by Jan Jaroch
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
He's a guy from the old school. Carefully arranged hair, as well as sleek appearance that complements a shirt with a collar. Six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg even at forty-three has lost none of his nobleness, which made him a crowd favorite and caused ATP to name the Sportsmanship award after him.
No wonder that the Swedish star has a career in business today. Edberg told not only that before today's performance at the exhibition Advantage Tennis in an exclusive interview for Sport and MF Dnes.
You have the reputation of a great tennis gentleman. When did you last go mad during a tennis match?
"It’s been a long time... (laughs) You can get annoyed for many reasons. When I played, I was able to get angry with myself. But of course not as bad as John McEnroe. Last time I went crazy with myself on the court was when I was a junior. I was some sixteen, I threw the racket against the wall and destroyed it. Then I was no longer pissed because of tennis in my life. Then I said this was not necessary and it would not happen again.
You had a similar path as Roger Federer, who turned to a gentleman of the courts out of an angry guy...
"Yes, I see some things that I have shared with Federer. He is also very calm on the court and off."
Are you really such a cool one in real life?
"Moods don’t change me much, I'm calm, more quiet type."
What can annoy you in real life?
"When people are going down the road recklessly, I'm sometimes really annoyed. Or when they drive drunk."
You remained faithful to this nature even after you've left the tennis courts in 1996. You lead a quiet life, do not appear much in public. What do you do?
“Tennis is now only a small part of my life. I am co-owner of an investment company, at home in Sweden I also own some property about which I care. This is currently my biggest business. And then of course there is the family with whom I spend a lot of time. I would say that I am more busy now than when I used to play tennis."
Investment and real estate, it's not exactly the safest earning currently...
"Times are tough for everyone, it's true. But I was expecting a bit something like that because in the last twenty years a lot of people got greedy and that culminated in this crisis. But I positively perceive the crisis, we should learn from it."
In the Czech Republic you are known as the tennis player who denied Ivan Lendl the Wimbledon title. You met him twice in the London Grand Slam semifinals. Do you remember?
(Laughs) "You know, Ivan did everything possible to win Wimbledon. He had some really good years. But he also had a bit of bad luck, because he had to face a generation of truly great players on grass: me, McEnroe, Becker and Sampras then. His play also was not designed for grass. But he can’t be disappointed, he won the other three Grand Slams several times."
What relationship do you currently have together?
"The last time I saw him was about a year and a half ago. I know that he lives in the States and spends a lot of time with his daughters and playing golf. I didn’t maintain contact with him, although we always got on well. We trained together many times, we spent a lot of time for tournaments. Ivan is a very direct and honest man, just like me. We understood each other."
And like Lendl you have your nightmare, the French Open. On the Paris clay you never won, even if you played a final there twenty years ago against an outsider named Michael Chang. Is it bugging you that you are missing the title of the city on the Seine?
"In this I’m similar to Ivan. I was very close, closer than he was at Wimbledon, to win the French Open. I played five sets, I really missed just a little. Unfortunately it was the only chance I got in my life, even though I had thought of having another."
Ivan Lendl has almost got rid of back problems, is again playing tennis and plans to play exhibitions. How much time do you dedicate to tennis?
"I try to keep fit. I play it about three times a week. If I practiced more, I would get bored. You know, it's nice to sweat, but when I'm on the court every day, it will remind me tennis work I've been doing all my life. And it’s bad. I do not even watch it on television."
I would expect that the dying of your serve and volley style makes you sad.
"Of course it would be nice to see it more, but that is simply time. Tennis is a faster, more aggressive sport, and I could not afford to go to the net as much either."
One of the last players who are trying to imitate you is Radek Stepanek. How can he play at the net with those legs?
"I do not know really, really, it's more of a question for Mats (Wilander) who is an expert."
Expert Mats Wilander believes that the Czechs have a very good chance in Davis Cup final against Spain. What do you think?
"Honestly? Your chances are not very good. To play against Spain in Barcelona is not really quite that simple..."
Your last Grand Slam title came in 1996 in doubles at the Australian Open with Petr Korda. How did you play with him?
"Good. He had great shots, we won several tournaments. He had a tremendous talent, he was left-handed, while I was right-handed. This is the basis of a very good team."
The ATP named the traditional prize awarded to the fairest player after you. What does it mean to you?
"It is for me a special award and an honor. But I say to myself that I'm just too young to have that prize named after me. (Laughs) But I think in just a few years time the prize will be renamed after Roger Federer, because he's already got it so many times... "
So, do you see Federer as your successor?
"Absolutely. He makes too many things tremendously for tennis on the court and off. I find him also quite sensitive. Actually, I do not know him personally, but I have very good feelings about him."
And he said that you were his model as a child...
(laughs) "That is true. I feel honored about that."
So, in the rivalry between him and Nadal who are you supporting?
"He’s definitely nicer to me. Their rivalry is gorgeous. Before, you always had one good and one bad player like Borg against McEnroe. But these two are so charismatic and good guys, it's almost a perfect relationship. They played each other a lot of great games..."
But this year, Nadal was apparently derailed by your compatriot Robin Soderling, who defeated him in the fourth round at the French Open. How did Sweden experience this?
"Very deep. For a few days the whole of Sweden was upside down. Really. And I was in shock. After all, I thought that perhaps Nadal would never lose in Paris. But for tennis in Sweden it was totally great, it attracted a lot of attention.”
How will you do in Saturday's Prague exhibition Advantage Tennis, which is conceived as a Davis Cup duel between Sweden and Czechoslovakia? You play singles match with Jiri Novak. Does it not scare you, he is nine years younger than you?
(laughs) "Today, not yet, maybe before the game starts I will be scared. Although he is younger, I'm really in great shape for my age. Rather, I miss played matches. This can be a problem, because matches and training are two completely different things."
Can you still play serve and volley style?
"I can, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. For this style you have to be really physically fit and quick on your feet. Sometimes, of course, I will try to run to the net, but I can not repeat it all the times like before."
Isn’t it a bit sad for you that you don’t manage to play it like before?
"A little, but that absolutely happens for everyone. Your brain is suddenly faster than your feet. You know exactly what to do, but you are at the net later, you have so much strength in the wrist... But even so, for me, tennis is still a great pleasure."
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