Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1988

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

For the obvious reason that he is still a young man, capable of striding along the summits for many more years, ths can be no more than a half-term report on a graceful, classic exponent of the ‘big’ game. Unless memory lies, Mal Anderson has been the only other player of comparable class who, in the past 30 years or so, has served and volleyed with as much elegant facility as Edberg. In 1968, in Hamburg, I spent a long time watching Anderson. The serve and volley routine can be hard to take. It lacks charm. But Anderson’s instinctive ease of movement and racket-contol somehow gave that routine the uncomplicated allure of a Strauss waltz. So it is with Edberg. This is not to suggest that Edberg is the most efficient modern graduate of the serve-and-volley school. One refers only to the natural flair with which he does his thing. Unlike such heavily muscled contemporaries as Becker and Pat Cash, Edberg brings an aesthetic quality to the three-shot rally. His emergence is a striking eminder that Bjorn Borg‘s playing method – that of a baseliner with a two-fisted backhand – inspired no more than a transient trend in Swedish tennis. That method was Borg’s, not Sweden’s.

The main features of Edberg’s game are his mixture of services (many players find the second ball more difficult to handle than the first), his volleying, especially the cross-court backhand, and his backhand service eturns, which often explode down the court like shells. His forehand is a comparatively second-class shot for a first-class player: seldom threatening, and often wayward when his confidence is low. But Edberg’s command of the backhand and the top-spin lob gives him weapons enough for counter-punching from the back of the court. He is happiest in the forecourt, bending like a sapling in a gale as he springs this way and that and tucks away the volleys – whereupon he often gives a little hop of satisfaction at a point well won.
His general demeanour, though, is one of sad, dreamy languor. Often, he looks only half-awake. But this embodiment of a sight is a dangerously deceptive as those tall, quiet gunfighters familiar from Western movies. Edberg seems reluctant to hurry but, when he does move, the action tends to be swift and short and terminal. One can picture Edberg casually blowing the smoke out of the barrel and instantly going most of the way back to sleep.

He is that kind of man: by no means the aggressive, pushy type, but stubbornly resistant to being pushed. Edberg likes a peaceful, comfortably stable life. Gentle and unassuming, reserved and laconic, he is a private man who enjoys company as long as it is not too demanding. No fuss, if you please. He is among those who apply to themselves the principle that everybody is important but nobody is very important.
Physically, Edberg is a long-limbed, willowy 6ft 2in (which Rod Laver considers may be the ideal height for a tennis player) and weighs around 11st 7lb. He has an arresting and attractive court presence and when that handsomely composed but gloomy mien is enlivened by one of his slow smiles, the mothering instinct wells up in ladies of all ages.

Edberg has a London apartment, in Kensington, but his home is the industrial home of Vastervik on the Baltic coast. He played tennis from the age of seven, took up the game full time at 16, and in the following year, 1983, won the junior Grand Slam. This invited less attention than the 17-year-old’s form in the now defunct Bournemouth tournament. He had to qualify but then reached the semi-finals by beating the cerebral and charming Balazs Taroczy, a specialist on such slow surfaces. Edberg told us that he was a policeman’s son and took up tennis because his mothe wanted him to. His Bournemouth form, plus the comment about his mother, was the first hint we had that he was something special but needed help in fuelling the fires of ambition.

For a few years he was none too sure of himself, none too sure what he wanted out of tennis, and none too sue if the ultimate prizes were worth the effort. He was lucky in that the European representative for Wilson’s, the company who made Edberg’s rackets, turned out to be a congenial friend and, before long, assumed the more constructive roles of manager, coach, and – most important of all – motivator. Tony Pickard had, in fact, turned up in Sweden almost five years before Edberg did. That was in 1961, at Bastad, where Pickard made his Davis Cup debut for Britain. As a player Pickard did not have quite enough talent to match his self-assurance. He soon discovered that it was the other way round for Edberg.

The biggest problem, was to get him to believe in himself. It took nearly three years.

Pickard, almost 32 years older than Edberg was exactly what the young man needed: a wise, witty, avuncular extrovert who knew when to nag Edberg and when to leave him alone.

At 18 Edberg made his Davis Cup debut, playing a spectacular role as Anders Jarryd‘s partner in two remarkable doubles wins. At 19 he confirmed his growing reputation as a tough, resilient competitor by winning the Australian championship. He saved two match points against Wally Masur and beat Ivan Lendl 9-7 in the fifth set. A week after his 21st birthday Edberg produced further evidence of his guts and his belief in himself when he retained the Australian title by beating Melbourne’s local hero, Pat Cash, in a five-set final contested in fierce heat. Between them, Edberg and Mats Wilander won that Australian title for Sweden five years in a row. No other overseas nation has done that.

The next big triumph for Edberg came at Wimbledon in 1988, when he recovered from two sets down to beat Miloslav Mecir in a semi-final that provided an enthralling contrast in playing methods – and then played a glorious match to beat Boris Becker in the first men’s singles final to begin one day and end the next. That year, too, Edberg came from behind to beat Mecir 9-7 in the fifth set of a decisive Davis Cup match.

In 1989 Edberg played the finest clay-court tennis of his career to each – and almost win – the French final. Becker was too strong for him in the Wimbledon final. But it takes a player of exceptional talent and competitive maturity to advance to the French and Wimbledon finals in the same summer. During the era of open competition (1968 onwards) the only other men to manage it were Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe – formidably distinguished company for a player who, for a time, had seemed to be vulnerably diffident. With Pickard’s help, Edberg learned the truth of a couple of lines in Shakespeare:

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win

Federer and Edberg, Miami 2014

After his loss to Thomas Enqvist in the final of the Kings of Tennis tournament in Stockholm, Stefan Edberg flew back to ths US to join Roger Federer at the Miami Masters. Enjoy these pictures of the two tennis greats at practice.

Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg

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Follow our Miami Sony Open 2014 coverage

Photo credit: Bev

Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg

Thanks to Love @ll for sharing these pics of Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg.
Want to know more about the Federer-Edberg collaboration, read this article by Tennis Magazine: Former champions: true or false coaches?

Club Fed.

Hey Roger Federer, what does RF stand for?

"Hey, I'm gonna stop at IKEA. You want anything?"

"Blergh dah ger der gah deh jorgensen.

"Who's that Swedish guy who keeps following me?"

Who dat iz?

Swiss CHEESE.

Swedish meatball. Hee.

Security. Security!

That is not how you hit a forehand, Roger.

Awww shucks.

All eyes on Rog.

Roger is not impressed.

"Eh, I can do better."

Working on the backhand.

Casting a long shadow.

Where were we?

Fleet feet.

1992 US Open champion Stefan Edberg

From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:

“Edberg and I had a few things in common. We were both reserved, shy, old-school sportsmen. Although Stefan grew up in Sweden, he went against the grain in that clay-court haven and switched to a one-handed backhand, much like I had, because he wanted to play attacking tennis. Edberg was a prodigy, too, but in a slightly different way. He’d won a junior Grand Slam. As a pro, he’d been through something similar to the struggle I was unconsciously dealing with in 1992 – the battle to become a great competitor as well as a great talent. In Stefan’s case, the catchphrase that haunted him wasn’t “ton of bricks” but “fire in the belly”. Early in his career, Stefan was accused of lacking a gut-level, burning desire to win.

In a good example of bad timing, I was catching Edberg just as he was proving the critics wrong. The previous year, he had taken over my US Open title with a flawless, artful, straight sets deconstruction of Courier’s straightforward game.
Any remaining doubters were convinced by the epic way Edberg went about defending his US title at Flushing Meadows in 1992. In his last three matches before the final, he was down a break in the fifth and final set against high-quality opponents: Richard Krajicek, Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang.
The semi against Michael remains one of the all time great matches, in term of the struggles if not the quality of play.

Lanky and tall, Edberg was a great mover. He lived and died by his kick serve, which he liked to follow at the net, where he could use his superb volley to cut off all but the sharpest of returns. Stefan’s game plan was straightforward: get to the net.

I came out pretty strong and won the first set. But it was a terrible struggle from there. The “new” Stefan Edberg was on full display. He was full of emotion, pumping his fists, yelling, doing everything to show he had fire in his belly. He won the second set.
At the critical juncture of the match – a third set tiebreaker – I threw in an ill-timed double fault to give Edberg a 6-4 lead and double set point. Stefan capitalized to go up two sets to one, and then I double faulted away the first game of the fourth set. In a blink, it was 3-0 Edberg. I went through the motions the rest of the way; I packed in it.”

Read part 1 of Mauro’s report here.

Where to start from? When you have the chance to meet your childhood idol, suddenly every word becomes foreseen. So I would like to begin from the kindness of the staff at the press office of the Gerry Weber Open. It was only thanks to them that, without any media credential, I managed to access the press conference of the Champions Trophy and, believe it or not, without really knowing how, I found myself sitting in the first row, watching the winners of 70 Grand Slam tournaments combined speak, two meters away from the man I had always only watched on tv and who was the owner of my feelings back in my teenage days.

I was there, waiting to come in at a sign of the tournament communication director after all the players had ended speaking. He, indeed, introduced me to Stefan who saw me and smiled at me, when he recognized the outfit I was wearing: «Ah… and he has a nice Adidas jacket!», he said, maybe going back with his memory to 25 years ago, when he lifted his second Australian Open trophy with that on.

I was not shaking as I thought I would be, it was such an informal situation, after all, and, no need to say, Stefan is surely not the guy who makes you feel uncomfortable or out of place. I had the chance of shaking his hand and came in with very straight words:

«Hello, Stefan, nice to meet you. My name is Mauro and I’m from Italy. I’m the admin of STE…fans, the international fan community dedicated to you. I want to give you this special screenshot of the home page of my site in memory of this day, that, for me, ranks at the very top of the best moments that I had in my life».

Stefan didn’t know of the site (secretly I hoped he would…), but nevertheless he said: «Thanks very much, I appreciate it!». Then, he came down to the space before the seats in the media room and kindly accepted to take pictures of the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to exchange more words with him. But, just the meeting itself was an extraordinary opportunity that I received from the tournament staff only thanks to the quality of my work and, maybe, to the human interest of the story of a fan who had flown to Westphalia from Italy just to hand his hero a little gift.

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