Bragging rights to Wimbledon's Center Court are hard to come by, but Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, who will play there today in the men's singles final, have inarguably earned them.
For the third consecutive year, Becker and Edberg are the only men to survive two weeks of unsettled weather, uncertain footing, unnerving line calls, and uninhibited challenges from hard-hitting teen-agers.It is testimony to their domination on this tricky grass surface that nearly a century has elapsed since Wimbledon last played host to the same pair of finalists for three consecutive years.
``At Wimbledon just about anything can happen and just about anything usually does, except for Boris and Stefan,' said Paul Annacone, who was eliminated in a five-set match against David Wheaton.
Constancy on this most inconsistent surface is an evasive phenomenon. Just ask Ivan Lendl, whose nontitle streak here was extended by his defeat on Friday.
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Lendl made no secret of the fact that his exhaustive preparation for Wimbledon included the fervent prayer that Becker and Edberg would be pitted against each other in the semifinals; his training had left nothing to chance, but a little luck in the draw, he said, would have lent wings to his mission. As usual, the draw disappointed him.
But Becker and Edberg start to feel like landed gentry as soon as they step onto Center Court. Becker struts around it like a trumpeter swan, bellowing and flapping his arms as he belts out yet another bruising serve, using his machismo as a statement.
Edberg, so self-effacing that he almost seems to disappear when he's away from the court, becomes the deftest of magicians upon it, tapping out volley upon half-volley with a dazzling sleight of hand.
``Now it feels like Wimbledon,' said the 24-year-old Edberg after qualifying to face the player against whom he has assembled the longest-running rivalry of his career.
Becker, the defending champion, is attempting a fourth Wimbledon title and seemed pleased at the prospect of facing his most familiar rival.
``We know each other better than any other players,' he explained.
Over the years, the pair have dueled on 23 occasions, and the 22-year-old West German holds a 15-8 edge. He has defeated the Swede in seven of their nine finals.
The third-ranked Edberg, shamed here in straight sets by Becker last year as the Swede tried to defend the 1988 title, has not won a Grand Slam title since then. He would love to avenge his first-round loss at the French Open by prevailing against the world's No. 2 player on Sunday.
Becker, too, would like to use Wimbledon as a tonic for his self-image after suffering the same fate as Edberg at the French Open. Had either of them managed to capture the Paris title, he would have supplanted Lendl as the world's top player.
Becker got some immediate revenge for his humiliation at Paris in Friday's semifinal, where he defeated 18-year-old Goran Ivanisevic, the player who put him out of the French Open.
He also received some satisfaction from the knowledge that, cagey and canny at 22, he was able to overpower the player who is the clearest pretender to his throne.
``During the match I thought about somebody who was 17 and once played like that,' said Becker, obviously recalling 1985, when an unseeded West German of that age won his first title here.
In the men's doubles final, top-seeded Californians Rick Leach and Jim Pugh, who with Andre Agassi and Michael Chang should be selected to the United States Davis Cup squad, earned a 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory over second-seeded Pieter Aldrich and Danie Visser, the reigning Australian Open champions.