability: Why Wimbledon has not released the Becker/Edberg finals as a box-set is beyond me. I have a version recorded from TV with Dick Enberg and Bud Collins doing the commentary for NBC, and they're just awful to listen to. Try to get a BBC version if you can, which can only be better.

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