Federer and Nadal have met in the finals for the past three years much similar to the way Becker and Edberg clashed between 88-90. This weekend's finals in someways reminded me of the 1990 Becker-Edberg finals. Both finals were considered classics in retrospective - because of the way the scores eventually turned out. However for the first two sets in both finals, Becker and Federer respectively sucked. The level of unforced errors and erratic play was surprising. I haven't seen Federer squander so many gifts from the opponent. He had so many chances in the first two sets and he literally threw them away by the way of unforced errors. You wouldn't associate Federer with this sort of trait. Both Becker and Federer in their respective years weren't this erratic up until the finals and I thought facing an old rival made them play badly.
They might look as different as chalk and cheese. However, when he threw away break-point after break-point after break-point that was handed to him as gifts, I thought I saw traces of Becker in Federer. He squandered all the opportunities and pushed himself into a corner and then dug his way out with booming serves. Similar to the way it did for Becker, the serves alarmingly clicked at times when it was needed the most. The only difference was you didn't see an angry Federer throwing his racquet around and cursing in anger. Federer also went for those toe high volleys, which was very perplexing. Edberg was a specialist in lunging forward and converting a high percentage regular forehand to a low-percentage half-volley/volley. Almost every time Federer played it he was put into a defensive position, which is usually the case when one tries to convert regular forehands into low volleys just because this is Wimbledon.
Moving on further down the memory lane, Becker pioneered the art of pushing the self-destruct button much before Ivanisevic (Quoted as saying: "The trouble with me is that every match I play against five opponents: umpire, crowd, ball boys, court, and myself.") mastered it. Its interesting how the surface symptoms are closely correlated with self-destruction. On the surface, people saw both Becker & Ivanisevic literally break-down (with their on-court mannerisms). But where they really self-destructed was in their poor shot selection and missed opportunities. One expects a 'Rolex' Federer to be well-mannered and hit those winners with laser-sharp perfection. One is confused and surprised when he doesn't deliver the latter. That Becker (and Ivanisevic) were far more flawed probably made them more entertaining. Becker surprised people when he stopped yelling and throwing his racquet around in the late 90s. But his faults remained and never went away. He ceased to be entertaining when he self-destructed silently. The eccentric characters of yesteryears are cerainly being missed today.
Here are some vignettes from the 88-90 series of Edberg-Becker finals. Edberg, the graceful and elegant Swede, lost many Indian fans by refusing to come to India claiming that he didn't want to "catch some unknown disease". However, the way he arched like a bow during his serve was sight to watch. His serve wasn't that fast and he'd mostly work on getting the angles right. Becker probably had the worst 'return of serves' in the men's circuit. He'd just block it back and Edberg capitalized on that. At that time I (and every youngster I knew) was a massive Becker fan. As far as I can remember most of the 'kazha-bolts' (old people) were Edberg fans. As a sidenote, I am yet to meet a person who calls himself a Lendl fan. I have even met a Jim Courier fan but never a Lendl fan.
The 1988 Final
This was played over three days.
The 1989 Final
The 1990 Final