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McEnroe in Full Control of His Game and Edberg

September 22, 1986|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

You know that John McEnroe's comeback is complete when you can again see the devastating serve and hear the hostile arguments with officials.

You know it's complete when you see McEnroe--who came into a tournament No. 20--roll over the No. 4 player in the world, Stefan Edberg of Sweden.

McEnroe is back and winning, this time 6-2, 6-3 over Edberg in the final of the Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles tournament Sunday afternoon in front of 8,174 at the L.A. Tennis Center at UCLA.

McEnroe was last seen, nearly seven months ago, being pushed around a tennis court by Brad Gilbert, a player who McEnroe had variously described as "a punk" and a person who "doesn't belong on the same court as me."

It was the same Brad Gilbert whom McEnroe had beaten in the quarterfinals here last year, in a match that was outstanding only for the volume and the sharpness of the name-calling.

It was the same Brad Gilbert, but a different John McEnroe who met in Saturday night's semifinal match. McEnroe won a raucous and bitter match in which he berated anyone within earshot.

The difference now is that McEnroe is having fun, giving the crowd what it wanted. "Giving them their money's worth," he said.

That joy, the fun in the game, seems to be the difference in McEnroe before and after. Last year, McEnroe was angry and confused and frustrated at a tennis talent gone sour. He lashed out at Gilbert because he happened to be on the other side of the net at the time.

In this tournament, McEnroe's game has lifted, not to its former height, but to a level that McEnroe apparently is content with. And contentment is key with McEnroe now.

"I felt my concentration level was better than it's been since I came back," McEnroe said. "I was more into the matches than I've been. That's probably the most important thing. Before, there were times when it wasn't really John McEnroe out there. It was an imitation or something. I felt more like myself (this week)."

Edberg, a gracious loser, was quick to welcome McEnroe back to the fold. "I would like to congratulate John for the win today," Edberg told McEnroe during the award ceremony. "It's really nice to have you back on the tour."

McEnroe paid tribute to his new family, which he has credited as a stabilizing influence in his life.

"I want to dedicate this tournament to my wife, Tatum, and my son, Kevin," McEnroe said to the crowd. "This is my first tournament victory since Kevin was born. I want to thank them for making my life complete."

The win has been a long time coming. The last time McEnroe was in a final was November of 1985 in Stockholm, when he defeated Anders Jarryd, 6-1, 6-2.

The intervening 10 months have been an emotional roller coaster: McEnroe's tennis game was coming apart just as his personal life (a baby and his marriage to actress Tatum O'Neal) was coming together. McEnroe's decision to take 6 1/2 months off the tour has been second guessed by every person connected with the game, from the officials in the U.S. Tennis Assn. to the ball boys at his club on Long Island.

Since the comeback, which commenced at Stratton Mountain, Vermont, McEnroe has been struggling both with his game and his interest in the sport he has played all his life.

"I'm not sure if I am interested enough to stay in the game, we'll see," McEnroe said at the time.

He lost a close match to Boris Becker in the semifinals at Stratton Mountain, lost in the third round at Toronto to doubles specialist Robert Seguso and hit his professional nadir at the U.S. Open, the scene of his greatest triumphs.

At the Open, McEnroe was listless in his first round loss to Paul Annacone. Then, in his first round doubles match, he and partner Peter Flemming were defaulted after they were stuck in traffic and arrived 21 minutes late for their match.

On top of that, McEnroe was told that he was suspended indefinitely from playing Davis Cup because of his past behavior.

"I've had some setbacks and some tough draws," McEnroe said, calling Sunday's match the best he has played since coming back. "But's it's just great to have a win. It was nice to get better during the week, to get better each match. There is no better feeling for an athlete than to be the best at the end of the week."

McEnroe, who got $50,000 for the win, took advantage of Edberg's lethargic serve and was consistent with his own serve. Edberg was having so much difficult returning McEnroe's serve that he won only five points off McEnroe's serve the entire match. Conversely, McEnroe won 27 points on Edberg's serve.

"He didn't seem like he had a lot of confidence returning," McEnroe said. "I never had to work too hard to hold my serve. I felt like I was returning his serve well. It's a lot of his game. For both of us, if we get our serves going, it gets our games going."

Edberg lost his serve in the first game of the match, creating a hole which he would have preferred not to dig for himself.

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