Stefan Edberg, the making of a champion

By Alan Trengove, Australian Tennis, August 1991

What makes two-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg the great player he is?
Many will nominate Edberg’s backhand as the one shot that distinguishes him from most of his rivals. Others will cite his graceful and usually very effective service, or his crisp, instinctive volley. How does the Swede himself perceive his main strength?

When the question was put to him during Wimbledon, he had no hesitation in saying that his mobility is the key to his success. Certainly, no player of comparable height (he is 6 feet 2, or 188cm) covers the court with so much speed and flexibility.

“This is the area in which I have improved the most in the last couple of years,” said Edberg. “I’m surely a yard quicker than I was two or three years ago.

“That means I have more time to hit my shots. I can stay in the back of the court if I want to, and it gives me more freedom to do other things.

“Movement is really the key to modern tennis. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit the ball – if you are not there you are not going to be able to hit it.

“That is my strength today, and also I have more experience now. I have just kept improving every year. That’s always been the strategy.”

Despite his triumphs, Edberg has never lost the characteristic he shares with some of the old champions – Tilden, Kramer, Rosewall and Emerson, for instance – of continually working on his weaknesses and building up his strengths.

Many players would have been content to stick with the beautiful service action that to Edberg, from the moment he picked up a tennis racquet, has come so naturally. But the stress he places on his back and stomach by such an excessive arching of the body has caused him to break down (twice at the Australian Open, for example). And he has not been able to avoid serving lapses like the one that cost him victory against Ivan Lendl at the 1991 Australian Open, when he put in a spate of double-faults.

During Wimbledon it was noticed that he has shortened his ball-toss. In addition, he threw the ball more to the right than in the past and did not try to make it kick so much. He opted more for flat or slice serves than kickers.

“I’ve found the timing on my serve. I feel a lot more comfortable serving now, and that helps my game,” said Edberg, “because really my game hinges on my serve.”

Though at Wimbledon Edberg served beautifully up to his semi-final with eventual champion Michael Stich, and even there did not drop his delivery in going down 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, his half-dozen double-faults were a little reminiscent of his trouble against Lendl in their semi-final at Flinders Park.

Edberg’s serve is integrated into his court speed. Nobody moves faster to the net from the moment of impact with the ball.

“That’s always an advantage I have had, maybe because my toss is quite a way forward, and a lot of guys throw it just straight up,” said Edberg.

“The thing with coming quickly to the net is timing, and you have to be very quick with your first two or three steps. That’s something I’ve worked on for years.”

No youngster could do better than try to emulate most facets of Edberg’s style, including his calm demeanor. His forehand may not be as brilliant as his classical backhand, but it is only a relative weakness. Stefan hits numerous winners with his forehand, too.

His wonderful shot-making, his speed and strength of character were seen at their best in his match with John McEnroe, whose vile temper and tantrums (which cost him a $US 10,000 fine for the cowardly abuse of a linesman) did not throw Stefan off his stride one iota. He is very close to being the complete champion.

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