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TENNIS / THOMAS BONK : Edberg Could Win the Rights to New Version of 'Three-Peat'

August 23, 1993|THOMAS BONK

Does Pat Riley also own the rights to a "three-peat" if it happens in tennis? If he does, then Stefan Edberg can make a few more dollars for Riley by becoming the back-to-back-to-back U.S. Open champion and winning his third title in three years.

Edberg has a chance at making some history. Since Bill Tilden won the U.S. Nationals six years in a row from 1920-1925, the only other players to do win at least three in a row at the U.S. Open are John McEnroe (1979-1981) and Ivan Lendl (1985-1987).

With McEnroe in virtual retirement and No. 11-ranked Lendl seemingly destined for his lowest U.S. Open seeding since 1979, Edberg's biggest challengers are going to come from elsewhere. Sorting out the contenders is fairly simple, a great deal less complicated than selecting the winner.

Here's an educated guess at the six players who have the best chance at claiming the year's fourth and final Grand Slam title:

--Pete Sampras: After winning on grass at Wimbledon, Sampras has been sort of searching around for the hard-court touch that led him to last year's U.S. Open final, where he lost to Edberg. He began by losing in the third round at Montreal, then made it to the semifinals at Los Angeles and Cincinnati and the quarterfinals at Indianapolis.

With his serve and improved groundstrokes, it's best not to count him out, but Sampras' condition may become an issue after his playing four consecutive weeks on concrete courts.

--Jim Courier: It's been a long, emotional year for Courier, whose Grand Slam results are easily the best of anyone's--a victory at the Australian and the finals at the French Open and Wimbledon. But after losing in the third round at Montreal and the second round at Cincinnati, Courier looked as though he was showing a little wear. But he won the title at Indianapolis to reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Sampras. He may have it all together for a run at the Open.

--Edberg: Since the birth of his daughter, Emile, Edberg is just coming back into form. He beat Sampras in the semifinals at Cincinnati, then lost to Michael Chang in the final. His final U.S. Open tuneup is at the Hamlet Cup next week.

--Boris Becker: Who knows? At Wimbledon, Sampras blew him away in the semifinals and since then, Becker has been mysterious, even by his own lofty standards. He broke away from mentor Ion Tiriac, hired John McEnroe as his adviser-coach-confidante, got a fax from Tiriac saying he couldn't be let go and then lost in the third round at Montreal.

Becker reached the final at Indianapolis and took a wild card into the Hamlet Cup to get himself turned around.

--Michael Chang: Maybe the hottest player so far, Chang lost to Andre Agassi in the third round at Montreal, but got to the finals at Los Angeles and then beat Edberg for the title at Cincinnati. A semifinalist at last year's U.S. Open, Chang wound up losing to the eventual champion, Edberg.

--Agassi: Down to No. 22 in the rankings, Agassi played in New Haven, Conn., last week and is not entered in the Hamlet Cup. If his confidence gets a boost from winning a few early-round matches and from the influence of new Coach Pancho Segura, Agassi has a chance to make an impact at the Open.

Others to watch are Goran Ivanisevic, Marc Goellner, Richard Krajicek and maybe Todd Martin.

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Open and closed: The U.S. Open looks a lot different without Monica Seles in the women's singles field. It doesn't seem that there are any more than three or four who can win it, most notably Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Martina Navratilova and Mary Joe Fernandez. Anybody else would be a huge upset.

But Graf continues to have problems with her foot, Sanchez Vicario has played a ton of matches already, Navratilova will be 37 in October and Fernandez has never won a major. So just pick one.

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Big brother: We already know that the electronic line-calling apparatus, called the TEL system, will be used at the main courts at the U.S. Open--with linespeople standing by, according to tournament director Steve DeVoe.

The sure-to-be-controversial TEL system was tested at last year's Open in the final of the men's over-35, but it was also used on an experimental basis with human umpires in the over-45 event.

For what it's worth, here are the test results: Of the 2,956 balls that landed within 12 inches of the lines, the human linesperson and the machine disagreed on the call 301 times.

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Double dose of Andre: In case you missed it, Andre Agassi won a tournament title last week. It was a doubles title, Agassi's first. Agassi, ranked No. 566 in doubles, teamed with Petr Korda to defeat Stefan Edberg and Henrik Holm in the final of the Thriftway ATP Championship at Mason, Ohio.

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Streaks: After getting drubbed, 6-1, 6-1, by Martina Navratilova in the semifinals of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles last week, Gabriela Sabatini's streak of tournaments without a title is 21.

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