In his autobiography, Uncovered, Pat Cash remembers his days on the junior European tour:

My third European trip showed that great things were by now a distinct possibility. To start with, I finally managed to win the Avvenire Cup singles prize in Milan. First I had to beat two players who could certainly go on to make their mark on the game: Emilio Sanchez in the quarterfinals and Karel Novacek in the semis. My reward was a place in the final, and a first confrontation with another young Swede who would figure prominently in my career.

In those days Stefan Edberg played the traditional Borg way. Like all the others he rarely strayed from the baseline, hit with a double-fisted backhand, and seemed to regard the net as something carrying rabies. Although feeling extremely nervous, I beat him without too many problems, and my rapidly rising junior ranking escalated still further. However, my supposed knowledge of Stefan Edberg tested the strength of my friendship with Wally Masur a year or so later.

The two young Aussies arrived in Lisbon to try and qualify for a tour event. Wally was drawn against Edberg, and I told him there was nothing to worry about because he was a typical Swede who just stayed back on the baseline. But sitting courtside, I couldn’t believe what I saw: there was this supreme young fair-haired athlete who served and volleyed everything with the crispest single-handed backhand I’d ever seen.

To pretty swift sets later, a soundly beaten and decidedly pissed off Wally stumbled his way from the court to the locker room. On his way, he gave me the unfriendliest of looks and I thought I heard him utter, thanks for the tip mate. I’d like to think they were the exact words he used, but I know for a fact they were interspersed with other considerably stronger.

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.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer practiced on court Suzanne Lenglen yesterday with Benoit Paire and coach Stefan Edberg. Enjoy the pictures and follow our Roland Garros coverage.

Roger Federer

Edberg and Federer

Roger Federer
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Andre Agassi, 1990 Lipton Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

As always, the Lipton was full of strange matches on the men’s side. None was stranger than Ivan Lendl’s three-set loss to Emilio Sanchez in the fourth round. Sanchez was a good player, solid on hard courts although more comfortable on clay, but he never seemed to beat the big names. This time he did – even after blowing four match points in the third set and letting Lendl break. Down 4-5, Lendl went up 30-0, serving to even the match. Then he collapsed, losing the last four points.
The wind swirled around the stadium throughout the match and Lendl clearly was unhappy with that. Lendl doesn’t like anything that takes away from his precision. Gerry Armstrong, umpiring the match, knew Lendl was in trouble when he tossed the coin before the match began and the wind took it.

“Ivan had this look on his face,” Armstrong said, “that said, ‘I want out of here’.”

Lendl certainly didn’t tank. He is beyond the stage in his career where he does that. But when the match was over he made no bones about the fact he was delighted to get out of town.

“I’ve never liked playing in south Florida,” he said. “The only reason I’ve always played here is because it was in my adidas contract. I committed to play this year when I still thought I was going to be with adidas. I’m not with them anymore, so I probably won’t play here again in the future.”

Now he was gone from the Lipton and not at all sorry about it.

Boris Becker was gone too. He lost a round earlier than Lendl, in the third, to Jean-Philippe Fleurian 7-6 6-1. Becker’s mind just wasn’t on tennis. He was in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend of the previous two years, Karen Schultz, and still not all sure about what he wanted to do with his life. Play tennis? Party? Save the world? All of the above? None of the above?
Becker didn’t leave Miami after his loss. He stuck around to play the doubles, reaching the finals with partner Casio Motta, and to hang out with friends. After starting the year on the verge of wresting the No. 1 ranking from Lendl, Becker had now dropped behind Edberg into the No. 3 spot. If truth be told, he didn’t much care.

With Lendl and Becker gone, the Lipton became your basic Andre Agassi-fest. There was no doubt that Agassi was playing good tennis. He won three straight three-setters over Andres Gomez, Jim Courier, and Jay Berger (who reached the semis when Sampras had to default), and then beat Edberg in the final.
Edberg was there only because a line judge had botched a call on match point in his quarterfinal against Jakob Hlasek. Hlasek had hit a half volley winner just inside the line while ahead 6-5 in the final set tiebreak. The line judge called it wide. Hlasek lost the next two points, and Edberg made the final even though he wasn’t playing very good tennis.

Agassi rolled him in four sets, then acted as if he had won Wimbledon.

“I guess people can’t say I don’t win the big ones anymore, can they?” he crowed afterward.

Clearly, the kid had lost touch with reality. Even Butch Buchholz wouldn’t claim the Lipton was a big one. Bigger than a bread box, perhaps, bigger than Memphis or Sydney or Bologna. But not quite up there with the Slams.
After all, the Slams all knew where they were going to be held the following year. As the workers began tearing down the temporary stadium on Key Biscayne, Butch Buchholz had no idea where his tournament would be held in 1991.

Stefan Edberg

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