The scene of Stefan Edberg's most significant triumph as an amateur--UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center--has held another important challenge for him the last three years.
After winning the Olympic gold medal when tennis was a demonstration sport in 1984, Edberg reached the final a year later at the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament, losing to Paul Annacone, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.
In 1986, a resurgent John McEnroe stopped Edberg in straight sets for the title,
Now, this year, Edberg has reached the final once again. There's no McEnroe in the way as he pulled out before the first ball was hit. And Edberg, the top-seeded player, took care of Annacone in Friday's quarterfinals.
Which brings the focus to this year's obstacle for Edberg in the final, No. 3-seeded David Pate. Pate, he of the big serve, showed he could win without his primary weapon, defeating No. 2 Brad Gilbert, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, in the semifinals on Saturday.
Edberg humbled unseeded Tim Wilkison, 6-2, 6-3, in a 59-minute semifinal, the featured night match before an announced crowd of 7,051. Yeah, and who said Edberg was supposed to be vulnerable under the lights at night?
"I think that was the third time in a row at night," he said. "I've gotten used to it. I was hoping we could play tomorrow at night."
He was kidding, of course. Pate, whose serve has been clocked at 120 m.p.h., is dangerous enough during the daytime, let alone at night. This year, Pate has reached two finals, losing 6-4, 6-2 to Tim Mayotte at Chicago and 7-6, 6-4 to Edberg at the Japan Open. However, Pate, ranked No. 19, recorded a victory over Ivan Lendl at Tokyo in 1987.
Although Edberg is confident about today's final, he also recognizes Pate's talent.
"I think I can win it," Edberg said, almost cautiously. "But it's going to be very difficult. Obviously, David is hitting the ball very well, I was watching him today. So it's not going to be easy. When he's playing well, he can beat almost anybody. He can play so well sometimes. And he can have letdowns. But he can also be dangerous."
Gilbert had another word for his match with Pate, viewing the semifinal as a nightmare. He called it just that during a break in the second set.
Almost from the first game, Gilbert was clearly unnerved, complaining about various bad line calls.
"Basically, it was a joke," Gilbert said. "There were at least 15 bad calls both ways. I feel like I try to do a professional job out there, and I'm not going to say anything more about it."
For Gilbert, the nightmare ended when Pate finished off the 2-hour 30-minute match, appropriately enough with an ace.
Pate, too, was anything but thrilled with the line calls.
"I think I was equally mad at the linesman as he was," he said. "It's kind of hard to let calls like that slip away but you try to."
If anything, Pate could have easily gotten down on himself after the second-set tiebreaker. He was two points from the match, serving with a 5-4 lead. But Gilbert hit a backhand crosscourt passing shot, Pate netted a backhand volley and hit a passing shot long and that was it for the second set.
However, in the third set, Pate and Gilbert exchanged service breaks before Pate secured the decisive break to go up 5-3 to serve out the match.
Edberg and Pate took different routes to the final. Pate had to play teen-agers Michael Chang and Andre Agassi before meeting Gilbert and was pushed to three sets by the 17-year-old Agassi. On the other hand, Edberg hasn't lost a set all week and has looked stronger with each match.
And Edberg had just one word to describe his match preparation for today's final.
"Perfect," he said.