from Wimbledon 2014 Official Programme
by Malcolm Folley
contributed by Jude Urwin
This summer, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg will revive a rivalry that once enthralled The Championships at Wimbledon. Only this time they will be calling the shots rather than making them.
In the wake of Ivan Lendl's successful partnership with Andy Murray, which yielded two Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal, former Wimbledon champions Roger Federer and Novak Djokovlc have also looked to the past to try to plot the future.
Lendl has arguably changed Murray's life - even though the two men took the decision in March to end their professional relationship. Both Becker and Edberg had battled Lendl, when he was viewed as a cold, austere man from behind the Iron Curtain; now, with Becker hired to coach Djokovic, and Edberg installed in Federer's camp, the pair are combatants all over again.
Although they are strategists supposedly working in the background, the 46 and 48-year-old will be in the firing line as they try to get an edge over one another again. Every movement Becker and Edberg make, every word they say, will be scrutinised as they shoot from the lip rather than the hip. They played against each other 35 times as professionals, in a fierce, if civilised, level of competitiveness, which Becker emerged the winner, 25-10. Each of them retired with six Grand Slam titles.
Memorably, for three consecutive summers from 1988-90, the story of Wimbledon could be distilled into one narrative: Becker versus Edberg. The Swede won that compelling duel 2-1. Becker was more outwardly confrontational. He waged on-court vendettas with men like Lendl, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash and Andre Agassi in an era when the stars of the game did not show the conviviality towards one another - at least in public - that men like Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Rafael Nadal do today.
In their prime, Becker and Edberg were diametrically opposed as men. Becker was fortified by the confidence attained from becoming Wimbledon's youngest-ever men's single champion, at 17. Edberg played and then slipped into the shadows.
For Becker, the jet-set life suited his character. As his fame burgeoned, bodyguards were hired to shield him. He was feted at the White House, and entertained by members of the Kennedy family in the United States. He was greeted in boardrooms of blue-chip companies. His personal life was forensically examined by the media as though he was a Hollywood star rather than a tennis player.
In contrast, Edberg lived through the Championship-winning years of his career in a penthouse in Kensington, and could roam London in relative anonymity. He was coached by Englishman Tony Pickard, a man old enough to be his father. Edberg once told us he had declined a request from actress Susan George to attend a glitzy film premiere.
He was just disinterested in celebrity. His newspaper of choice was the Financial Times as he liked to keep personal tabs on his investments. In London, he never felt the need to own a car. He lived with his girlfriend, Annette Olsen, now his wife and mother of his two children.
Becker, an engaging man, with a desire to live life to the full, became an established voice of both the BBC and Sky tennis productions. Edberg disappeared home to Sweden.
Federer, though, had never forgotten the player he most admired growing up. Once Federer entered into a dialogue with Edberg at the end of last year, he realised he was a man who could be an invaluable ally, just as Murray had done when he first met Lendl. "I am very motivated and inspired by Stefan's presence," says Federer. "He is not timid, but he also doesn't want to disturb me. He's very precise, short, simple.
It is no surprise to witness Federer playing more aggressively at the net this year, for few in the history of tennis possessed a volley as beautiful, or as destructive as Edberg's. "I never thought to go back on tour," admitted Edberg. "But once I had Roger's offer, I liked the idea, it's good for the whole of tennis if he keeps playing on a high level and I am sure he has at least one more Grand Slam title within reach. I don't want to make a serve-and-volleyer out of him, because times have changed from when we played. But Roger has to play in a more positive mindset, and he has to vary his game, but that all takes time. Importantly, we respect each other. It's a good feeling to be around him."
If Federer and Edberg have a pact built on similar characteristics, Becker will find his passion and emotional investment with the game amplified by Djokovic. Becker says: "Novak was impressed with the Murray-Lendl relationship and wanted something similar - someone who has been there and done what he's trying to do. The game has changed a little bit, and these boys play in a different style, but I know the game better than most."
We may have to wait beyond this summer to discover if Edberg and Becker can do for Federer and Djokovic respectively, what Lendl did for Murray; but what a sumptuous treat to have these two great champions back to our lives, and back at Wimbledon where they provided such rich entertainment.
Coaches have become a vogue - and vital - accessory more than ever to the modern breed of leading players the world over. Serena Williams has found a winning formula through Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, while Maria Sharapova has hired Sven Groeneveld to deliver a spark to her game after a failed one-match association with another great champion, Jimmy Connors.
Yet one man is immunised from change: Nadal. The charismatic Spaniard still places his trust in the man who introduced him to the game, his uncle Toni. These games within a game provide us with a sub-plot that never grows stale.
- Pickard: Federer already better thanks to Edberg
- Stefan Edberg interviewed by ESPN
- Grand Slam heroes become super-coaches
- Becker: "Edberg is an incentive for Federer"
- Edberg’s coaching proves to be of net benefit to Federer
- An interview with Stefan Edberg
- "Stefan was not surprised, he was shocked!"
- Edberg and Federer already in Wimbledon!
- Halle, Federer wins second title with Edberg
- Stefan Edberg: Serve&volley tennis is a suicide today