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"This is our most beautiful little trophy" - Stefan Edberg on his daughter Emilie's birth. Read the article

Stefan and me - by Mauro Cappiello -

by Mauro Cappiello

I was 12 years old, when I watched my first match of Stefan Edberg. I don't have a very clear memory of that match, but I can safely say that, from that moment on, I started paying attention to tennis and, in particular, to that big champion Stefan was.

So, it was an autumn Sunday evening in '91 and my sister was watching a match on TV, that black and white TV (believe it or not, we still had a black and white TV in 91...) we used to watch when the color TV was busy in broadcasting soap operas for my mother. The match was Becker - Edberg, final of the indoor tournament of Stockholm.

Stefan would lose that match in five sets, but, after that, I really said: "Great stuff". I was struck by his elegance and all through that match I began to like tennis and I started thinking: "I would like to play like that". That elegance made me prefer the loser to the winner. Thinking back to that match, I can say that already then I saw in Stefan much more than a tennis player.

I had heard of Edberg before, because my sister was a fan and watched all the matches (there was plenty of tennis on Italian television back then). I knew he had recently won the Us Open, 'cause my sister had been so happy. But I had never really watched him play. Of course, that night I started to be a Ste...fan for other reasons than my sister's. I guess she was attracted more by him as a good looking 25 year old man, than by him as a tennis player.

And in fact, shortly later my sister lost her passion for tennis and I remained the only one in the family to support Stefan. He became my disease. An Italian tennis reporter, Rino Tommasi, used to say: "You may like tennis or not, but, if you like it, you get addicted to it". And I would experience in the following five years how true that sentence was.

From the end of '91 on, I started noting all Edberg's results and everything I could find anywhere about him. I had my personal tennis book that I updated every day, writing EDBERG a little bigger than the other players' names (you do this sort of things when you are 12...).

Days, nights, afternoons in front of the TV (we had bought a new TV color, in the meantime...), entire days of tennis to see him play and I was so angry when, in the early rounds of the Grand Slam tournament, the tv coverage shifted from Stefan's court to another.

You may say that, starting to follow Edberg just at the end of '91, I missed all the best part of his career. And that's true and I still regret it: I didn't see him lift the cup of Wimbledon, win the Masters and the Australian.

But, even though he couldn't hear me, I gave him support in many of his matches and when he most needed it in his career. Had I been just interested in results, I would have chosen another player, maybe Sampras, who was so hot at the moment. Stefan, though, had a class I didn't see in any other player.

And then, Stefan was to me much more than a champion: he was a model, in the time of my life when I really needed a model (teen age).

I never saw Stefan give a match away without fighting: there have been some bad losses, of course, but those were either because of a fantastic match of the opponent or because of a very bad day of Stefan's volley.

After that bad year, 1995, I started to get used to the idea that that "wonderful tennis machine" wouldn't last forever.

I agreed with him and I appreciated his decision, when he announced that 1996 would be his last season as a professional player: of course I was sad (I don't think there was a tennis fan who wasn't sad at that announcement), but I wanted him to remain in my mind as a player able to fight and possibly win against anyone on a tennis court, I wanted him to quit when he was still able to express flashes of his best tennis and give lessons to top players or to future champions.

I remember that Becker criticized that decision, saying he would quit without any pre-warning: but Edberg's retirement season was a series of applauses, good matches and standing ovations (who didn't cry with him on the night of his goodbye party?), while Becker's retirement was a slow and sad "fade to black".

I can safely say that Stefan is the person who most influenced my personality: his class and style in the court (never a protest, never a swear, always fair play to the opponent) gave me a much more important message than all the books I read, that were supposed to shape my self.

The emotions I experienced every time he saved a break-point, every time he placed his backhand volley in the unreachable corner are something that no one can delete.

The big regret I'll always have is the fact that I never attended a Stefan's match live.

I still have the ambition and the hope to get to know him personally.

Stefan and me - by Mauro Cappiello -


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