By Arthur Brocklebank, Tennis Week, 2008
The fox is becoming extinct in England, but deep in middle England, Nottinghamshire an old silver fox sits alive and well in his armchair reflecting on his days of coaching Stefan Edberg and reviewing the state of the spot today. Tony Pickard coached six-time Grand Slam champion Edberg, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004 and is set to make his senior debut on the Blackrock tour this year. The 42-year-old Swede will compete in Paris, France at The Trophée Jean-Luc Lagardère, September 18-21 and at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England at The BlackRock Masters Tennis, December 2-7.
Pickard still has that energy in his heart to stoke up a burning desire for anyone in the tennis profession who wants to listen and learn. He owns one of the most impressive coaching resumes in the nation, having worked with Edberg, Marat Safin, Petr Korda and a Canadian, oppphhhh I mean an adopted Brit, Greg Rusedski. Edberg amassed 41 singles titles, including two Wimbledon crowns, and 18 doubles championships in his career. Edberg and John McEnroe are the only men in Open Era history to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles simultaneously.
It was a turn of circumstances at the beginning that would bring Tony Pickard and Stefan Edberg together. I asked Pickard, when he started playing tennis himself.
“My parents never played tennis. I was nuts on football. It all started by an accident when I was 14 years old. I loved football but one day I jumped into a swimming pool and landed on a broken bottle that cut my foot. I was in a wheelchair for six months. My sister took me to the tennis court where she played and I watched. I thought this is an easy game to play so I took it up,” Pickard says with a bemused smile as he gazed up to the ceiling.
Pickard soon played county tennis and later played several times at Wimbledon. He represented his country in the Davis cup and captained the under 21 and Davis Cup teams for Great Britain.
One incident that stands out in his playing career was in Rome at the 1963 Italian Open. He was playing the big-serving New Zealander Ian Crookenden in the Italian Championships and not only the crowd, but the line judges were losing interest.
Pickard takes up the story: “It was a match point. He served and it was at least nine inches long. The umpire looked to the baseline judge for the call, but he was turned round buying an ice cream over the fence.’ Crookenden won the point and went on to win the match. I felt as sick as a pig,” says Pickard.
Was there any possibility of an appeal I asked?
“In those days you could never appeal or you would have been brought up before a governing body committee and banned. A protest was not possible.”
By Roger M. Williams, Australian Tennis Magazine, March 1986
During the fifth set of a semifinal match at the Australian Open last December, 19-year-old Stefan Edberg of Sweden faced what pop psychologists call a crisis of confidence. Holding three match points against Ivan Lendl, the world’s No. 1, Edberg proceeded to lose all three. No, he actually lost the first two and blew the third – a backhand sitter with Lendl off balance at midcourt.
The Edberg of old – that is, 18 or early 19 – would probably have crumpled right then. “Depression,” as he candidly calls it, would have taken command and, glowering and muttering, his head drooping like a dejected schoolboy, he would have gone on to squander the greatest opportunity of his career. As his coach, Tony Pickard, later reflected, “Those missed match points would’ve gotten to him something awful.”
But the new young Edberg is not the old young Edberg. Pulling himself together promptly and calmly, he proceeded to defeat Lendl 9-7 in the fifth. Then in the final two days later, he completed the greatest week of his life by steamrolling fellow Swede Mats Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Two weeks after that, in the deciding match of the 1985 Davis Cup final, Edberg recorded another extraordinary victory, overcoming West Germany’s cannonballing Michael Westphal, 13,000 roaring hometown fans in Munich and his own acute nervousness to retain the Cup for Sweden. All of these heroics, it turned out, were performed in the face of developing mononucleosis, which Edberg’s lean, lithe body had been harboring for several weeks. A touch of mono, it seems, would he good for all of us.
As the holder of a Grand Slam singles title and the hero of Sweden’s championship Davis Cup team, Edberg now stands with Boris Becker as the hottest young player in the game. Indeed, the reserved young Swede is now emerging from the shadow of such countrymen as Wilander, Anders Jarryd, Joakim Nystrom and Henrik Sundstrom, and threatening to overtake them all as the best of the Swedes.
His victory over Wilander, the two-time defending champion at the Australian Open, is one indication of that. So is his fiery ambition. Much has been made of Wilander’s wavering interest in gaining the summit of men’s tennis. But Edberg, now 20, expresses no such diffidence. Far from it; he hungers openly for the top and will not be satisfied until he gets there. As Erik Bergelin, Edberg’s agent, notes, “Stefan even turns down exhibitions so he can concentrate on winning tournaments and climbing in the rankings.”
Now ranked No. 5, Edberg is also more demonstrative than most of his fellow Swedes. He’s never boorish on the court, but it’s easy to tell that fire burns beneath the placid exterior. He customarily reacts to errors by grimacing and spitting out an expletive that’s sure to be a Swedish version of an Anglo-Saxon four-letter word. Asked what the word is, he grins and replies, “It’s not very nice – but it’s not very loud.”
This Swede who would be king was born and raised in Vastervik, a coastal resort town about 175 miles south of Stockholm. His father was, and still is, a plainclothes policeman. Young Stefan excelled at tennis and early on developed a serve-and- volley style that immediately set him apart from all the baseline topspinners imitating Bjorn Borg.
“I always practiced a lot on my serve,” he recalls, “the second as well as the first. And I always liked to volley.”
Nobody insisted that he couldn’t win that way on clay because, from an early age, Edberg won on that surface.
By Emanuela Audisio, La Repubblica, 10 December 1985
In Australia the least Swedish Swede of all won: Stefan Edberg, the boy to whom Percy Rosberg, Borg’s first coach, had advised to leave the two-handed-backhand behind. “It spoils your natural aggressiveness” (he had said exactly the opposite to Borg).
A clear score: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, to his friend Mats Wilander in the first all Swedish final in a Grand Slam tournament. It wasn’t much of a fight: the match has always been in Edberg’s hands and far from Wilander, the match time says it all: just an hour and a half.
If the seventeen-year-old Becker had triumphed in Wimbledon, in Melbourne the nineteen-year-old Edberg ruled, showing that now it’s almost exclusively the young who control world tennis. Young but not unripe, though, at least judging their results, even if they are never considered favourite at the start.
Wilander had won in Paris earlier this year, Edberg hadn’t won anything really big so far, even if in ’83 he had been the only player to win the Junior Grand Slam, even if one year later in only two weeks he had climbed the computer rankings from 83 to 17, even if he had won the golden medal in the Los Angeles Olympics, even if he had beaten Jarryd and Wilander in Milan in March ’84, even if he had swept Connors away in the US indoors in Memphis.
A good player, everybody said, and with an even better second serve than his first, more similar to McEnroe than to Borg, but a player who has often dreadful gaps in the match. Little Swedish, little patient, one who doesn’t wait for the others’ mistakes, but preceedes them.
Very good at the net, with fast starts, but difficult chases. And tennis at high level often also means chasing.
“He has a defect: he is too respectful of others, he does too much what they want”
said of him Erik Bergelin, the trainer son of Borg’s former coach. And he meant that Edberg, enterprising on court, wasn’t as much so mentally.
Young often happen not to trust themselves and it was exactly the problem of this policeman’s son grown in Vastervik in a tennis club without dressing rooms.
Becker‘s sudden and fast growth, then, had surprised him, pushing him out of the spotlights. Becker was younger, more extroverted, more spectacular, more everything. Edberg could only stay there like an unexploded bomb waiting for a maturation.
This until the Australian Open where he starts so so against Anger, where, in the fourth round, he saves two match-points against Masur in the third set, where in the semis he meets Lendl, in a winning streak of three months and 35 matches. The Czech, who hasn’t lost since the last Us Open, is forced to give up after four hours in five sets: Lendl smashes a short lob with all his anger, Edberg recovers it, wins the point under Lendl’s more and more amazed eyes, shakes his head and smiles. For the first time he looks like a Swede. The Czech accepts to play at the net, and Edberg, with soft volleys replies with kind arrogance.
In the final against Wilander he’s given unfavourite, he is 4-1 down in the head-to-heads. But the match starts and ends in his hands; only once in the entire match Wilander will get a break, in the eighth game of the last set and then he’ll say:
“He didn’t give me a chance: he surprised me with his shots from the baseline”.
His chase to Becker is successful by now: Edberg will reach the fifth place of the ATP ranking stepping over the German, who lost at his first match in Australia. The head-to-head is next to come. In Munich from 20th to 22nd December Germany and Sweden will meet in the Davis Cup final. Becker is sure to play, Edberg isn’t. We’ll see if the coach will keep on preferring “a more Swedish one” .
Article by Richard Yallop, Guardian, December 1988
Mats Wilander’s parents live in a standard suburban home in the southern Swedish town of Vaxjo, and they saw no need to move to the top of the road when their son recently displaced Ivan Lendl as world no. 1. Nor did they want the star treatment, with Mats buying them a mansion with his winnings. No, life goes on, with 57-year-old Einar Wilander doing his daily shift as foreman at a local air-conditioner factory, and his wife Karin devoting much time to the grandchildren. These are humble, unaffected people, living in a quiet, well-ordered estate cut into the fir and pine forests. Half a world away in the urban jungle of Manhattan is John McEnroe Senior’s New York law firm.
Mr. Wilander is short and reticent, and he seems to leave most of the talking to his wife and two oldest sons, Ingmar and Anders, who are respectively five and nine years older than Mats, who is 24. He smiles in a rather embarrassed fashion when asked whether he and his wife had instilled into Mats the values that have made him admired around the world, and have helped put tennis back on an even keel after John McEnroe came aboard and hoisted the Jolly Roger in the late 1970’s. “No”, said Mr. Wilander, “the credit should go to his two brothers”. Clearly the Wilander brothers were a good team. Whenever Ingmar and Anders went to the ice rink, or the tennis courts, they would take along their young brother. When Anders went to Bastad to play in the Swedish under-16 championships (he was ranked no.3 after Bjorn Borg), the pint-sized six-year-old Mats was pictured by Swedish television knocking tennis balls against the wall.
Now the Swedish Davis Cup team – Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Joakim Nystrom, Anders Jarryd, Kent Carlsson and, to a lesser extent (because he was schooled for so long in America), Mikael Pernfors – resemble nothing so much as an extended family of brothers. Before the Davis Cup final the team even got together for fun – and for charity, if there was any surplus at the box office – to play indoor hockey at five venues around Sweden.
Edberg, at 22, may be the “baby” of the family, but he was brought up the same way, in Vastervik, a country town south of Stockholm, with the same simple, old-fashioned community values. Is his father not Police Inspector Bengt Edberg, a pillar of the Vastervik community? Did he not tell Stefan from a young age the importance of good behaviour? When Stefan’s ability showed, and he progressed from the Vastervik team to the district team, did the parents and coaches not stress all the time the need to behave well? Be calm and patient; that is the Swedish tennis model. The eldest of the Wilander brothers, Anders, recalls “Our parents didn’t tell us what to do. They are tolerant, sympathetic people, not strict at all. But our father said, “If you’re honest, you’ll win in the long run”…
Wilander and Edberg may convey the impression that the Swedes are a race of angels, but they are not. The Swedish Tennis Federation says bad behaviour is not uncommon in the satellite tournaments. And of the present Davis Cup players, Anders Jarryd, a mild off-court character, has long struggled against displays of anger on court. Percy Rosberg, [Borg’s former coach] recalled how he had first seen Jarryd’s temper at an under-14 training camp. “He was the only one to show such temperament. We told him to be careful. It’s best if you try to control it as a junior. Borg, Edberg, Wilander, they all concentrate on the next ball instead of getting angry”…
In Sweden they still remember with horror the night McEnroe did one of his grand turns at the Stockholm Open in November, swishing over the water container beside the court. The American had been playing Jarryd, and perhaps his exasperation that night was all the greater for his inability to understand the Swedish psyche.
Nor could McEnroe understand Wilander’s continued insistence that reaching no.1 was not his main aim. The American way was to be the best, the Swedish way was to do your best. For Wilander it was more important to enjoy tennis than to be its top exponent. In January last year he married a South African model, Sonia Mulholland, and began the game afresh. His brother Anders says the first time he ever heard Mats express the desire to be no.1 was earlier this year, before he won the French. “He said it would be nice when he was old to look back and say he was number one”, said Anders. “If only for one week.”
By John Barrett, World Tennis 1985
Blame it on Borg. It was the phenomenal achievement in the late 1970s of the blond young Viking with the flowing mane and the rolling gait, as he plundered so many of the game’s greatest titles with seeming invincibility, that started the revolution. Between 1973 and 1980 the number of tennis players in Sweden doubled. Now, a decade after his first majour success – the capture of the French Open in 1974 as a 17-year-old – four of Bjorn’s fellow Swedes have ended 1984 ranked among the top 11 in the world – Mats Wilander (4), Anders Jarryd (6), Henrik Sundstrom (7) and Joakim Nystrom (11); a fifth, the 1983 World Junior Champion, Stefan Edberg, was at No 20.
For any nation (apart from the United States with its huge tennis community) that would have been a remarkable feat. For Sweden, with a total population of 8.5 million and only 125,000 registered tennis players, plus another estimated 275,000 who play occasionally, it is a miracle. And yet, hard as it is to believe after so much success, in this sports-mad country where 2.5 million of the energetic inhabitants participate regularly in some form of athletic activity, tennis is only the eighth most popular sport in terms of affiliated members.
As Borg grew into a national hero, it became the dream of every youngster who wielded a racket to emulate him. The municipalities throughout Sweden were beseiged by frustated parents who could not find anywhere for their children to play or anyone to teach them. Accordingly the local authorities were forced to embark upon an ambitious building programme, and with the northern climate allowing only a four-month outdoor season, that meant indoor courts. Some 200 of them are in Stockholm, the rest are dotted around the country – in twos and threes in small towns, in fours and sixes in larger towns – to provide ample opportunity for anyone with ambition. The proof that the system does indeed work can be found by looking at the home-towns of the five present leaders. They all come from different towns (not one is from Stockholm) and Nystrom hails from Skellefta, right up in the north of Sweden, where it would have been impossible to emerge without cheap indoor facilities.
This question of modest cost is another vital factor. The whole ethos surrounding Swedish sport is centred upon opportunity – the opportunity for any boy or girl with ability, regardless of his or her financial position, to be able to develop it and, most importantly to enjoy it. The average tennis club, which often belongs to the members, charges $10 or $20 per year as a membersip fee, which merely gives advance booking rights. Otherwise any member of the public can walk into any club and play on any free court by paying the modest hourly charges of $6-9. The structure perfectly fits the sophisticated nature of Swedish socialism. Through each of the country’s 23 Administrative Districts, the Swedish Sports Federation, founded in 1903, provides over the year many weekend courses, covering a wide range of subjects such as club administration, psychology and physiology and – in co-operation with the regional branches of the 57 Sports Associations – courses for trainers, umpires, officials and so on. Central Government makes an annual grant of $22-25 million to the Swedish Sports Federation; the county councils provide another $4-5 million for educational activities and the local authorities a further $70 million to help the 40,000 sports clubs with their pursuits.
It is all very-well integrated. Not only are there weekend courses for performers; the administrators and coaches are trained too. Herein lies the hidden strength of the Swedish system. In everry sport there are large numbers of amateurs helpers – organisers and coaches, who are often former high-level performers past the age of competiton – who give up their time to help the next generation. The Svenska Tennisforbundet, for example, have trained approximately 8,0000 amateur coaches and helpers during the past decade. Superimposed on this structure are the activities of the svenska Tennisforbundet’s main committees, each of which is mirrored at District level and again at Club level. Coaching for the most promosong of the young players is easily organised by these local organisations who nationally employ some 300 professional coaches, some full-time others part-time, based in selected clubs.
The Swedish Tennis Association’s share of the Government’s grant is about $300,000 which represents a quarter of the total income of $1.25 million. The balance comes from the Davis Cup (all the Swedish players sign contracts by which they agree to play for nothing in return for the help they received as juniors), from the Swedish Championships in Bastad, membership fees from affiliated clubs ($65,000 per year), from TV and radio fees, from equipment testing fees and, increasingly, from commercial sponsorship. Only about 6.25 per cent of the total income can be spared for junior training, which explains why the amateur coaches play such a vital role in the development chain.
The base of the pyramid is impressively wide, simply because the dedicated parents bing their offspring at an early age to the ‘Short Tennis’ sessions that are used to encourage the 5-8-year-olds to enjoy the experience of hitting a moving ball. These weekly meetings with their friends are not strictly coaching sessions but rather a way of detecting early whether or not a child has natural ball sense. In a strict but friendly atmosphere the youngsters learn, early and unconsciuosly, the need for discipline, and they really enjoy themselves because the sponge ball offers no danger of injury and the gentle nature of the bounce gives them a marvellous opportunity to sustain lengthy rallies. To watch a group of five or six-year-olds at one of these sessions is to know that they will grow to love tennis for the sheer joy it offers of performing a difficult skill well.
Leif Dahlgren, the Director of Education for the Swedish Association, does not underestimate the importance of parental attitudes:
“Without he wholehearted co-operation of the parents no youngster, however talented, will succeed. If Bjorn Borg’s parents had not been prepared to drive 20 miles a day in each direction to give Bjorn the early coaching with Percy Rosberg how could he have developped?”
At the top of the pyramid are the national squads in each of the age groups – 14 and under, 16 and under and 18 and under, which are the responsibility of one (or sometimes two) selected coaches. For the very best of the senior 18 and under players of 1981 lay the SIAB sponsored squad, the vehicle through which (thanks to the $125,000 the building company was prepared to invest each year) Wilander, Jarryd, Nystrom and Hans Simonsson emerged in senior tennis under the sympathetic control of Davis Cup captain, Jan-Anders Sjogren. This scheme was the forerunner of commercially sponsored national and local teams. Even the most optimistic supporters of the original scheme could hardly have envisaged the immediate success in 1982 when Wilander won the French Open at the age of 17 years, 9 months and 6 days, the youngest and the first unseeded player ever to win a Grand Slam Championship. Following Borg’s exploits this extraordinary achievement – along with the doubles success of Jarryd and Simonsson at the same Championships the following year – guaranted that the tennis boom in Sweden would accelerate.
The last, vital ingredient in this well-planned structure is competition. With regular weekend and annual competitions within the clubs and regions, it is inevitable that the strongest characters will emerge to earn selection for the national and international tournaments and team matches, plus the annual training camps, that are the recognised pathways to success. And because the competition is so widespread and begins around the age of 10 or 11, the ultimate champions in the various age groups can stand comparison with any in the world, as a glance at the honours board of the European Age Group Championships or the Orange Bowl Championships will readily prove. There you will find the same names – Borg, Wilander, Jarryd, Sundstrom, Nystrom and Edberg.
Perhaps the most important of all the domestic competitions is the Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) Cup, the tournament that inspired the present world-wide Sport Goofy Championships. Organised in three age groups for the boys – 11 and under, 12 to 13 and 14 to 15 – and two for the girls – 12 to 13 and 14 to 15 – this annual event, which began in 1970 with an entry of 1,137 has grown into arguably the largest tournament in the world with more than 13,000 entries per year. Small wonder that the winners of this gigantic event feel confident that they compete with anyone in the world. You will no longer be surprised to learn that among the past Kalle Anka champions are Borg, Wilander, Sundstrom, Stefan Simonsson and Edberg.
Something that worries the Swedes as much as it puzzles outsiders is the lack of comparable success among the Swedish girls. With all the same opportunities they have only two players in the top 100 – Catarina Lindqvist at 17 and Carina Karlsson at 95 – and little prospect of others joining them. It is an extraordinary contradiction that has no easy answer. Perhaps most telling is the lack of a folk hero in the Borg mould for them to look up to. If planning and effort can solve the problem, then it will soon be licked, for the new Volvo squad under the control of former French Open Champion and Swedish No.1, Sven Davidson, has all the brightest talent available. However, I have the feeling that girls as pretty and vivacious as the delightful Carina Karlsson, who made such an impression at Wimbledon last year, will find it hard to concentrate solely on her tennis. At least, I’m sure there are plenty of red-blooded young males who will make it hard for her!
Meanwhile the young Swedish males continue to set the pace at all age levels. Next on the senior horizon are the two Carlssons, Johan and Kent (no relation, by the way) who have been mopping up many of the 16 and 18 age-group titles between them, and seem destined to follow a path that is becoming all too familiar – and depressing if you were born outside Sweden! Like Bjorn himself and the entire present crop, these two display the same controlled courtesy on court that is so refreshing to spectators. When, in the fullness of time, we look back and try to analyse the contribution this remarkable group of young men have made to our sport, perhaps the most important element will be the restoration of a sense of pride and propriety on the court and a sense of comradeship and delight in the successes of their teammates off it. I can truly say it is always a delight to be in their company and takes me back to the cameraderie that used to exist among the great Australian players of the 1950s and 60s – men like Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, Neale Fraser, John Newcombe and Tony Roche … the list is endless. Come to think of it there is a strong parallel between the two eras with success breeding success. How appropriate that the young Swedes, like those Australians on so many occasions, have just won the Davis Cup.
How far the Swedish miracle has left to run only time will tell. At least they have their priorities right. Leif Dahlgren again:
In Sweden it is a widely accepted idea among trainers and leaders that young players should be trained early gradually to accept full responsibility for their own tennis. The sooner a player realises that whether he is going to become a top player or not depends on him and nobody else … the greater are his chances to achieve his goals… One might say that the most important job the trainer has to do is to make himself superfluous!
In fact what the Swedes have done is delighfully simple and holds lessons for the other tennis nations who strive mightily without producing results. By offering nationwide facilities cheaply, combined with coaching and competition, they have given their ambitious youngsters the opportunity to plumb the depths of their own personalities in a way that unlocks the hidden talent; then they have moulded that talent with imaginative leadership and not too much interference. What more could any young player in any country ask?