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.
By Jon Wertheim, Tennis Magazine, June 2004
The working conditions were awful and the hours were worse. My subterranean workspace was a dimly lit room that reeked of the confluence of Bengay, sweaty socks, cheap cologne, and “eau de body.” I think I was paid $300; even for a college kid with economic needs that didn’t extend much beyond pizza and the occasional CD, that amounted to bupkis. And for 10 days it was a dream job.
While in college at Yale, I taught tennis in Connecticut elementary schools as part of a grass-roots program sponsored by the Volvo International, a U.S. Open tuneup event held on the Yale campus in New Haven. In August of 1992, a few weeks before my senior year began, my boss called with a frantic request. The man who was going to manage the locker room during the Volvo event had backed out of the job. Would I be willing–please!–to fill in?
I had been planning to while away the final days of my last college summer with friends on Cape Cod. Instead, I was being offered a chance to spend that time picking up the sweaty towels of Ivan Lendl and a hundred or so of his colleagues. Naturally, I accepted.
Although I received a 30-minute tutorial on ‘locker room etiquette’ from an ATP official before the tournament–just to make sure I wouldn’t do something as gauche as toss a towel at a player, but instead offer it, palms up–my real training came during the qualifying tournament. Many of the players were my age, so there was something demeaning about tending to their lavatorial needs. But I did my job dutifully.
On the final day of the qualies, a shy, skinny Russian teenager with a terminally uncool bowl cut and a halting command of English offered me a “tall five” after he made it into the main draw. In ensuing years, I’d see a lot of Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
On Monday, the main-draw players arrived and my job began in earnest. In addition to dispensing towels–palms up–I cleaned the benches, vacuumed the floor, and threw out used grip tape, Gatorade bottles, Odor-Eaters, and other tennis detritus.
But the work was far from tedious. I delivered what might euphemistically be called a ‘mash note’ from a female admirer to a young American doubles player. He read it, laughed, and crumpled it up, as though having women offer to prostrate themselves before him was a common occurrence.
I also helped Leander Paes stretch his arms before a match and Pat McEnroe find dinner when, after losing a night match, he wanted to eat away his sorrows with several slices of New Haven’s famous pizza. Now this was something I knew about. And as Pat had forgotten the name of the place recommended by his brother John, I commandeered a courtesy car and dropped him off at Sally’s on Wooster Street.
I was surprised by how little correlation existed between the players’ rankings and their dispositions. At once regal and casual, Stefan Edberg walked into the locker room on the first day of play and plopped down his duffel near my spot on the bench. Instinctively, I snapped to attention, much like when I passed one of my professors on the quad. Edberg just looked at me, extended his hand, and said, warmly, ‘I’m Stefan’–as if I needed an introduction to the best player in the world.
I was awestruck, so Edberg picked up the conversational slack. He asked, “You go to school here?” I nodded. He added, “I’ll try not to make too much work for you,” and then patted me on the back.
On the other hand, a curly haired Californian who was, at best, ATP marginalia, lit into me when I committed the sin of handing him an insufficiently fluffy towel. “If you’re going to give me crappy towels,” he barked, “at least give me two.” Because I am large-souled and don’t hold grudges, I won’t reveal that it was Jeff Tarango.
As a writer at Sports Illustrated, I frequently get asked, “What is so-and-so really like?” Invariably, I serve up a lame answer–“Andy is a cool kid” or “Venus is nice but can be distant”–while the unvarnished truth is that we in the sports media often have no real idea. Our access is limited, and our subjects have control over every aspect of how we perceive them. British novelist Martin Amis was once assigned to go ‘behind the scenes’ at a tennis tournament. He later remarked with frustration, “All you get when you go behind the scenes is another scene.”
But my stint in New Haven was different. I was a fly on the bench, so to speak. Some players interacted with me, others didn’t. But no one bothered to adjust his behavior on account of my presence.
Unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who was disappointed when she peeked behind the curtain and discovered that the wizard was really a pitiable old man, my own backstage experience fueled my passion for tennis. It also served as a catalytic event in my decision to write about sports for a living.
I saw firsthand the intense individualism of tennis. The players were superficially collegial, but ultimately they sat alone, tackling their thoughts and fears in isolation. I also saw just how international the sport is: With no trace of irony, players spoke of meeting up or having dinner in Madrid or Tokyo. I saw just how physically grueling the pro game can be: After 90 minutes on the tennis court, these world-class athletes required lengthy rubdowns.
And I saw that the glamorous cast of the ATP tour is not so different from most work forces, an omnium-gatherum of wallflowers and social animals, eager rookies and jaded veterans, jerks and gentlemen.
Indeed, on my last day of work, Edberg beat MaliVai Washington in the final. As I scoured the locker room one last time, I came across an Adidas bag near Edberg’s locker–strange, since he had already taken his check and trophy and skipped town. I looked closer.
The bag was stuffed with new shoes, an Adidas sweatshirt, and a racquet. On it was a note: ‘Jon, thanks for everything. Good luck at school. Stefan.’
I never had a chance to thank Edberg (who, incidentally, went on to win the U.S. Open a month later). And by the time I started covering the sport for SI, he had retired. But if our paths ever cross, I’ll make it a point to express my gratitude and explain how meaningful I found his gesture.
And then I’ll extend my hand to shake–palm up, of course.
The Happy Slam is already around the corner! On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic will be once again the huge favorite, but the women’s draw is open than ever: all four of the top-ranked have withdrawn from tournaments they entered this week due to injury.
A trip down memory lane:
Australian Open trivia
The tragedy of Daphne Akhurst
The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
1960 Australian Open: Neale Feaser, a costly volley
1960: first Grand Slam title for Rod Laver
1960-63 Australian Open: Jan Lehane four time runner-up
1974 Australian Open: Jimmy Connors first Grand Slam title
1975: John Newcombe defeats Jimmy Connors
1981: First Australian Open title for Martina Navratilova
1983: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
1984: Mats Wilander defeats Kevin Curren
1985: Edberg wins in Australia and Sweden changes look
1987-1988 Swedes spoil the party
1987: Stefan Edberg defeats Pat Cash
January 11, 1988: first day of play at Flinders Park
1988: Mats Wilander defeats Pat Cash
1990: John McEnroe disqualified!
1990: Ivan Lendl’s last Grand Slam title
1991: Monica Seles first Australian Open title
1994: First Australian Open title for Pete Sampras
1995: Mary Pierce defeats Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1995 QF: Pete Sampras emotional comeback win over Jim Courier
1995: Andre Agassi defeats Pete Sampras, wins first Australian Open title
1996 Australian Open: Mark Philippoussis defeats Pete Sampras in the 3rd round
Impressions from the 1996 Australian Open: Monica Seles and Boris Becker last Grand Slam titles, Stefan Edberg last appearance in Australia
1997 Australian Open: Pete Sampras defeats Carlos Moya
2001 Australian Open: Pat’s last chance
2001 Australian Open final: Andre Agassi defeats Arnaud Clément
2002: Capriati scripts a stunning sequel in Australia
2003 Australian Open: last Grand Slam title for Agassi
2009 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer
Fashion and gear:
Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?
- Novak Djokovic (45%, 66 Votes)
- Roger Federer (22%, 32 Votes)
- Andy Murray (9%, 13 Votes)
- Rafael Nadal (9%, 13 Votes)
- Stan Wawrinka (7%, 10 Votes)
- Other (3%, 5 Votes)
- Kei Nishikori (3%, 4 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (2%, 3 Votes)
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1%, 1 Votes)
- David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
- Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 147
Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?
- Serena Williams (38%, 41 Votes)
- Maria Sharapova (22%, 24 Votes)
- Other (14%, 15 Votes)
- Garbine Muguruza (9%, 10 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (7%, 8 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (5%, 5 Votes)
- Simona Halep (2%, 2 Votes)
- Karolina Pliskova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
- Timea Bacsinszky (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 107
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” .
By Mauro Capiello
Stefan Edberg will no longer be Roger Federer’s coach. With a message on his social channels the Swiss communicated to his fans a decision he and Stefan must have already agreed since long. The original deal was for at least 10 weeks in 2014, it became a successful partnership that saw the Swedish legend travel the main events of the Tour again for two years, almost like in the old days.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) December 8, 2015
Although the media emphasized Roger’s role in the decision, it is clear that such an effort in terms of time and energy must have been a huge stress for the quite and reserved Stefan, who would have never imagined to get back on the stage until only a minute before receiving the Swiss’ call. So we can reasonably suppose that celebrating his 50th birthday in Australia was not in Edberg’s plans and that even if Federer had asked for a further extension of the agreement, this time Stefan would have said no.
«Edberg confirmed that he had coached in 2015 with the “clear understanding that it would be my last year given the time commitment.”
On the other hand, Roger has always liked to add new persons to his team in order to both bring new elements to his game and renew his motivations. From this point of view, his new coach Ivan Ljubicic (whose analytical skills we’ve been appreciating in Italy since he started commentating for Sky Sports) will probably insist on the mental side of the game better than Stefan could ever do, the Croat having played tennis against many of Roger’s rivals until just a little more than three years ago.
But also Ljubicic, who will join the long time members of the team Severin Lüthi and Pierre Paganini, will necessarily need to start from the huge contribution Edberg gave in refreshing Federer’s tennis, taking the 17 time Grand Slam champion back to his top level of form after a disappointing 2013 season and to compete for the Major titles against opponents averagely 5-8 years his juniors.
In the last two years, Stefan was at Roger’s side in 17 events of the tour (11 in 2014, 6 in 2015). With him in his team, Roger:
– won 11 titles (5 in 2014, 6 in 2015);
– won 3 Masters 1000 events (2 in 2014, 1 in 2015);
– reached three Grand Slam finals and two ATP World Tour Championships finals (all five lost against Novak Djokovic);
– won a Davis Cup with Switzerland;
– won 136 singles matches, losing just 23;
– beat a top-10 ranked player 31 times losing only 12;
– beat current number 1 Novak Djokovic 5 times, losing 8 (one was a walk-over in last year’s London final)
These already outstanding results would have surely been even better, hadn’t Novak Djokovic played two amazing seasons, losing just 14 matches in 2014 and 2015 combined. I think nobody could deny that against any other player Federer would have won at least two of those three Grand Slam finals he played and Team Fedberg would have taken that Major title that has been Roger’s obsession since he took his last Wimbledon crown in 2012.
But even without it, never in the history of tennis a guy well in his thirties has showed this kind of consistency at the top and this is obviously thanks to Roger’s unique qualities, but partly also thanks to the game style adjustments suggested by Edberg. Considering the average level of today’s players, this new approach will keep Roger competitive for at least two or three more seasons (should he decide to still keep playing for such time) and I’m sure that this is something Roger will always pay Stefan tribute for, after any success that should come in the future.
Still, through these two seasons that we followed closely in the Fedberg section of our website, we’ve always had the impression that the partnership between Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer was something going beyond sports goals, statistics, strategies, technique, possibly even beyond tennis. It was the perfect duo, based on a common sensitivity, made up by two similar spirits who have been inspired from each other.
The link between the two is something meant to stay. You can bet that in the future Majors, looking back to his corner after converting a set point, Roger will miss the support of the calm angel he had transformed in his most passionate fan, just like, for a moment, Stefan will regret not being there to root for his pupil from the crowd.
Check out Mauro’s website STE… fans
Roger Federer, who defeated Novak Djokovic at the round robin stage, will face him again in the final later today. Who do you think will win?
In the mean time, enjoy a few pictures of Federer at practice: