WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 8 -- Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker may pass the Wimbledon trophy back and forth like this for years. Edberg won his second Wimbledon title today with a five-set defeat of defending champion Becker, who greeted his childhood, current, and future rival with a hug at the net.
Certainly no one seems capable of interfering with their grass court duel, not when it is played at such a speed-of-light pace. Edberg ebbed and flowed to a 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory in the third straight men's final on Centre Court between these two. It was a match of curious symmetry: Two sets belonged to the silken, 24-year-old Edberg of Sweden, two went to the mauling, 22-year-old Becker of West Germany. The fifth was either's.
Becker held a seemingly impregnable 3-1 lead in the fifth, but Edberg surged back with a series of powerful strokes to break the West German's serve in the decisive ninth game. He thus denied Becker a fourth title, avenged last year's championship loss and added a trophy to the one he won in 1988 in their first Wimbledon final meeting. At the end, the normally subdued blond tore off his shirt and flung it to the crowd.
"It's such a big difference between winning and losing," Edberg said. "I was in that position last year."
It was the 24th meeting between Becker and Edberg, who began playing each other when they were about 14 years old, though each has a different recollection of what might have been their first match. Becker is ranked No. 2 with three Wimbledon titles and a U.S. Open crown, Edberg is No. 3 with two Wimbledons and an Australian title, and both are challenging 30-year-old, top-ranked Ivan Lendl's preeminence.
"I know the number one spot is within reach now, and that's something to look forward to," said Edberg, whose highest year-end ranking was No. 2 in 1987.
While they are not close, Edberg and Becker share a certain bond. So when Edberg delivered a last twisting serve that Becker could only block with a forehand that landed in the alley, the West German climbed over the net and offered an embrace to the Swede, who strode toward him with his arms raised.
"I know how it feels both ways," Becker said. "Especially with Stefan, we've been going through so many matches together. Some tough ones, some easier ones, but over so many years. I guess, you know, it just came over me."
If there is a larger significance to Edberg's victory, it might be that he has put his competitive relationship with Becker onto a more equal footing. Becker holds a 15-9 lead, but Edberg has some important victories. In their 1988 final here he recovered from a one-set deficit to defeat Becker, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2. He also won a French Open semifinals meeting last year, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-2, in a match that was similar to today's.
Edberg also may have finally put to rest the notion that he lacks competitive fire. He has been somewhat obscured by the hulking, expressive West German partly because he chooses such a calm demeanor on the court. Becker's one-sided victory in last year's final, 6-0, 7-6, 6-4, perpetuated the criticism.
"I think I'm quite a calm person," Edberg said. "I play my best tennis when I keep straight and don't get too irritated." But today Edberg, who commuted virtually unnoticed from his home in Kensington each day, was almost fiery on Centre Court as he punched his fists in the air and worked his knees like pistons in the final set.
"When he was 3-1 down, it was over," said his coach, Tony Pickard. "So anyone who thinks he doesn't have a fire in his belly didn't see the match today."
Edberg and Becker are so comparable on grass -- with indistinguishable strategies and clean, hard serve and volleying -- that neither could have been called a favorite before the match. Becker had remarked, "It's who gets out of bed in the better frame of mind." The one difference was that Becker seemed tired, a half-step slow and somewhat uninspired.
"I was a little bit exhausted, to be quite honest," Becker said. "I have been playing six tough matches."
Each had lost just three sets coming into the final, but Becker's progress through the draw was more difficult. He needed two tiebreakers to defeat qualifier Luis Herrera in the first round, and dropped a set to Wally Masur in the second and one to Dan Goldie in the third. Then he endured an emotional four-set semifinal against 18-year-old Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia.
Edberg's only real test was a five-setter with Amos Mansdorf of Israel in the third round. He announced his form with a dismissal of Lendl in the semifinals in straight and almost routine sets.
"I had to go to the border almost every time," Becker said. "It really took its toll. He had a rather easy semifinal. That was the difference in the end."
That might account for Becker's heavy-limbed beginning, while Edberg played almost flawlessly. Their rapid exchanges lasted no more than two or three shots, as Edberg used only 56 minutes to win the first two sets. He broke Becker's serve in the third and fifth games of each set. He took a 4-1 lead in the second with a running forehand passing shot across the court that streaked past the West German's jaw at the net and made him flinch.
"I was just hoping, you know," Becker said. "It doesn't seem to go at all for you, but you calm yourself down and just hope and see the next point. You don't want to look too far then, you just hope the game is somehow going to go on."
Edberg threatened to make it a rout when he gained a break point to open the third set, with a well-disguised forehand lob that spun away from Becker. But Becker won a series of volleys to hold, and suddenly awoke. He broke Edberg in the next game with four explosive backhands. It was the opening he needed and he held the lead.
Becker almost invariably works himself into matches, and that is what happened in the fourth set. Edberg lost a little something on his serve, while Becker raised his to its normal bullet level. He broke Edberg in the third game and again for the set, killing a high backhand return down the line, then skimming a low forehand pass that Edberg got only the tip of his racket on.
"I started to think a little bit," Edberg said. ". . . I really said to myself, 'Start to work even harder' in the beginning of the fifth set. That's really what I did, I got my strength back and my fighting spirit."
But first each had a display of nerves. Becker barely held in the third game, double-faulting to give Edberg a 15-40 lead before he held. Then Edberg double-faulted twice in the fourth game, the last a horrible looking mishit on break point that landed several feet deep of the service box and gave Becker his 3-1 lead.
Becker opened the next game with another double fault, which gave Edberg the chance to break back. The Swede slung a forehand pass by him for 30-40, and then Becker gave up the game by pushing what should have been a simple forehand volley wide.
"It's not always as easy as it looks from outside," Becker said. "It's a Wimbledon final and everything is just a little bit more difficult than normal."
But after that stream of errors, Becker and Edberg settled down to play the best tennis of the match. They remained on serve until the crucial ninth game, when Edberg collected himself and delivered the decisive blows. He nailed a backhand at Becker's feet, and then made a smooth backhand pass across the court for 0-30. Becker's only point of the game was a touch forehand drop volley, pitching his next attempt into the net for 15-40.
Edberg then hit his most brilliant shot of the match. Becker pushed a shallow forehand volley at him, and he reached it easily for an arcing backhand lob that landed before Becker had turned from the net.
Edberg held convincingly for his title. He gained double match point, 40-15, with a twisting, acrobatic forehand volley that clattered off the edge of Becker's racket. Edberg landed on his feet and shoved his fists back and forth. Becker forestalled him just briefly, with a cracked backhand winner down the line. But Edberg's last serve was unmanageable, drawing the weak, lunging return wide.
"I had funny thoughts," Becker said. "In a way I was thinking about last year, and I was thinking about two years ago. So there were mixed emotions. I was just thinking that I know how it feels to win it. And I know how it feels to lose to the same guy."
Yr. ..... Championship match result
1988 .... Stefan Edberg def. Boris Becker, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2
1989 .... Boris Becker def. Stefan Edberg, 6-0, 7-6, 6-4
1990 .... Stefan Edberg def. Boris Becker, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4
6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4
........................ Becker ...... Edberg
SERVICE: Aces ............... 5 ........... 2
Winners ................... 7 ........... 1
Double faults .............. 7 ........... 7
First-serve pct. .......... 62 .......... 65
First-serve pts. ........56-79 ....... 64-87
Second-serve pts. ...... 20-48 ....... 22-46
RETURNS: In-play pct. ...... 68 .......... 79
Break points .............. 10 .......... 11
Break pts. conv. ........... 4 ........... 6
Conversion pct. ........... 40 .......... 55
NET PLAY: Points ....... 65-108 ...... 85-125
Winners ................... 29 .......... 28
Forced errors ............. 11 ........... 9
Unforced errors ........... 11 ........... 6
Times passed .............. 20 .......... 24
BACKCOURT: Fore. win. ....... 4 ........... 9
Back. winners ............. 21 .......... 11
Fore. forced err. ......... 18 ........... 7
Back. forced err. ......... 31 .......... 20
Fore. unforced err. ........ 4 ........... 4
Back. unforced err. ........ 4 ........... 4
TOTALS: Winners ............ 66 .......... 51
Forced errors ............. 60 .......... 36
Unforced errors ........... 26 .......... 21
Points won ........... 123-260 ..... 137-260