by Lennart Sandahl
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg was a large part of the Swedish tennis miracle. Between 1983 and 1996, he won six Grand Slams and three Davis Cup titles. He, he was world number one for 72 weeks and earned 150 million Swedish crowns. How did he come up and were there ever doubts during his junior career? "There was almost no money in the beginning and you had a knife against your throat to win, so that the trip would go on."
But we will start from Melbourne in 2014.
It's early February and impressions from the weeks of hard work in the Australian Open have dropped in for Stefan Edberg, 48. Together with Severin Lüthi, he contributed as Roger Federer's new coach to let the Swiss find back his self-confidence and make it to the semifinals, where world number one Rafael Nadal overpowered him.
Edberg, who primarily worked with asset management after ending his career, had no plans to get back on the tour. But when Federer got in, he could not resist the challenge. And in retrospect, the Swede looks positively to the coming year with 32-year-old Federer.
"Both he and I felt satisfied with the cooperation in Australia. Sure, there were hopes to go all the way, but given the last year it may be said that it was a good tournament from Roger's side," says Stefan Edberg to eurosport.se. He will stand at Federer's side for the rest of the year.
Stefan Edberg receives a career award from the Duke of Kent during a ceremony in Wimbledon in 1997
"It's a fun and exciting task, given the opportunities available in the future. It is important that everything works out from both sides."
"Trained once a week"
Early in his junior days, it was clear that Roger Federer's future was set. But he was not nearly as good as his childhood idol was at the same age.
When he was only 17 years, Stefan Edberg made history as the first - and still only - player who won all four Grand Slam tournaments during the same season as a junior. Just two years later, he would win his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open against Mats Wilander.
The road to the breakthrough was to become an almost dead straight highway where Edberg, already since the age of eleven, had his sights set on becoming the best in the world. "I started playing tennis as a seven year old with a friend. We practiced once a week, a little more in the summer, and started to play matches quite early," says Edberg.
It would appear that the "Västervik son" was a talent beyond the ordinary, and with his aggressive serve and volley style would take professional tennis by storm.
"Quite early I got a lot of praise and made rapid progress. In retrospect, I realized that I had great coaches that always inspired and encouraged me."
14 years old and the best in Europe
In the home club WTK, Sven Bergsten and Lasse Andersson took care of Edberg, and they proved to be crucial, as his career subsequently took off. "We saw early on that he was intelligent, he was moving well and had an extraordinary sense of the ball," told the then 80-year-old Bergsten in an interview with Västervikstidningen in 2012.
"After I won the Kalle Anka Cup (now called the Next Generation Cup) at eleven, it was natural that I should battle to become the best in Sweden."
At 14 Stefan Edberg was the best in Europe. He travelled around with friends at competitions abroad and recalls that period as one of his career highlights. But a year later, he was facing an important crossroad: start high school or go for tennis all the way? The choice was not difficult.
"I dropped out of school after the ninth grade to focus one hundred percent on tennis. I lived in Västervik but it became increasingly difficult training there. So I went up to Percy Rosberg in Stockholm in order to get even better workout," says Edberg.
Småländer Edberg grew up in a middle-class home. His father was a police inspector and his mother a housewife. His parents mortgaged their house for Stefan to go on trips and training camps. "I came from fairly simple relationships and my parents helped me as well as they could. Without them it would have been difficult. They were there for me and it worked quite well. They were not present all the time, but were replaced by other parents in the club."
As a super talent, he kept on dominating in the junior age and describes the way to the senior breakthrough as "pretty simple." 16 years old, he began to get wild cards into ATP tournaments before it was time for 1983 - the year of his historic feat, a "Junior Grand Slam".
But in the heat of the battle, Edberg barely reflected over what he had accomplished. "I played five junior tournaments with focus on the Grand Slam that year. I knew it was my last year as a junior and combined with satellites and tour."
Beat Wilander in Milan
"With one foot in the Pro Tour, I did not think much of it then, I had sight of the big guys," he says.
Edberg won the junior Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in a single season.
"In retrospect, one realizes that it is a pretty good feat, but just then it seemed not very big."
When Edberg retired from tennis in 1996, he had, in addition to his sponsorship, put together 150 million SEK (20 million US dollars), just in prize money. A big contrast with the pursuit of ranking points at the start of his career.
Stefan Edberg proudly shows the award received in from ITF in 1996 for his record of Davis Cup finals
"The first period on the tour was pretty tough. I travelled around to the satellites but there was almost no money in the beginning and I had a knife against my throat to win so that the trip would go on. The big boost came when I was 18 years old and I beat Mats Wilander in the final in Milan," he says.
Adidas signed a sponsorship agreement that gave Edberg 15 million SEK (2 million US$) over five years.
"It gave the course a financial security. I was able to travel around with the coach and put all the focus on playing tennis. At the beginning of my career the prize money was rather small and I usually got to pay for everything myself. There was a big difference in the 80's and tennis evolved tremendously. Food and accommodation included and the prize money was raised."
"World number one stands out"
As a 19-year-old Edberg took his first Grand Slam in an all-Swedish Australian Open final beating Wilander in straight sets. The rest is, as they say, history. From 1983 to the end of his career in 1996, Edberg won all the Grand Slam events twice, except the French Open, where he was a finalist. He also won three Davis Cup titles (84, 85, 94) and was world number one for 72 weeks between 1991 and 1992.
What do you like most about your career?
"The thing that I value most highly is to have worked with my hobby. To have been able to feed on it and become successful. It was not a profession the same way as it is today. It's difficult to rank because there were different periods. The first Grand Slam was great.Wimbledon was special considering how I followed it while growing up. The 1992 US Open was amazing because I was almost beaten for three matches in a row and I still won. But what stands out is that I got to be world number one two years in a row in 1990 and 1991 and almost 1992," says Edberg who admits that it bothers him a little bit that he never won the French Open. In 1989 he was in the finals but lost to a 17 year old Michael Chang. "It was very close and it would have obviously been great to win the title too."
How was it to be a Swedish tennis player during that period?
"Amazing! We had very good conditions and trained harder than in many other countries. Since we were a homogeneous bunch that had fun and earned enough to train together. We never needed to be alone. When you look back to then, it was the best of all worlds - a heyday. We had success with Davis Cup and had more players in the top-100 than any other country.
Stefan Edberg playes his trademark backhand volley at the 1994 Australian Open
After the end of his career, Stefan Edberg skillfully worked to manage his wealth. He has a private investment company that in 2011, according to Idrottens Affärer (a Swedish sports business magazine, note), was worth about 500 million SEK (70 million and a half US$).
Parts out 500,000 SEK a year
His money has been of benefit to Swedish tennis in several ways after he put his racket on the shelf. Since 1996, the Foundation awarded four million SEK (550,000 US$) to successful juniors to help them in their efforts. The Edberg Foundation awards right now just over 500,000 SEK (70,000 US$) per year, with young promise Elias Ymer being one of those who receive special assistance.
Together with Magnus Larsson and Calle Hageskog Edberg additionally runs a development center called Ready Play in Växjö. The plan is also to start a tennis university in the fall.
"We are working to develop new ways to train and bring Swedish tennis forward. How to train better? What can we learn from history? It would be fantastic if you could achieve the same result by working out seven times a week instead of ten. The hardest part of training is to find the optimal balance. We try to find new ways to find it."
Asset management, tennis center, Roger Federer's coach... and then you have a family and two children, as well. How is everything?
"Haha, yes, it actually works just fine. Well, as a tennis player I have always been self-employed and it is the same here. I can plan my time."
Finally. What advice would you like to give to those who are trying to become professional tennis players?
"In percentage terms, it's much harder to succeed in tennis than in many other sports. It is really only the top 100 that are really good at playing. Therefore, you must have a plan on how to get where you want. Do I have the momentum needed? Put a plan in two-three years. Be honest with yourself. Since it's about surrounding yourself with talented people, but in the end it's up to you. You have a chance in life. Then you can not do it half way, but it requires a decent bet," says former world number one.
- Stefan Edberg about his backhand in 2003
- Stefan Edberg's Rogers Cup conference call
- From Åhus to Wimbledon
- Swedish star coaches' sharp criticism: "Near the bottom"
- Edberg: "It's almost like a relationship"
- "I'm a dark horse"
- Our very special birthday wish to Stefan
- Stefan Edberg: Andy Murray made the right decision
- "It's nice to tell your kids you were number one..."
- Stefan Edberg back to the Ostkustens Pärla