In one of my previous posts, I discussed about the rivalry between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg at the lawns of Wimbledon. It was a fascinating spectacle between two players with a similarity in the game at a high level but with vastly different technicalities and personalities.
Edberg won two of their three encounters at Wimbledon and hence had the upper hand at the Center Court. However, it was Becker who had the better all-around game.
The Swede was an impasse at the net, boasting perhaps the best volleys—forehand or backhand—of all time, but Becker was the more powerful among the two and had a solid baseline game on both flanks.
His net game was above average as well, and his diving volleys have been one of the best athletic sights on the tennis court.
But it was his serve which created nightmares among his opponents. He had a beautiful service motion with ample knee bend, and the back rotation around the hip gave him additional power which made the tennis ball "boom" like a cannon.
The momentum gained through his action allowed Becker to reach the net faster than most players on tour and take control. His stock weapon was a disguised serve, where he would toss the ball toward his left and still hit the ball down the "T."
Not surprisingly, Becker dominated Edberg with a 25-10 head-to-head overall record and always considered himself to be the favorite in all their meetings.
It was devastating for him, hence, when Edberg comprehensively beat him in their first Grand Slam meeting in the Wimbledon '88 finals. It was his first loss at the Center Court—a place he called his "living room."
The Swede attracted the limelight, and Becker was ignored, as the first-round match of the then-two-time champion was not allotted on either of the two show courts—Center Court or Court No. 1—while Edberg played his every match on the Center Court.
Becker's ego was hurt, and he was determined to prove that Wimbledon was still his "living room."
And an in-form Edberg—who had just given his finest Wimbledon performance dispatching McEnroe in straight sets in the semis—was in turmoil right from the start.
A winning serve-'n'-volley formula comprises of a difficult serve—either a fast flat serve or one that kicks high—to keep the returner off-balance and then pounce on a weak return to take control of the point by hitting a deep volley, or slice it very close to the net.
Instead, Edberg was overwhelmed as Becker destroyed this formula. The German was in perfect balance while returning, while his booming returns meant that the defending champion was struggling to get into position to just get the ball on the other side, leave along placing a deft volley.
In an amazing display of power-packed serve-'n'-volley tennis, Becker allowed Edberg only nine points on the latter's serve and silenced the Center Court crowd by becoming the first person since William Renshaw in 1886—yes, Eighteen Hundred and Eighty-Six—to win an opening set 6-0 in a Wimbledon final!
Edberg started to peak in the second set, and Becker started to go down, as the elegant Swede comfortably held multiple service games at love. The scenario looked similar to the '88 final, when Becker raced through the first set only to find Edberg taking command in the next three.
Edberg, in fact, broke Becker in the 11th game and Becker found himself three set points at 5-6 and 0-40 on Edberg's service game.
Becker woke up.
He hit a running forehand winner—a la Pete Sampras—with a banana swing—a la Rafael Nadal—to save the first. An inside out backhand winner saved the second, followed by another backhand crosscourt winner on the third.
A run-around forehand slap at Edberg's body gave him the advantage and another backhand slap gave him the break back.
He dominated the tie-breaker without allowing Edberg any point on his serve to take the tie-break comfortably at 7-1. Edberg, who had won four consecutive service games at love, lost eight consecutive points on his serve, staring at a two sets to love deficit!
The third set saw Becker at his absolute best as he got back his "Center Court" feeling of invincibility. Stefan had to hit one perfect shot after other, and hope that Boris would eventually not get to one. With nothing at stake, he showed courage to fight alongside the German in the "Zone," but even his best was too little.
Becker served like Becker, his volleys had the same touch as Edberg, his backhand was as reliable—but more powerful—as Edberg, while his slam dunks and running forehands were an older version of Sampras. He even matched the Swede with his stoicism as the self-deprecating remarks were absent.
A present-day tennis fan could almost see a yesteryear of Pete Sampras at Wimbledon '99 finals in Boris Becker in this match. Andre Agassi said that Sampras could have "walked on water" on that day. Stefan would have felt the same about Becker.
As Becker closed out the final set with a service winner, at 6-4, he silently raised one arm to acknowledge the crowd and looked at peace with himself.
He had proved his point.