How Edberg Went From Worst Bed To Wimbledon Champ
Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg grew up together, hailing from the same state in Sweden. They were close enough as juniors that at a national tournament they shared a tiny room in which there were only two bunk beds stacked atop one another.
“He always had to take the worst bed!” Wilander said.
Little did they know that at 1988 Wimbledon, as professionals, one of their losses would allow the other to break through.
Wilander, who was like an older brother to Edberg, arrived at the All England Club that year with plenty of momentum. He was the first man to win the first two Grand Slams of the year since Rod Laver, who captured all four Grand Slams in 1969. Grass was never the second seed’s best surface, but given his form, he had a chance to continue his path toward the calendar-year Grand Slam.
For a while, it appeared Wilander’s dream of winning all four majors in 1988 was becoming increasingly realistic. He did not lose a set en route to the quarter-finals, and if he reached the semi-finals, he would face Edberg. In the last eight, Wilander played Miloslav Mecir, against whom he won two of his past three ATP Head2Head matches.
“I knew that we possibly were going to play each other,” Edberg recalled. “We always kept an eye on the scoreboard, because it would have been nice to play in the semi-finals.”
That was when Wilander’s pursuit of history came to a screeching halt. Mecir crushed the second seed 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
“It was the worst defeat,” Wilander said. “But it only lasted for 48 hours.”
Edberg’s introduction to Wimbledon came in 1976, when he watched his idol, Bjorn Borg, beat Ilie Nastase for the title on television. He remembers in 1983 taking a bus from Richmond to the historic venue, walking over a hill where he was able to view all of SW19.
At that same event, Edberg had a chance to avenge his good friend’s loss. But Mecir appeared primed to spoil the Swedish party, sprinting through the first two sets of their semi-final 6-4, 6-2.
“Mecir had a good year… I was pretty much down and out in that match. He was up two sets to love, 3-3, 0/40 on my serve,” Edberg said. “That was the crucial match at that Wimbledon in 1988.”
Edberg rallied behind his aggressive serve-and-volley play – which differed from Wilander, who thrived from the baseline — for a 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win to reach his first final at The Championships. That helped soothe the pain of Wilander’s loss.
“I was really bummed out,” Wilander said. “I realised, ‘Hold on, hold on. Stefan is making the final here! We are from the same state’,” Wilander said. “I was a big brother, so I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s winning, so thank God.'”
In the first of three consecutive Wimbledon championship battles between Edberg and Boris Becker, the Swede emerged victorious, triumphing 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-2.
“Winning Wimbledon the first time is always going to stand out,” Edberg said. “It’s a fantastic feeling, being on Centre Court and lifting the trophy.”
“More importantly, no one ever asked me about my loss,” Wilander joked. “They called Stefan and asked him about his win.”
Although it was disappointing at the time, Wilander went on to win the US Open that year, so the Swedes who grew up together combined to win all four majors in 1988.
Did You Know?
Only two players have won the first two Grand Slams of the season since Wilander did it in 1988. Jim Courier accomplished the feat in 1992, and Novak Djokovic did it in 2016. No man has won the Calendar Slam since Laver in 1969.