Even as Stefan Edberg was moving with ease through the draw at the $315,000 Volvo/Los Angeles tennis tournament, he was puzzled on more than one account.
He couldn't understand why he had to play three straight matches at night. And, the 21-year-old Swede didn't know where his ground strokes had disappeared to--perhaps left somewhere in the vicinity of Flushing Meadow, N.Y.? More than anything else, Edberg was lamenting his lack of post-Open mental toughness.
"It was terrible," Edberg said after one practice during the tournament. "It is so difficult to concentrate after the Open."
Still, no one was able to solve Edberg's puzzle. Paul Annacone, who beat him in the 1985 Los Angeles final, came up injured in the quarterfinals. Tim Wilkison provided nothing more than token opposition in Saturday's semifinals.
Finally, American David Pate and his serve came out of the shadows to throw Edberg off even more. It didn't take much--just two service breaks--for the No. 3-seeded Pate to secure a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Edberg in Sunday's final at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center.
It was hardly a virtuoso serving performance from Pate, who had just four aces. Indeed, he served better against Michael Chang and Peter Lundgren in his first two matches here. But, as things worked, he didn't need his biggest weapon. Pate was all over the net from the opening game and only faced two break points the entire match.
"I played as well as I needed to win," said Pate, who earned $50,000. "I don't want to take anything away from Stefan, but I don't think he was at the top of his game."
Edberg has had problems with his concentration in big matches before. He played excellent tennis at the U.S. Open before losing to countryman Mats Wilander in the semifinals. In that match, which started at 10 a.m., Edberg was out of sorts the whole way, hitting shots off his frame and a serve or two into the stands.
The 4 p.m. starting time on Sunday created problems of a different kind. There were shadows across the court through most of the final that made it tough to get a good look at Pate's serve.
"It was a mixture," Edberg said of whether Pate played well or he caused his own downfall. "I found it hard with the shadows to see the ball. I felt all right, not that I hit the ball well. With all the sun and shadows, he served very well."
They stayed on serve until the fifth game of the first set. In the previous game, Pate had fought off a break point at 30-40 with an ace. Edberg wouldn't get another break point until the sixth game of the second set.
So, in retrospect, the inability to capitalize on the first break point really did cost Edberg.
Pate gained his first break point with Edberg serving at 2-2, 15-40. Edberg got back to 30-40 when Pate flubbed a forehand return. One point later, however, he secured the break when Edberg dumped a forehand volley into the net.
That was it for service breaks in the first set, and Pate had little trouble running it out at 6-4, when Edberg hit a backhand return wide off a good second serve by Pate.
The second set followed the pattern of the first as the two stayed on serve again until the fifth game. Pate broke at 30 for a 3-2 lead when Edberg hit a forehand volley wide. That game also featured a forehand cross-court passing shot by Pate that was hit so hard the crowd cheered.
Three games later, Pate won the spectators, who had been cheering for Edberg, over to his side when he made a sportsman-like gesture. With Pate serving at 4-3, there was an obvious error on the service line. A second serve, which was clearly wide, was called good.
It's unlike Edberg to argue a call, but he did. And, it's also unusual for a player to offer to play two, but Pate did.
Then, Pate aced Edberg on the replayed point. It was probably then that Edberg realized Sunday wasn't going to be his day.
However, Pate turned down the chance to be made a hero.
"I don't mind playing two," he said. "I was just waiting to see what he (Edberg) would do. I thought it was a little unfair. I couldn't take a call like that. I don't know, it just happened spur of the moment. You're making more of this than there is."
Despite holding a No. 19 ranking and a victory over Ivan Lendl this year, Pate is one of the more unknown players in the top 20. He acknowledges this is because of his undistinguished Grand Slam showings, including a first-round loss at the recent U.S. Open.
When asked whether the No. 2 Edberg was the highest-ranked player he had ever defeated, Pate had a little fun with the questioner.
"Yeah, I beat some guy named Lendl a couple of times this year. . . . I think he's No. 1," Pate deadpanned.
While Pate was having his moment, enlightening the curious about David Pate, Edberg still has his modest goal. To win a professional tournament in Los Angeles.