December 3, 1989: Stefan Edberg dethrones Boris Becker at ATP Finals


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December 3, 1989: Stefan Edberg dethrones Boris Becker at ATP Finals

The Madison Square Garden had hosted the world's leading players for the 13th and final time at the end of 1989, with eight competitors fighting for the last and one of the biggest titles of the season. As usual, the finest indoor players in the world had passed the round robin stage to set the mouth-watering semi-final clashes that were completed in straight sets.

The youth had taken advantage over the experience, with Boris Becker ousting John McEnroe 6-4 and Stefan Edberg who toppled the five-time champion Ivan Lendl 7-6 7-5 to set up their fifth meeting of the season and the 21st overall.

Becker had won Wimbledon, US Open and Paris and he was arguably the best player of the season despite standing second in the rankings behind Lendl. The Swede was beaten in the final of the Roland Garros and Wimbledon and also finished runner-up behind Becker in Paris, missing a chance to grab some big title and hoping to fix that here in New York.

Boris won their round robin match 6-1 6-4 but tables turned in the title match on December 3, with Edberg scoring a 6-4 7-6 6-3 6-1 triumph in three hours and two minutes for his first ATP Finals crown and his 20th ATP title overall.

Becker was the defending champion and he had a chance to move two sets to love up, wasting a set point in the tie break of the second set and winning just two out of last 14 games after a 2-0 lead in set number three. Carried by the momentum after stealing the second set, Edberg was the dominant figure on the court in sets three and four, marching towards the finish line and lifting his first and only ATP Finals crown at the age of 23.

They had a similar number of service winners (35 to 33 in Edberg's advantage) and while Becker had the edge with his groundstrokes it was Edberg who prevailed at the net, also hitting a fewer number of unforced errors to win five points more than the German.

Boris had a small advantage in the shortest points but Stefan had the upper hand in the mid-range rallies, constructing the points in a more efficient way and finishing them with his sharp volleys and smashes. Edberg drew first blood in game two after a terrible backhand from Becker but the German pulled the break back immediately in the following game after a volley error from Stefan at the net.

The momentum was on Becker's side and he grabbed another break in game seven with a forehand down the line winner, moving 4-3 up and closing the set with a service winner three games later for a 6-4. The Swede moved ahead with a backhand cross court winner in the fourth game of the second set but he couldn't stay in front for too long, suffering a break in the very next game following a backhand winner from Becker who was back on the positive side of the scoreboard.

Serving at 5-6, Becker saved a set point with an amazing diving volley winner, bringing the game home with a forehand cross court winner to level the score at 6-6 and set up a tie break. Becker had a set point at 6-5 that could have sent him two sets to love up and just a set away from the title but it wasn't to be for him, with Edberg fending it off with a service winner to stay in touch.

The Swede claimed the crucial mini-break in the 12th point, hitting a forehand return winner to steal the set and level the overall score at 1-1. Becker stayed focused to earn a break in the second game of the second set but that proved to be pretty much everything we had seen from him in this match, getting broken in the third game after a terrible backhand and never finding the hitting zone again.

Edberg broke again in the seventh game with a forehand winner and he grabbed the set 6-3 with another break in game nine following a backhand error from the German to move closer to the finish line. Boris squandered game points in the fourth game of the fourth set to get broken when his forehand finished in the net, missing a break chance in the next game to find himself 4-1 down.

The Swede was now safely on the winning trail and he had a chance to close the match on own serve after another break in game six. Stefan fired four winners in the next game to cross the finish line and lift his first Nabisco Masters crown, becoming the last champion of this event before switching the location to Frankfurt from 1990.