WIMBLEDON, England — Well, ladies and gents, thanks for tuning in to another edition of the BBC series, “Boris and Stefan Do Wimbledon,” in which we learn that Stefan is really (gasp) Tom Jones. Yes. Did you see him peel off his shirt and throw it to the adoring women in the crowd? Not once, but twice? This, of course, was a rare display of emotion from the fair-haired Swede, who has been known to give such riveting interviews as:
“Stefan, how did it feel to win Wimbledon?”
“It felt good. I played good.”
“Are you excited? Are you thrilled?”
“I feel good. I played good.”
“Stefan, your car was just discovered at the bottom of the Thames with a bomb under the hood.”
“I feel good. I played good. My car is wet.”
Maybe with the shirt tosses, Stefan, who won his second Wimbledon title Sunday afternoon, was trying to put an exclamation point on the final — his third straight here against Boris Becker. It was a match that, on paper, should have needed no such boosting. After all, it went five sets, didn’t it? Edberg won the first two, Becker the second two, and the last came down to who got the breaks of serve. Should be riveting, right? And perhaps years from now, in the history books, it will be.
But in person, this match had surprisingly little drama. And there are several reasons for this, which we will discuss in a moment. But first, let’s ask Stefan about the very first time he ever played his arch-rival Boris:
“Oh, I remember. It was the Rolex tournament in New York. I was 16. He was 15.”
Thank you. And now, let’s ask Boris about the first time he ever faced Stefan.
“It was in (West) Germany, a satellite tournament. I was 14.”
Um. Wait a minute. . . . Too many three-hitters
We have a little discrepancy here, which we might want to clear up. Then again, we might not; at least it provides some contrast between the two men — who are becoming increasingly hard to tell apart at Wimbledon. Boom! Power serve. Boom! Power serve. Which leads us back to the problem.
Now, don’t misunderstand. This is not a knock. Becker and Edberg are the best in the world on grass — well, maybe Wade Boggs is better, but that’s a different sport. The problem is that Becker and Edberg are so good, they almost neutralize one another. Each has a killer serve. Each can volley as if computer directed. What this often leads to is tennis that sounds like this:
“Unnnnnnh! (serve). Thwock! (return). Boink! (volley winner).
This is a wonderful display of power tennis, but to watch it, over three hours, is sort of like watching two men shoot ducks. The problem, of course, is largely Wimbledon’s grass surface, which rewards the serve-and-volley game.
Years ago, when Borg and Connors and McEnroe were dueling here, the points still lasted longer than three hits. You had rallies, and thus, more memorable moments. (The women’s side remains like this, which is why, in recent years, that side has provided more interest.)
But the men are so good now — and their rackets are made of what, kryptonite? — that a guy who likes to whack even a few from the baseline anymore is a dead man here. Ask Ivan Lendl. Becker and Edberg step on him at Wimbledon as if he had eight legs. And Lendl is otherwise the best player on the planet.
“We are very close,” Becker admitted of his rivalry here with Edberg. “I think the difference now is who had a harder time getting to the final.”
“I think that is right,” Edberg said.
Well. It’s hard to build a soap opera on that. Mistakes created most interest
Let’s go to the highlights, shall we? Little wonder that the most interesting moments in Edberg’s 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory came on mistakes. In the final set, Edberg double- faulted — two moon balls — to lose the fourth game. It shocked everyone, or at least woke them up. “Lost my rhythm,” he said. He also gave Becker a 3-1 lead, setting the stage for a terrific comeback story.
Sadly, Becker returned the favor the very next game, when he came to the net for an easy forehand volley — and poked it halfway to Chelsea. Game, Edberg. They traded serve games from that point, until, with the score 4-4, Edberg lobbed one over Becker’s head when Boris rushed the net, and it fell in for a break point. The match ended one game later, in similar fashion, when Boris returned an Edberg serve via the moon, a high pop that Edberg raced under and followed as it landed out . . . of . . . bounds. Game, set, Wimbledon! Off with the shirt!
So let’s see: A lob. A double fault. An out of bounds. And that’s the highlight reel?
Now, I’m sure NBC’s people made this thing look better at home — they have their ways — and as I said, the Becker/ Edberg skill is excellent. But so is laser technology, and I wouldn’t pay to watch that in person. NBC aside, the fact is this: Men’s tennis is in trouble, drama-wise, particularly here, and it may be a case of more being less. Too many big hitters. Too much boom. Change the rackets. Go back to wood. Grow the grass higher. Anything.
Otherwise, even in five-set matches, we may need the champion to fling his shirt to the ladies to boost excitement. And you can do that only so many times. Ask Tom Jones.