By Bill Simons, Inside Tennis, July 2004
From Laver and the good ol’ Aussies to Sampras and Henman, tennis has been blessed with many a fine sporting lad. But none had better timing than Stefan Edberg. In fact, the Swede emerged just as the scowl-and-stare era of men’s tennis was raging. At a mean and macho time when implosions were expected and ferocity was a given, elegant Edberg entered the game with a minimalist, (be joyous within and walk lightly upon this Earth) sensibility.
Never mind that Connors, McEnroe, and Lendl were setting a mean-spirited snipe-and-run tone. Never mind that critics claimed tennis was free-falling out of control and was in danger of becoming a kind of World Wrestling Federation wannabe. As it happened — don’t worry, be happy — Edberg was there to save the day.
After all, no matter how bad his luck, no matter how outrageous the call, the Gentleman Champion never complained. For Stefan, a raised eyebrow was the equivalent of a full-blown Connors convulsion. A simple Edbergian inquiry to the chair umpire — “Are you sure?” — was his version of a McEnroe meltdown. There was no Becker-like gamesmanship, or anything like Lendl’s intimidating, icy stare.
It’s little wonder that Becker once told him, “You’re the greatest tennis ambassador I’ve ever known.”
Commentator Mary Carillo raved, “I’m such a big Eddy fan. He’s been the classiest, most elegant No. 1 that men’s tennis has had. He leads a very balanced life. He understands fame, fortune and celebrity better than just about any superstar I’ve ever met.” In a “narcissists gone wild” world, where a sense of entitlement was a given and it was just presumed that he who had the biggest toys (or private jets) won, Edberg was down to earth and solid — a freak of nature who was so normal he was abnormal.
Not surprisingly, the ATP honored him with its Sportsmanship Award five times and then threw in the towel and just named the award after him.
Edberg’s appeal was the sheer beauty of his strokes and the rhythmic fluidity of his movement. Sure, his pushy forehand was a foible never quite fixed, but his looping backhand was a shot apart, and his easy, balletic grace was a sublime delight. He brilliantly executed tennis’ most important and complex sequence, the serve-and-volley, and was a master of the perfectly timed chip-and-charge. Only McEnroe matched his skills at capturing control of the net. Once there, Edberg prowled with razor-sharp reflexes and merciless instinct, dishing out unforgiving volleys, particularly on the backhand side.
There was always something different about Stefan. He not only was a bizarre kind of throwback: a thrifty, conservative introvert in a self-indulgent, me-first modernist universe, on-court he was a true mutant: a serve-and-volleyer who emerged from Sweden’s homogeneous, stuck-at-the-baseline, gene pool.
Despite his mild appearance, Edberg was a fighter. His coach, Tony Pickard, famously informed us that he had “fire in his belly.” Plus, he was a true triple threat. He won six Grand Slam singles titles (two Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens and two Australians), 41 singles crowns, was ranked No. 1 in ‘90 and ‘91, was a top-five player for nine years in a row, he won 18 doubles titles and, after McEnroe, was the most heroic Davis Cup player of our era, a patriot who willed little Sweden to four Davis Cup titles. He was the only player ever to have won the Junior Grand Slam, won the ‘84 Olympics and played in 53 straight Grand Slam tournaments.
He knew how to come from behind, as he did when he was down 3-1 to Becker in the fifth set of their ‘90 Wimbledon final. He could outlast his foes, like when he beat Michael Chang in five hours, 26 minutes in ‘92 in the longest U.S. Open match ever. Or he could dominate. Just ask Jim Courier, whom he crushed 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 in the most inspired match of his career — the ‘91 U.S. Open final.
It was easy to dismiss Edberg as a too-good-to-be-true, squeaky-clean Eagle Scout who was not exactly the life of the party. When the London tabloids set out to discover his dirty laundry, they found out only that Edberg washed his own clothes. For years, his wife cut his hair. Still, his career has been filled with a mix of sad or bizarre happenings. When he played the U.S. Open Juniors, one of his kick serves smashed a linesman in the groin. The linesman then toppled over, hit his head on the court and suffered a fatal heart attack. In mid-career Edberg courted and, in ‘92, married Mats Wilander’s former girlfriend, Annette Olson. Throughout his years his Nordic appeal didn’t go unnoticed. “What a body,” said one Wimbledon observer, “he’s so cute, and those legs…”
Early in his career, when things got rough, he would drop his shoulders and mope, projecting “woe-is-me” body language. And, of course, even the mighty Edberg had his share of setbacks. He failed miserably on clay at the French Open, just once reaching beyond the fourth round. And he failed to convert his golden opportunity when he was up, two sets to one, to Michael Chang in the ‘89 final. (Later he would wryly quip that Michael won because he “had God on his side.”) Then there was the highly forgettable, mercifully brief “Norwegian Joke” phase of his career when, with a series of insufferable quips, Edberg tried to convince journalists that he was some kind of wild and crazy guy. Not!
Still, he was the co-ringleader of the Great Potty Protest of ‘87, when two of the game’s most mild-mannered, compliant soldiers — Edberg and Wilander — stepped way out of character and hid in the U.S. Open locker room for 15 minutes before their semi to protest that they were being forced to play at 11 a.m. in a virtually vacant stadium.
The incident was so remarkable because, as McEnroe said,
“He was seemingly immune to getting upset. I never heard anyone say anything bad about him and he never said anything bad about anyone.”
Sampras suggested, “When parents are looking for a role model, Stefan is the player to look to.”
A man of grace, blessed with quick stutter steps, deep-angled volleys and flowing backhand — now has seamlessly embraced all-court domesticity with a vengeance. Happily married and living in rural Sweden near his seaside birthplace, Vastervik, he now rises early to make sure his two kids get to school. He manages his investments and oversees his tennis foundation, which helps Swedish teens excel.
Of course, all this white picket fence/Ozzie and Harriet normalcy is hardly a shock. After all, never has there been a more balanced, “aw-shucks,” tennis champion, and a No.1 who so easily dismissed the siren song of fame and indulgent consumerism than this policeman’s son who played with the blissful ease of a dancer lost in an unending moment.
Photo: Tennis Buzz, Lagardere Trophy 2010
By Claude England, Maryland Match Point
At first I thought it must have been the strong capuccino I had enjoyed after ou last dinner in Melbourne that was keeping me so wide awake, but as the minutes continued to tick by, I came to realize it as the sheer excitement of the past five days at the Australian Open that was still tingling through my body.
So many talented players, great matches, and the magnificent state-of-the-art Australian Open facility. Where to begin?
Mark Philippoussis opened up the center court action with a straight victory over Nicolas Kiefer, who would have, at that time, thought he would go on to upset Pete Sampras in straight sets, only to be thrashed in the following round by fellow Australian Mark Woodforde.
Next it was defending champion Andre Agassi who basically limped onto center court after having the misfortune of hurting a tendon in his knee during a fall on his apartment steps. Andre, wearing a pathetic bandage, somehow won this match against Argentine qualifier Gaston Etlis, who at one point was serving for the match, and at another time was within two points of perhaps the upset of the decade. It was a sad sight from both ends of the court. Etlis played brilliant tennis, showing no mercy for Andre’s inability to move around the court, hitting precision drop shots that the defending champion, instead of racing towards, could only stand and watch. But when it came to winning those final points, Etlis became even more creative in finding ways not to win, and Andre hobbled to a 6-3 in the fifth victory.
Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein
Edberg-Wilander and Lendl-Noah figured to be good matchups, especially given Noah‘s defeat of Lendl in Sydney. But this was the real thing now, not a little warm-up tournament. Lendl lost seven games, needing just an hour and forty-six minutes to bludgeon Noah.
“I liked the way he played better in Sydney,” Noah said. “He was much nicer there. He missed and missed. Today he didn’t miss.”
Lendl‘s performance was nothing compared to what Edberg did to Wilander. He needed even less time – an hour and twenty-two minutes – and gave up only four games in one of the most dominant performances anyone could ever remember seeing.
“Oh, that was wonderful,” Ted Tinling cried, coming off court. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more brilliant. It was beautiful to watch.”
Edberg wasn’t the same player in the final that he had been in the semifinals by any means, but there was a good reason: late in the Wilander match, he had pulled a stomach muscle.
Even injured, Edberg managed to win the first set and go up a break at 6-5 in the second. But Lendl, who had seen the trainer come out to treat Edberg and knew something was amiss, hung in. Despite a bad case of nerves, he broke back and won the tiebreak. He was up 5-2 in the third when Edberg, shaking his head, dejectedly walked up to the chair.
“I can’t play,” he said simply. “I have to stop.”
It was not a complete surprise when Edberg retired from the match, but it was a flat, damp ending to a tournament that had seemed jinxed from the beginning.
Edberg, almost doubled over in pain, hobbled off, leaving Lendl alone to accept his award. Lendl is a pragmatist, and winning his eighth Grand Slam title was no small thing. He had been in Australia for a month, working toward his goal. But even he knew this was no way to win a championship.
“I’m sorry the match ended the way it did,” he told the crowd. “I feel badly for Stefan. I hope next year we get a chance to slug it out until the end.”
They handed Lendl the trophy at 5:30pm. It was exactly one week – to the minute – since McEnroe had been defaulted on the same court.
Preview, recap and analysis:
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
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
2005 Australian Open: Heartbreak for Lleyton Hewitt
2009 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer
Fashion and gear:
Ana Ivanovic adidas dress
Tomas Berdych H&M outfit
Kei Nishikori Uniqlo outfit
Novak Djokovic Uniqlo outfit
Serena Williams Nike outfit
Maria Sharapova Nike dress
Rafael Nadal Nike outfit
Roger Federer Nike outfit
Grigor Dimitrov Nike outfit
Nick Kyrgios Nike outfit
Vika Azarenka Nike outfit
Venus Williams dress
Who will win the 2015 Australian Open?
- Novak Djokovic (34%, 58 Votes)
- Roger Federer (32%, 56 Votes)
- Rafael Nadal (14%, 24 Votes)
- Andy Murray (6%, 11 Votes)
- Kei Nishikori (3%, 6 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (3%, 5 Votes)
- Other (3%, 5 Votes)
- Stan Wawrinka (2%, 4 Votes)
- Milos Raonic (2%, 4 Votes)
- Marin Cilic (0%, 0 Votes)
- David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 173
Who will win the 2015 Australian Open?
- Serena Williams (29%, 30 Votes)
- Maria Sharapova (26%, 27 Votes)
- Simona Halep (13%, 13 Votes)
- Eugenie Bouchard (10%, 10 Votes)
- Ana Ivanovic (7%, 7 Votes)
- Caroline Wozniacki (6%, 6 Votes)
- Other (5%, 5 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (5%, 5 Votes)
- Dominika Cibulkova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (0%, 0 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 104
By Alan Trengove, World of Tennis, 1985
Wilander is a much underestimated grass court player. When he won his first Australian crown in 1983 it was only incidental to his major objective – preparing on grass for the Davis Cup final a few weeks later – and right up to the time he beat first McEnroe and then Lendl he was still doubting whether he could play on the surface. Seeded no. 2 in 1984, he beat [Kevin] Curren, the no. 9 seed, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 in a very good final that nevertheless did not quite reach the height it sometimes promised to do. The lanky and angular Curren had eliminated a slightly injured Lendl, the top seed, in the fourth round. He followed that success with impressive wins over Scott Davis and Ben Testerman, and posed a distinct threat to Wilander when he served for the third set of the final at 5-3 with new balls. But the cool Swede steadied in the crisis, broke back and later dominated the tie-break.
Curren certainly possessed the armoury to capture the crown – a blistering service, a blanketing net attack and aggressive returns of serve – but the big guns misfired too often for him to sustain his assault. His main problem was the steely resolve of his opponent, who again showed his ability to accept reverses philosophically and move up into a higher gear when the situation demands. In the first set, though Wilander‘s returns were sometimes astray, he had a set-point in the 11th game and led by 4 points to 0 in the tie-break. It must have been galling for him to lose that set, but he immediately lifted his game and took the second. Then despite losing control of the third set, in which there were six breaks of service, his passing shots gave him the edge at the finish.
By then Curren was tiring because of the energy he puts into his service and because he was having to dive for so many dipping returns. Wilander was in full command in the fourth set, finishing Curren off with a typically penetrating forehand return. Mats may not be a classical grass-court champion in the mould of a Hoad or a Newcombe, but he is certainly a worthy one. Ask Curren and Kriek.
[Johan] Kriek also left Melbourne with a deepened respect for Wilander, having been given the biggest hiding of his career in a 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 humiliation that lasted only 63 minutes. Just as he did in 1983, Wilander laboured to find form in the early rounds. David Mustard, the New Zealand left-hander, took the first set against him and Dale Houston, a Queenslander playing his first Grand Prix tournament, held two set points against him for a two sets to one lead. Then in the fourth round, his fellow Swede and practice partner, Stefan Simonsson, who can play a strong serve and volley game, thoroughly tested Wilander. He led by two sets to one and Wilander had to work hard to survive. That effort, and the doubles he was playing with Joakim Nystrom, appeared to put him firmly on track for a successful defence of his title. In the quarter-finals he was a little too consistent for his Davis Cup team-mate, Stefan Edberg, winning 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. Then came the morale-boosting rout of Kriek.