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PEARCE’S INSIDE SCOOP: EDBERG OVER BECKER

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If you want some inside advice on how the gentlemen's singles final will turn out today at Wimbledon, Brad Pearce says don't bet against the player from Sweden, in this case Stefan Edberg. Boris Becker or no Boris Becker, anyone who can handle Ivan Lendl the way Edberg handled Ivan Lendl in the semifinals on Friday is a man to be reckoned with.

"Edberg is the supreme serve and volleyer," says Pearce. "Grass is his surface."Pearce, of course, has suddenly become an expert witness on the subject of Wimbledon.

Ever since last Wednesday, when he came reasonably close to preventing Lendl from even having the chance to get trounced by Edberg, he has become America's latest instant tennis celebrity.

It took Lendl, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, more than three hours to end Pearce's Wimbledon holiday with a four-set quarterfinal win.

That match was on Centre Court on the 4th of July, and was not only televised live on Britain's BBC network, but here in the States on HBO. In one fell swoop, more people watched Brad Pearce play tennis than in all of his previous 24 years.

The next day, people were stopping him on the streets in London, near the Earl's Court flat he and his wife, Cindi, had rented - by the day. Hey, you never know if Wimbledon is going to last the full fortnight, or overnight.

"You're that Pearce fellow, from Utah," they'd say.

"We went to a play Thursday night," said Pearce, speaking by telephone from London. "At the intermission I went to use the men's room, and all these people wanted to shake my hand. There's been a lot of that."

The world loves a loser - as long as the loss was to Ivan Lendl in the round-of-eight at Wimbledon.

For his new admirers, it was as if Pearce had suddenly appeared on Centre Court, coming out of nowhere. For Pearce, the appearance at Centre Court was a long time coming - and he knew where he came from.

"I guess I started dreaming about playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon when I was, like, say, six or seven years old," he said. "As soon as I knew what Wimbledon was."

He grew up in Provo, where his father, Wayne, was the BYU tennis coach, and he started to play tennis at the age of four, when Wayne gave him a squash racket so he could lift it.

When he went to Wasatch Elementary School he progressed to a regular tennis racket, which he would carry to school and then carry after school to the BYU courts, where his dad's team would be working out. He'd hit against the backboard during the entire practice. Later on, he'd hit with the college players. When he was, like, say, 11.

"I spent half my life at the BYU tennis courts," he said.

He was an All-American college player at UCLA, then turned pro in 1986, and, as is often the case, struggled to establish himself.

Every summer he'd come to London, rent the flat in Earl's Court, and try to qualify for Wimbledon's main draw. In '86, his first year as a pro, he did qualify, and then lost in the first round. In '87, '88 and '89 he failed to qualify.

For four summers, no one ever stopped him on the street and said, "You're that Pearce fellow."

But that was then and this is now, and the contrast has not been lost on Pearce.

"I've tried to soak it all in, to appreciate what's happened," Pearce said. "I went to the grounds the next couple of days (after the Lendl match) and just walked around and went in the locker room and hung out. I got a chance to talk to some of the greats, people like Jimmy Connors, and just enjoy it."

He collected his prize money - a little over $50,000, the biggest of his career and almost a fifth of his career earnings - and he picked up the lifetime pass for two that goes to all Wimbledon quarterfinalists.

Then he and Cindi went shopping at Harrod's.

They did not, however, use any of his winnings. They used hers. In a tournament for the player's wives held prior to Wimbledon, Cindi won. Her prize: a gift certificate to Harrod's, London's famous department store.

"So we went to see if we could spend it," said Pearce. "Cindi got a T-shirt."

Brad didn't buy anything.

"I guess I'm kind of a miser," he said. "I remember too well the times when I didn't win any."

He'll savor the tournament, and save the check - at least until the next tournament stop. That's this week in Newport, R.I., where there will be expenses to pay and matches to play, and where, as Pearce said, "they'll pretty much forget this, and see if I can do it again."