Stoltenberg, Edberg gain final


WASHINGTON -- Of all the people involved in Jason Stoltenberg's athletic career, it was his mother who may have had the most impact on his future.

For example, his mother told Stoltenberg -- a rugby fan -- that he couldn't play rugby because he'd get his teeth knocked out. And it was his mother, when he was 10, who introduced him to the game he would make a career of.

"It was purely a mistake," Stoltenberg said. "[My parents] played tennis socially, and I wanted to try it out. My mom had to show me where to stand and everything. I ended up winning that day."

Stoltenberg, 24, has won many days since arriving here for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, and yesterday was just a continuation of the streak. He defeated David Wheaton, 6-4, 6-2, to advance to today's final.

"I felt like I was on top pretty much the whole match," Stoltenberg said. "When David and I play each other, we have a lot of close matches. I was directing a lot of my second serves to his forehand because his backhand is pretty damaging."

It looks like mom's decision worked out for the better. After all, Stoltenberg will need all of his teeth to flash a big grin if he wins the tournament and accepts the $87,500 check and the 250 ranking points.

Stoltenberg, the No. 14 seed, will meet No. 2 seed Stefan Edberg, who battled from a 5-2 second-set deficit to beat unseeded Byron Black of Zimbabwe, 6-4, 7-5. Edberg's and Black's semifinal match was delayed by rain.

"He [Black] played very well in the second set until he served for the set," Edberg said. "He made quite a few unforced errors and let me get back in it."

"Some of the shots he hit, I just couldn't believe. But on the other hand, he hit some shots into the net you wouldn't expect."

Stoltenberg's trip to the semifinal included wins over Paul Kilderry (6-2, 7-6 [7-5]), Patrick McEnroe (6-1, 4-6, 6-1), and No. 4 seed Marc Rosset (6-2, 6-2).

In Edberg, Stoltenberg will battle not only one of the top 10 players in the world, but also a player he has never beaten (0-5).

Despite the odds, Wheaton thinks it wouldn't be such a shock if Stoltenberg defeated the Swede to win the tournament.

"If Jason plays plays like he did today, I don't see why he couldn't beat him [Edberg]," Wheaton said. "I think I'd pick Stefan, because he's higher ranked and he has more experience, but I wouldn't have to be sitting down when you told me [Stoltenberg] beat him."

Stoltenberg grew up on his father's cotton farm in rural New South Wales, Australia, and played his first tennis on an ant bed (white dirt) court his father built there.

"My father was a little disappointed about it, but I was anti-anything to do with the farm," Stoltenberg said. "I was busy playing a sport or something."

Those sports included football, cricket and golf, in addition to tennis. But by age 14 Stoltenberg gave up all other sports and by age 15, he was beating up on all other area tennis players.

The search for better competition and a coach prompted a move to the city of Sydney.

There he met up with Australian players Todd Woodbridge and Jamie Morgan and just two years later he turned pro. After his pro debut at No. 413, he has worked his way up the rankings, reaching a high point last year of No. 42. He is currently No. 47.

Despite his success as a tennis player, he is still a huge fan of rugby.

"That was one of the hardest things for me to give up," Stoltenberg said. "It's one of my greatest loves. I like to go to it and watch it on the weekends."

Singles Semifinals

Jason Stoltenberg, Australia, def. David Wheaton, Excelsior, Minn., 6-4, 6-2.

Stefan Edberg, Sweden, def. Byron Black, Zimbabwe, 6-4, 7-5.

Doubles Quarterfinals

Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, and Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland, def. Henrik Holm and Anders Jarryd, Sweden, 7-5, 6-3.

Grant Connell, Canada, and Patrick Galbraith, Tacoma, Wash., def. Lan Bale, South Africa, and Brett Steven, New Zealand, 7-5, 2-3, retired.

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