INDIAN WELLS — The way Stefan Edberg was playing tennis last year seemed to send a message that he was on the verge of meeting everyone's great expectations.
Edberg was ranked No. 2 in the world behind Ivan Lendl and had won his second straight Australian Open title when he arrived at Indian Wells in 1987. He also was bolstered by a victory at Memphis, Tenn., the previous week.
He fell just short of winning another championship, losing to rejuvenated Boris Becker in the final at the Grand Champions Resort. But several months later, Edberg beat Becker twice in two weeks before the U.S. Open and, for a time, looked like the one most likely to succeed. That is, most likely to succeed Lendl as king of the tennis world.
This year, Edberg's first few tournaments couldn't offer a much greater contrast to his quick start of '87. As two-time defending champion, he lost to fellow Swede Mats Wilander in the semifinals at the Australian Open. He followed with an unlikely loss to No. 44-ranked Jim Grabb in the third round at Memphis, Tenn.
Edberg won't be playing in the final here, either. Thursday, he lost to another Swede, Mikael Pernfors, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the third round of the $702,500 Newsweek Champions Cup tournament.
Granted, this shouldn't be considered a complete surprise because Pernfors has defeated Edberg three times in their four meetings. But the early loss was especially disheartening for the top-seeded Edberg, coming on the heels of his loss to Grabb.
Edberg, for one, did see a difference between his loss at Memphis and the defeat on Thursday.
"I'm getting used to losing," he said, smiling. "If you look at Memphis, (Grabb) played like a god. Today, I gave the match away."
There was one other difference. Edberg has the flu. He looked ill and was coughing during his postmatch interview.
So, how much did the flu have to do with the loss?
"Everything," Edberg said, laughing.
Pernfors, of course, had something to do with it, too. He is making his way back after spending more time on the sidelines than on the court last year. Pernfors, a French Open finalist in 1986, missed 15 weeks because of various injuries and watched his year-end ranking drop from 12th to 33rd.
It also didn't help Edberg's cause that Pernfors was carrying some momentum into Indian Wells, having reached the Memphis final before losing to Andre Agassi. And, in a sense, Pernfors is on a mission in 1988, trying to silence his critics.
"I kept hearing people say, 'Oh, he's not doing that well,' " said Pernfors, seeded 15th. " 'He's partying all the time.' I just wanted to prove it wasn't true."
Pernfors said he did so with the victory, even though it was his third straight over Edberg. More importantly, it was the way he won, rallying from a one-set deficit.
In the second set, Pernfors had to stave off a strong charge by Edberg. At 5-3, Edberg had five break points before Pernfors won the 20-point game, and the set, when Edberg hit a backhand return wide.
That, essentially, was Edberg's last serious challenge. Pernfors broke him in the opening game of the third set at 15 and followed with another break in the third game to take a 3-0 lead.
"He gave me a lot more time to hit my shots," Pernfors said. "If he didn't hit a perfect volley, I could run up and get a second shot.
"I think when I broke him to go up, 1-0, in the third and the way I broke him, it gave me a push forward. Just winning the second set helped a lot because he was coming back, breaking me again."
Three of the eight third-round matches went three sets, including Pernfors win. Also, No. 2 Miloslav Mecir survived a tough match with unseeded Darren Cahill, winning, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4, and No. 11 Amos Mansdorf defeated Dan Goldie, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. Last year's champion, Boris Becker, had little trouble with unseeded John Fitzgerald, winning, 6-0, 6-2, in 58 minutes. Also, on Thursday, No. 4 Pat Cash, No. 7 Andre Agassi, No. 8 Emilio Sanchez and unseeded Johan Kriek all won in straight sets. Sanchez defeated 16-year-old amateur Pete Sampras of Rancho Palos Verdes, 7-5, 6-2. In the 12th game of the first set, Sampras squandered three break points which would have sent it to a tiebreaker. Then, Sanchez broke Sampras in the first game of the second. . . . For Edberg, it was the first time he failed to reach a tournament final in the Southern California. Edberg won the Olympics in 1984 at Los Angeles, has reached the final at the last three Volvo/Los Angeles tournaments, and lost to Becker in the final at Indian Wells last year. . . . The attendance for Thursday's sessions was 6,894. Today's quarterfinal matches, in order, starting at 11 a.m. on the Stadium Court: Sanchez vs. Mecir, Becker vs. Kriek, Cash vs. Mansdorf and Pernfors vs. Agassi.