1996 US Open: Class Act Edberg Making One Last Run at US Open
By Selena Roberts, September 1, 1996, New York Times
Stefan Edberg realizes his top 10 years are behind him, tucked away with everything else in a hope chest of sorts. Edberg’s career is something to be opened years from now, when his velvet volleys will be re-discovered, when his gentleman’s demeanor will likely seem antique with the new breed of player crashing around the courts now.
Edberg is elegant, as classy as a chandelier, hanging over tennis for so long that no one wants him to go out. That’s why Stadium Court, madhouse central, was packed to its railings Tuesday afternoon as Edberg opened his last U.S. Open with a roaring upset of fifth-seeded Richard Krajicek.
They jumped to their feet again Friday night, popping up like submerged corks when he wore down an injured Bernd Karbacher. Amazing how an injury can be the cause for such celebration.
That’s because so many see Edberg as one of a kind, not just another champion who has kissed two Wimbledon trophies, and lofted another two at the Open, all among his six Grand Slam titles.
This is his last chance to add another. No more Slams, he promises. He will not reappear like an aging prizefighter. It’s time to go at age 30, eligible for the senior discount in tennis years. But is there one more Slam left for before it ends?
“I’m always being realistic,” he said Friday night after Karbacher, who was down two sets to one, retired with a hamstring pull. “I think there’s very little chance, but nothing is impossible. If I play great tennis, that could take me a long way. A lot of things can happen, like tonight, when a guy gets injured. Maybe it’s going to happen more, who knows? I’m two for two now. Krajicek had a nosebleed, so …”
So there was laughter. Edberg broke up the place, a witty side of the often reserved Swede that he has kept to himself for years. He is not keen on outbursts, always the perfect fit for a game that falls silent during a point.
That makes the site of the Open an odd match for Edberg. But it seems he has grown accustomed to the LaGuardia flight patterns, the rumblings of the 7-Train, the Long Island Rail Road and crowds that have strengthened their vocal cords through years of hailing taxis.
“There were times when it was difficult to cope with the conditions,” Edberg has said. “It’s New York and there’s so much happening.”
But winning can make you comfortable on a pin cushion. Whatever prickliness Edberg might have had for the Open at one point, it was soothed when he won the title in 1991, slipping by almost unnoticed when Jimmy Connors was all the rage at the end of his career, the player making all the noise in so many of the night matches.
But nighttime has been the wrong time for Edberg in the past, his 7-4 Open record in the dark being one very good reason. And in the past, the stirring in the seats might have annoyed him. Now, with time, he finds the things that go bump in the night almost charming.
“The crowds can be very loud, especially when you’re playing in the evening,” said Edberg. “I’ve been here playing against Connors and it can be very, very loud. It makes it exciting at the same time.”
Connors made a late-stage run at the Open at the end, thrilling everyone with his semifinal appearance in 1991. Is it Edberg’s turn? Could he become the crowd mascot?
“I don’t think that’s going to happen too many times,” Edberg said. “I think in 1991, when Jimmy got to the semifinals, it was just incredible all of the people coming out. It was like Connors-mania in America. I think it takes an American, somebody special like Jimmy. For me that year it was actually great, because all of the attention was on him. I could sort of quietly go through that year.”
That’s just like him, silent and serene. It’s only now that people have really started to take notice. Isn’t that always the way it is? When a champion leaves, suddenly people realize what this person has meant to the game.
“I think Stefan is a professional that every young person, every athlete should strive to emulate,” Andre Agassi said.
Agassi is a guy who is often a loud bang to Edberg’s muffled ways, a splash of fluorescent color to Edberg’s conservative tennis whites. Yet, even Agassi realizes what style Edberg has.
“I think he reflects discipline, commitment, ability and talent,” Agassi said. “He gives back to the game.”
All of those gifts will be stored away when Edberg departs, gifts only to be discovered again and again.
“He only adds to the game,” Agassi said. “Really, his image and his person is impeccable.”