Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1988

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

For the obvious reason that he is still a young man, capable of striding along the summits for many more years, ths can be no more than a half-term report on a graceful, classic exponent of the ‘big’ game. Unless memory lies, Mal Anderson has been the only other player of comparable class who, in the past 30 years or so, has served and volleyed with as much elegant facility as Edberg. In 1968, in Hamburg, I spent a long time watching Anderson. The serve and volley routine can be hard to take. It lacks charm. But Anderson’s instinctive ease of movement and racket-contol somehow gave that routine the uncomplicated allure of a Strauss waltz. So it is with Edberg. This is not to suggest that Edberg is the most efficient modern graduate of the serve-and-volley school. One refers only to the natural flair with which he does his thing. Unlike such heavily muscled contemporaries as Becker and Pat Cash, Edberg brings an aesthetic quality to the three-shot rally. His emergence is a striking eminder that Bjorn Borg‘s playing method – that of a baseliner with a two-fisted backhand – inspired no more than a transient trend in Swedish tennis. That method was Borg’s, not Sweden’s.

The main features of Edberg’s game are his mixture of services (many players find the second ball more difficult to handle than the first), his volleying, especially the cross-court backhand, and his backhand service eturns, which often explode down the court like shells. His forehand is a comparatively second-class shot for a first-class player: seldom threatening, and often wayward when his confidence is low. But Edberg’s command of the backhand and the top-spin lob gives him weapons enough for counter-punching from the back of the court. He is happiest in the forecourt, bending like a sapling in a gale as he springs this way and that and tucks away the volleys – whereupon he often gives a little hop of satisfaction at a point well won.
His general demeanour, though, is one of sad, dreamy languor. Often, he looks only half-awake. But this embodiment of a sight is a dangerously deceptive as those tall, quiet gunfighters familiar from Western movies. Edberg seems reluctant to hurry but, when he does move, the action tends to be swift and short and terminal. One can picture Edberg casually blowing the smoke out of the barrel and instantly going most of the way back to sleep.

He is that kind of man: by no means the aggressive, pushy type, but stubbornly resistant to being pushed. Edberg likes a peaceful, comfortably stable life. Gentle and unassuming, reserved and laconic, he is a private man who enjoys company as long as it is not too demanding. No fuss, if you please. He is among those who apply to themselves the principle that everybody is important but nobody is very important.
Physically, Edberg is a long-limbed, willowy 6ft 2in (which Rod Laver considers may be the ideal height for a tennis player) and weighs around 11st 7lb. He has an arresting and attractive court presence and when that handsomely composed but gloomy mien is enlivened by one of his slow smiles, the mothering instinct wells up in ladies of all ages.

Edberg has a London apartment, in Kensington, but his home is the industrial home of Vastervik on the Baltic coast. He played tennis from the age of seven, took up the game full time at 16, and in the following year, 1983, won the junior Grand Slam. This invited less attention than the 17-year-old’s form in the now defunct Bournemouth tournament. He had to qualify but then reached the semi-finals by beating the cerebral and charming Balazs Taroczy, a specialist on such slow surfaces. Edberg told us that he was a policeman’s son and took up tennis because his mothe wanted him to. His Bournemouth form, plus the comment about his mother, was the first hint we had that he was something special but needed help in fuelling the fires of ambition.

For a few years he was none too sure of himself, none too sure what he wanted out of tennis, and none too sue if the ultimate prizes were worth the effort. He was lucky in that the European representative for Wilson’s, the company who made Edberg’s rackets, turned out to be a congenial friend and, before long, assumed the more constructive roles of manager, coach, and – most important of all – motivator. Tony Pickard had, in fact, turned up in Sweden almost five years before Edberg did. That was in 1961, at Bastad, where Pickard made his Davis Cup debut for Britain. As a player Pickard did not have quite enough talent to match his self-assurance. He soon discovered that it was the other way round for Edberg.

The biggest problem, was to get him to believe in himself. It took nearly three years.

Pickard, almost 32 years older than Edberg was exactly what the young man needed: a wise, witty, avuncular extrovert who knew when to nag Edberg and when to leave him alone.

At 18 Edberg made his Davis Cup debut, playing a spectacular role as Anders Jarryd‘s partner in two remarkable doubles wins. At 19 he confirmed his growing reputation as a tough, resilient competitor by winning the Australian championship. He saved two match points against Wally Masur and beat Ivan Lendl 9-7 in the fifth set. A week after his 21st birthday Edberg produced further evidence of his guts and his belief in himself when he retained the Australian title by beating Melbourne’s local hero, Pat Cash, in a five-set final contested in fierce heat. Between them, Edberg and Mats Wilander won that Australian title for Sweden five years in a row. No other overseas nation has done that.

The next big triumph for Edberg came at Wimbledon in 1988, when he recovered from two sets down to beat Miloslav Mecir in a semi-final that provided an enthralling contrast in playing methods – and then played a glorious match to beat Boris Becker in the first men’s singles final to begin one day and end the next. That year, too, Edberg came from behind to beat Mecir 9-7 in the fifth set of a decisive Davis Cup match.

In 1989 Edberg played the finest clay-court tennis of his career to each – and almost win – the French final. Becker was too strong for him in the Wimbledon final. But it takes a player of exceptional talent and competitive maturity to advance to the French and Wimbledon finals in the same summer. During the era of open competition (1968 onwards) the only other men to manage it were Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe – formidably distinguished company for a player who, for a time, had seemed to be vulnerably diffident. With Pickard’s help, Edberg learned the truth of a couple of lines in Shakespeare:

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win

2014 Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:

Wimbledon guided tour – part 1
Wimbledon guided tour – part 2
Wimbledon Centre Court roof
Court 3 : a new Show Court at Wimbledon
Waiting in the Queue to Wimbledon
Wimbledon Museum: The Queue exhibition
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum: Player Memorabilia

Fashion and gear:

Marketing:

A trip down memory lane:

Wimbledon Trivia
Wimbledon past champions: stats and records
Wimbledon ‘s biggest upsets
Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby
Portrait of Wimbledon champion Ann Jones
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969
Bjorn Borg – Ilie Nastase Wimbledon 1976
Portrait of 5-time Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg
Wimbledon 1976: Chris Evert defeats Evonne Goolagong
Portrait of Virginia Wade, winner in 1977
1981: First Wimbledon title for McEnroe
1982: Jimmy Connors defeats John McEnroe
1984: John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors
1985: Boris Becker, the man on the moon
Portrait of 3-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker
Wimbledon 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
1992: first Grand Slam for Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi: thanks to Wimbledon I realized my dreams
1993: Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier
1994: Pete Sampras defeats Goran Ivanisevic
1996: Richard Krajicek upsets Pete Sampras
1997: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
2000 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
The Spirit of Wimbledon: a 4-part documentary by Rolex retracing Wimbledon history

Recaps:

Polls:

Will Andy Murray retain his Wimbledon title?

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  • Roger Federer (31%, 14 Votes)
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Total Voters: 45

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Who will win Wimbledon 2014?

  • Maria Sharapova (41%, 12 Votes)
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Richard Krajicek

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“When Paul (Annacone) and I arrived in England a few days after losing in the French, I appreciated the cool climate and those beautiful grass courts. It was like deleting every recent file on my mental hard drive and starting over. I really needed to regroup after the shocking collapse in Paris. The year was halfway over and, like most years, I would just a success or failure depending on whether or not I won a major.

I skipped all the warm-up tournaments for Wimbledon in 1996, hoping to regain my stores of stamina and energy. Things started to click for me when the tournament began, and although I lost a set to my Davis Cup buddy Richey Reneberg in the first round, pretty soon I was firing on all cylinders. I hammered Mark Philippoussis in straight sets in the round of 16. I rolled through Cédric Pioline, losing just ten games.
In the quarterfinals, I would be playing Richard Krajicek, the rangy, tall, hard-serving Dutchman who was always a threat on fast surfaces. He could pop up at any time and win a tournament, looking like the second coming of Pancho Gonzalez. At other times, he was just another big guy with a good serve who didn’t seem to have the confidence or drive to win, week in, week out.

I felt that Richard was a little nervous as we warmed up under leaden skies. But he held his own through the first seven or eight games, each of us taking care of his serve. Everything was fine, in my book. I was making him work on his service games, and I was getting pretty good looks at his second serves. I had break points here and there, which was encouraging even when I didn’t convert them. I had played many matches like this before on grass. The trick was to stay alert, focused, and confident, because my chance would come. I was getting to him, I felt pretty sure about that? It was just a matter of time.
But before we could finish the set, the rains came. We had a break of a few hours, and that gave both of us a little time to think and regroup. When we returned to the court, he was a different player. He was suddenly going for his shots, especially his second serve. Whether he knew it or not, he was taking me into the territory I least liked to visit. My m.o called for me to approach even the most lethal serve-and-volleyers with the expectation that I’ll get a good look at some second serves. If that happened, I could beat them. The strategy worked against Goran Ivanisevic, it worked against Boris Becker, and it worked against Stefan Edberg. But when it became harder for me to get a sniff at a second serve, it created a chain reaction. If I couldn’t get to his serve, that put more pressure on mine. I think Richard sensed that, and his own excellent serving freed up the rest of his game, especially his return game. And that’s how it almost always works.

Krajicek won the first set 7-5, breaking me once. It emboldened him, and suddenly he was getting hold of my serves with his backhand return? Plus, his passing shots were impeccable. I lost the second set 6-4, and was relieved when it started to sprinkle again, because the light was fading. I knew we would never finish the match that day, and I really needed to regroup.
Yet instead of thinking, Tomorrow’s a new day, I’ll get back on track – no way he can stay hot like that… I had a strange sense of foreboding. I didn’t feel good about the way the match was going, and knew I was in a big, big hole. Paul worked double time that night to get me back up, to restore my confidence, but he couldn’t pull me out of it. Although I was still in the match I was feeling negative.

When we returned to play the next day, we just continued where we left off. Richard came out bombing away, and I immediately got discouraged, thinking, Hey this is what I do to people on grass. Long story short, he closed me out. All the credit to Richard for getting the job done. He played a great match, technically and mentally. And it was some balm for me to see him go on to win the tournament – if you’e going to lose, you may as well lose to the guy who’s going to run the table. I’ve never watched that match on tape, but I’d be curious – just to see if Richard’s game really did change as much as I believe it did after the rain delay.

Sampras and Ivanisevic, Wimbledon 94

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“During the grass-court season, Todd Martin won two tiebreakers to beat me in the final at Queen’s Club, and I moved on to Wimbledon to defend my hard-earned title. I lost just one set, to Todd, as I served and volleyed my way to the final opposite Goran Ivanisevic.

I had my hands full with Goran, as I would on grass during my entire career. A great deal of Goran’s juice at Wimbledon came from being a left-hander. That natural edge made his first serve even better and more effective than mine; I really believe it was. When Goran’s serve was on, it was pretty much unreturnable on grass. He was the only guy I played regularly who made me feel like I was at his mercy. I never felt that against that other Wimbledon icon, Boris Becker.

But my second serve was better than Goran’s, and the key to beating him for me always was getting hold of and punishing his second serve. Goran put tremendous pressure on my service games, because he usually held so easily. I felt that if I played one shaky service game against him and was broken, the set was gone. Very few people were able to make me feel that way, once I’d figured out the grass game. That was very tough, mentally. Goran’s serve also gave him a huge advantage as a returner – he could afford to take huge, wild cuts with his return. If he happened to tag two of those in a row, I was down love-30 – and from there anything could happen.

The final was incredibly fast tennis, played on a hot day, with balls flying all over the place at warp speed. It was a gunfight, both of us dodging bullets we could barely see, hoping to connect with a semiluck return here, or tease out an error there. That kind of tennis calls for a firm hand and intense focus. I proved slighly more steady in the crapshoot tiebreakers, and after I won two of them, Goran folded up. I won 7-6 7-6 6-0.

The match marked the high point in the growing debate about grass-court tennis. A growing chorus of critics charged that Wimbledon tennis had degenerated into a serving contest between two giants who almost couldn’t lose serve, but couldn’t break each other, either. Goran and I personified the trend, never mind that neither of us was the biggest guy around. Our big serves and our desire to end points quickly added up to a perfect storm of Wimbledon controversy.
Tennis at Wimbledon, some pundits said, was in danger of becoming irrelevant, because ongoing technologies had produced more powerful rackets that buried the needle on the power meter deep in the red. Even the tabloids got into it, running pictures of prominent politicians and others in the Royal Box sleeping soundly. Ostensibly, that had something to do with the way the game was being played.”

Edbeg-Becker Wimbledon 1988

By Rex Bellamy, London Times, Tuesday July 5 1988

Edberg, aged 22, became Wimbledon champion last evening by beating Boris Becker 4-6 7-6 6-4 6-2 in a final that began on Sunday, was played in three phases, and lasted for a total of two hours and 50 minutes. This was the first Wimbledon singles final to begin one day and end the next.
Edberg is the first Swedish winner since Bjorn Borg in 1980. The title has passed from Pat Cash, an Australian with an apartment in Fulham, to a Swede with an apartment in Kensington. In January of last year Edberg beat Cash in the final of the last Australian championship played on grass.

Five years ago Edberg, having beaten Becker in the first round, won the Wimbledon boys’ title. Becker was favoured to win their long-deferred return match on the famous old lawns but, ultimately, was clearly second best to a man giving a classic demonstration of the serve-and-volley game. Edberg’s mixture of services teased Becker throughout the match.

Becker said later that his preceding matches with Cash and Ivan Lendl had taken a good deal out of him, physically and mentally, and that consequently he was unable to “push” himself when the quality of Edberg’s tennis demanded it. Edberg led 3-2 in the first set overnight but Becker, having won five consecutive games, went to 5-3 and quickly tucked the set away. But he was soon under stress. In the second set Edberg had four break points, Becker one. In the tie-break Edberg instantly took the initiative and Becker, between points, sometimes reeled about like a boxer who was taking too many punches. Edberg was two men in one. Between rallies, he ambled about like a quietly watchful gunslinger. When the ball was in motion, he reacted like lightning, shot from the hip, and seldom missed his target. His serving, volleying, and return of service were exhilarating not least when he was volleying or driving on the backhand.

Always springy in the forecourt, Edberg usually gave a little hop of satisfaction after putting away a volley. There was many a fleeting hint of a private smile. Edberg sometimes punched the air, too.

Such indications of pleasure were never excessive and were always swiftly suppressed. Edberg is no man to make a fuss, or to be discourteous to his opponent by giving any sign of gloating. He was happy because he knew that he was playing his best tennis, whereas Becker was not. But Edberg was aware that it could all change, at any moment.

Edberg broke to 2-1 in the third set and in the next game Becker irritably threw down his racket in frustration and was given a warning. Becker changed his racket but in the next game he was briefly embarrassed when he slipped and sat down in the forecourt: and Edberg lobbed him. Again, Becker angrily swished his racket.

Edberg was remorseless. He clinched that third set with a run of four service games in which he conceded only three points. Becker, often shaking his head, was riddled with self-doubt. His usually formidable power game was spluttering the blazing services and returns too sporadic to give Edberg persistent cause for concern.

Yet the tension remained almost tangible, because we knew that although Edberg could play no better, Becker might. But in the first game of the fourth set Becker, serving, went 30-40 down: and a voice from the stands cried “Bye, bye, Boris”.

Becker lost that game with a double-fault and, head bowed, went to the changeover with one strong hand hiding his face. If there was any further doubt in his mind, or Edberg’s, it was dispelled when Edberg broke him again, to 4-1. In that game one of Edberg’s backhands exploded down the court like a shell. Edberg’s service games remained impregnable even in the last game, in which his six services were all second balls. Becker was a broken man. In the last rally he had Edberg at his mercy but dumped an easy backhand into the net. Edberg fell to his knees, hardly believing his luck.

But Edberg had made his own luck, because in the last three sets he never gave Becker the slightest cause for hope, the slightest chance to take a breather and get his act together. So this was not the all-German year. It was the year of Steffi and Stefan.