by David Law
Stefan Edberg saved two match points and earned a standing ovation after a thrilling 6-4, 4-6, 13-11 (Champions’ Tie-Break) victory over seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe at the ATP Champions Tour event in Zurich on Thursday evening.
Edberg, winner of six Grand Slam titles in his professional career, had to produce some truly breathtaking tennis to withstand the challenge of the 51-year-old McEnroe. After sharing the first two sets, the match moved to another level in the deciding set Champions’ Tie-Break. McEnroe raced to a 5-0 lead to put himself in what seemed to be a winning position, but Edberg hit back to level at 8-8. Again McEnroe surged, setting up two match points, before Edberg rallied to the narrowest of victories. Both players received a standing ovation for their efforts from the packed crowd at the Saalsporthalle in Zurich.
After the match Edberg acknowledged just how close he had come to losing.
“I was pretty lucky to come out of this one,” he said. “I thought I had lost the match when I was 5-0 down in the tiebreak. John was serving well and you shouldn’t really win a match like that but luckily I did! It’s pretty exciting to be down and to come back from the edge. It’s a really good feeling to be able to lift your game when you really need to, and I got pretty fired up out there at the end.”
Edberg also took the opportunity to pay tribute to his opponent.
“John is a great fighter and a fantastic tennis player,” he said. “He’s still got the fire and he wants it badly. There’s only one John McEnroe and so long as he keeps playing it’s good for tennis. John really believed he could win tonight and he was right, it could have gone either way.”
McEnroe admitted after the match that he was frustrated to leave the court empty-handed having come so close to victory.
“I started playing pretty good at the end and it’s too bad I blew it,” he said. “Any time you’re up 5-0 in a tiebreak you should certainly win it. It was a pretty exciting match though and fun to be part of it. To me what’s important is to feel like I’m playing good and at the end there I felt like I had him on the ropes so I ended stronger than I started which was good.”
Thursday’s victory means that Edberg has qualified for Saturday’s final at the BNP Paribas Zurich Open, regardless of how he fares against Henri Leconte in his final group stage match on Friday. It will be Edberg’s fourth final in six events on the ATP Champions Tour. In the final he will meet the 2001 Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanisevic who won his third and final group stage match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-3 during Thursday’s night session to extend his unbeaten run in the tournament.
Elsewhere, Sergi Bruguera notched up his first victory of the tournament with a 7-6(4), 7-5 win over 1989 French Open Champion Michael Chang. The Spaniard now stands a strong chance of qualifying for Saturday’s 3rd place play-off match depending on the outcome of Friday’s final Group A round robin matches.
Matches are played over the best of three sets, with a Champions’ Tie-break (first to 10 points with a clear advantage of two) to decide the winner. After all round-robin matches are complete, the top two players in each group will meet in the final.
After Zurich, the ATP Champions Tour will move on to Bogota, Colombia for the city’s first-ever ATP Champions Tour event, The Seguors Bolivar Champions Tennis (March 18-21). After that the Tour will arrive in Sao Paulo for the fourth annual Grand Champions Brazil.
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