“It is like a fairy tale. . . . Only maybe when we are grandfather and grandmother will people realize what we have achieved today. . . . “
Boris Becker WIMBLEDON, England — Well, I guess you don’t have to be young, blond and West German to win Wimbledon. Then again . . . danke schoen. It’s the Boris and Steffi show. And they say nobody gets famous from the old neighborhood. Here, shaking hands with the Duke and Duchess and holding up the silver trophies, are your 1989 Wimbledon champions: born within two years of each other and raised a few miles apart. They even played on the same courts after school! “I was the worst of the 9-year-old boys and she was the best of the 7-year-old girls,” recalled Becker, after whipping Stefan Edberg, 6-0, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, to win the men’s title Sunday, hours after Steffi Graf had taken the women’s crown, “so Steffi and I wound up hitting against each other.”
These days they just beat up on everybody else. Especially on grass. Becker won his third Wimbledon in five years, and if you don’t think his thunder serve and laser volley are perfectly suited to this surface, consider that he is internationally famous, maybe the first guy people think of when asked to name a tennis star, yet he has never even reached the final of any other Grand Slam tournament. Such is the glow of Wimbledon.
Graf, meanwhile, has no such limitations. Grass, clay, cement, shag carpet? She could play on the lunar surface, the results would be the same. Sunday she fended off two months’ worth of intense preparation by a gritty Martina Navratilova — who skipped the Italian and French Opens to concentrate on her grass game — and put her away, 6-2, 6-7 (1-7), 6-1. Whip. Slash. No problem. What time is the plane back to Heidelberg?
“Many things depended on this win,” said Graf, 20, who cried briefly after defending her title.
“What things?” she was asked.
“Well, we have a family vacation coming up and if I had lost I don’t think I would have wanted to go. I would not have been too happy.”
She won Wimbledon to save her vacation.
What a story.
But then, how fitting. Thus ends two weeks of tennis that ultimately honored strength over sentiment. Becker and Graf deserved to win, they were the best players out there. But the best stories of this Wimbledon were the losers: from young Michael Chang, who thrilled crowds with his unexpected passage to the fourth round, to John McEnroe, who sent over-30 heartbeats thumping by almost making the finals for the first time since 1984 — and nearly losing his shorts in the process. From Jimmy Connors, the aging gunslinger who was blown away in the second round, to Ivan Lendl, the best player in the world, who has still never won this thing and may be the first to die trying. From the petite Monica Seles, 15, who lost to Graf in the fourth round despite being young enough to read Tiger Beat magazine, to 34-year-old Chris Evert, who said good-bye to Wimbledon in the semifinals, a loss that chilled the very grass of Centre Court, because it will never be the same without her.
Even Sunday, the vanquished were as notable as the victors. Consider Navratilova, who wanted this desperately, madly, she was like a demon as she advanced during the early rounds. “I am not the underdog,” she insisted, over and over. “I am ready to beat Steffi. I am not past my prime.” Only history can inspire Martina like that (she has already won everything else), and a victory here would have given her nine silver plates, breaking the record of Helen Wills Moody. But Graf stopped her last year, and Sunday — despite the sell-out crowd’s pulling for her on every point — Martina was ousted again, blown away in the third set after exhausting her miracles by winning a tiebreaker in the second. The final point was an ace that may have cut Martina’s flesh as it passed. Did somebody catch the number of that ball? All the graceful ex-champ could do was applaud her opponent, shake hands and get off the court.
“I did my best, she was just too tough,” said Martina, 32, an hour after the match. “You know, I’ll be the oldest person on the tour when Chris retires. I try not to think about that. But it seems like everyone else is in their teens.”
Will she ever win this title again? Not as long as Steffi is healthy, happy and motivated. The Bruhl Bomber is too fast, too powerful and too young to be beaten on this surface. Her serve is a bullet, and her forehand is such a missile, she literally plays a volley game from the baseline. Why come to the net? Sunday marked her sixth Grand Slam title in her last seven tries.
“In the third set today I had such a good feeling inside I had to tell myself, ‘Come on, concentrate,’ and not start laughing,” she said. In the Wimbledon final? Laughing? Let’s face it. The only antidote to Graf is the antidote for the common cold: Drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest, and wait.
Maybe 10 years.
As for Becker? His was a grudge match, a retaliation against Edberg, who beat him in the final last year. Becker was too confident in that first showdown. He had beaten Pat Cash and Lendl to get there; how tough could Edberg be? After losing in four sets, Becker sneaked up and touched the winner’s trophy before they handed it to Edberg. “Just to remind myself what it feels like,” he said.
He can touch it all he wants now. Becker blew Edberg out of the water in the first set Sunday, winning, 6-0. The second set went to a tiebreaker before Becker grabbed it by the throat, winning six straight points.
And from that point, it was a countdown. Becker had grown up in his two years away from the throne — “I am tougher now. My first wins here were like a fairy tale, I was a young boy, I didn’t even know what I was doing” — and when Edberg sent his final service return halfway to downtown London, the man they call Boom Boom raised his hand in triumph. “I am king again,” he seemed to say.
Then, after walking toward the umpire’s chair, he suddenly whirled and threw his racket into the stands. “It takes a couple seconds to realize you’ve won,” he explained. “I thanks God it didn’t hit anybody.”
Only Edberg perhaps — right in the pride. The friendly, quiet Swede has lost both the French and Wimbledon finals in the same year. The last person to do that was a German named Gottfried von Cramm in 1935.
That’s 1935, B.B.
And there you have it. An all-West German finish on the first Sunday in Wimbledon history to host both the men’s and women’s finals (we can thank Saturday’s rain for that). How old are Graf and Becker — 20 and 21? Incredible. Hearing they once were runny-nosed kids in the same tennis school is like hearing (a true story) that Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand once played the same nightclub as unknowns.
Makes you shake your head, doesn’t it?
“This means so much for German tennis,” Graf said.
“It may never happen again,” added Becker. He thought for a moment. “Of course, that may depend more on me than on Steffi.”
Danke schoen, kids. For murderous volleys, for passing shots that rise from the ankles and travel across the court, for drop-shot balls that seem to barely touch the grass. This may be the Wimbledon more remembered for those who didn’t take home the trophies, but in the record books, it will go down as the year of the blitzkrieg, tall, blond and serving like thunder.
And not just tennis balls, either.
“Did you ever get your racket back?” someone asked Becker.
“No,” he answered, “it is gone with the wind.”
No doubt blowing toward Munich.