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.

Raonic and Federer, Brisbane 2016

In a rematch of last year’s final, Milos Raonic defeats Roger Federer to win his 8th career title.
It was Federer’s third final in a row in Brisbane: he lost to Hewitt in 2014 and defeated Roanic to take the title in 2015.

2016 Brisbane International Men's Final: Roger Federer vs Milos Raonic

2016 Brisbane International Men's Final: Roger Federer vs Milos Raonic

2016 Brisbane International Men's Final: Roger Federer vs Milos Raonic
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Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg, Roland Garros 2015

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.

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.

As the New York Times reports,

«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

Also read:
Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg at practice, Roland Garros 2015
Federer and Edberg at practice, Cincinnati 2014
Coach revival: top players choose great from the past

Novak Djokovic, 2015 ATP Tour Finals

Novak Djokovic ends his monster season with another win over Roger Federer. With 3 Grand Slams and 6 Masters titles, he had one of the best season in the Open era. How many Slams do you think he’ll win in 2016?

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

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Photo credit: Marianne Bevis

Roger Federer at practice, ATP Tour Finals

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:

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

Roger Federer
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