from World Tennis
by Kim Cunningham
Now that he's won the Australian and Wimbledon titles, Stefan Edberg's fame, fortune and fans stretch from Brisbane to Baton Rouge. Life in the limelight has its highlights, but don't expect Edberg to act like a star.
Has success spoiled Stefan Edberg? Hardly. The $4-million-a-year man (his estimated 1987 earnings) still flies coach when he's paying his own airfare. He eschewed offers of both the Wimbledon courtesy car and a new BMW Sedan to drive his own car to the All England Club this year, explaining, "It already had a parking sticker on it."
Then, on the hottest day in August, the Wimbledon champion found his way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to play a two-man exhibition to benefit the Louisiana Junior Tennis Program for underprivileged children. To get there, Edberg flew from Stockholm, with stops in New York, Washington and Nashville. Edberg committed himself to the event last April, but never considered, post-Wimbledon, canceling the small obligation.
"I'd never heard of Baton Rouge before," Edberg told a companion at 9:30 that morning, describing how Joe Jones, the LJTP president, had pursued him the previous year. "I feel it's good to do some things for charity. And there's no pressure. It's a small pan of the world. It doesn't really matter how well I play down there because they won't know."
They all knew of his arrival at precisely 11:24 A.M. Edberg was met at Ryan Airport in Baton Rouge by an entourage rivaling those of Sinatra or Ali arriving at a Las Vegas main event. TV crews jostled for breathing room alongside radio and newspaper reporters, representatives from the LJTP, and the event's sponsors.
Declared Kari Alexander of Causeway Chrysler, who drove Edberg in a customized van, "Lee Iacocca would have been here if he knew Stefan was coming." Six armed and dangerous-looking security guards were dispatched from the mayor's office to guard the 22-year-old celebrity. "I've seen presidential candidates, country western singers and pop rock stars," said head of security Gary Traylor, surveying the chaotic scene. "But in seven years, I've never seen anything like this."
Edberg seemed unaware that he was the focus of all the commotion. When the baggage carousel turned and he spotted his New York Rangers' bag (a gift from Ulf Nilsson), he turned to a companion and asked distractedly, "Can you keep an eye on my rackets while I pick up my bags?"
The five-car entourage wended its way to the WBRZ studio in Baton Rouge where Edberg taped a 10-minute interview to be aired on the "ABC Weekend News." The rookie reporter chatted uneasily when Stefan took his seat. "Are we ready to start now?" Edberg asked him at last. Sensing the reporter's lack of preparation, Edberg answered questions the reporter hadn't quite articulated and threw in a few unsolicited responses to fill the time.
"This is the first time I've ever seen Stefan extract the questions from an interviewer," whispered his agent, Tom Ross, of Advantage International. "Is there anything I didn't ask you that I should have?" the reporter asked. Edberg smiled. This question triggered the Mobius strip he holds in his head listing the questions he's been asked every day except today. How has your life changed since you won Wimbledon? Why are the Swedes so good? What are your weaknesses? Why do you play differently from the other Swedes? Aresmil you the next Bjorn Borg? But Edberg only smiled at the reporter. "Oh no, I don't think so," he replied politely...
The questions have changed somewhat since Wimbledon, and so have the people who ask them. Where he once faced only the sporting press, Edberg is now exposed to the general-interest media; this can be frustrating. "Now I get people who don't know anything about tennis," he said later. "Sometimes I get a little mad about it. It's hard for me, because I don't feel comfortable sitting there talking if I don't understand the question and neither do they. If they don't know what I'm talking about, it doesn't work. But most of the time the questions are the same and I just push a button for the answer."
The cavalcade filed past Jimmy Swaggart's acreage at 1 P.M. and up the long drive to the Wanky Country Club of Louisiana. Here, Edberg was given a key to the city. Before the day was over, he was also given a gold and diamond ring worth $2,100, and compliments on his athletic achievements ("Great match") and appearance ("You're taller in person than on TV").
But mostly he was given scraps of paper to sign. "Are you Stefan Edberg?" Yes." "Can I have your autograph?" Yes. ''Will you write, 'Best wishes to Brooke'?" Yes. The next stop in the schedule was Richards Honda (1:45 P.M.), where Edberg sat and signed autographs for people who lined up to see him. His fan club consisted mainly of teenage girls who giggled nervously, "I'm so excited, I'm about to die!"
Several returned breathlessly to the end of the line for a second autograph and brush with the star. "He's even cuter than Jon Hensley," said one. "You know, on "As the World Turns"!" Edberg remained unfazed by the hysteria. "People always want autographs," he said evenly. "I just wonder what they do with them." Did he ever ask someone for an autograph? "Yes, when I was 11," he said. "Jens and Erwin Velasquez, the world freestyle Frisbee champions, came to Vastervik to play an exhibition, and I waited in line for their autographs. Actually, I've still got them."
After a one-hour rest stop at the Embassy Suites Hotel, Edberg joined Paul Annacone for a brief practice at Louisiana State University's Assembly Center, where they later played the exhibition. But first, the pros were delivered to Ralph and Kacoo's ("The Seafood Restaurant"). They pumped unfamiliar hands, posed for photographs and politely accepted platters of food until 7 o'clock, when they fled for the indoor arena.
Does Edberg feel like a piece of meat, as he is dragged from one place to the next? "Yes," he said. "Some days I take it better than other days. At least this is organized." The one-night stand drew about 3,000 people who paid $20 to see the Wimbledon champion. During changeovers, kids flocked to his chair and asked for autographs or pictures ("Smile, Stefan!"). He took this in stride, saying later, "I've had that happen to me at Grand Prix tournaments too."
The ball kids were hopelessly inept, the sponsorship signs flapped unevenly, the public address system died out, there was no water to drink, and the match, which Edberg won, didn't finish until 10:30. But Edberg acted like he was having the time of his life, wagging his head to the music, pantomiming a windup serve that ended in a patty-cake, and even bidding for his own racket during an auction. Afterwards, there were more autographs to sign, pictures to take, media to meet. It was almost midnight when Edberg whispered to Ross, "Can we go home now?"
The following morning at 8:30, a sleepy, jet-lagged, empty-stomached Edberg stood in the lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel with the Causeway Chrysler man who would drive him to the airport. Jones, however, had a stack of programs for him to sign. Edberg started to sign them, but Ross mercifully reminded him that a private jet was waiting to whisk him to Toronto, Jones suggested he sign them in the car. As the van twisted and turned through the morning traffic, Jones handed him a list of about 30 names and asked him to inscribe a program to each, "First and last names?". Edberg asked wearily, and said sotto voce, "I hope I don't get sick."
At last, Edberg buckled himself into the relative peace of the private jet with Ross and one reporter. He stretched out his long blue-jeaned legs and smiled at the journalist. "Now I guess you have business you want to take care of," he said, knowing that he was a captive for the next two-and-a-half hours. "Let's have breakfast first." There was no flight attendant, so Edberg rummaged through the airplane's tiny cabinets, producing milk, coffee, orange juice, croissants and cereal for his companions, his T-shirt said "Sunset Is a Beach," and once the breakfast carbohydrates kicked in, he was as laid-back as a California surfer.
Is his relaxed, upbeat attitude a reflection of what's inside? "Life is very good for the moment,"he began. He was coming off a five week vacation that included a week in the south of France, a week in Stockholm with steady girlfriend Annette Olsen, even a strenuous Davis Cup series, ("We have a lot of fun together," he said of his teammates. "I look forward to Davis Cup weeks.")
But now he was headed back to work in Toronto, where he played his first tournament since Wimbledon. And he looked forward to it. "I feel more eager to play now than before Wimbledon," Edberg said, easing into a discussion of how he has changed since he won the world's most prestigious championship. "Wimbledon gave me a lot of satisfaction and that confidence helped me a lot when I played Davis Cup (against France in July). But it will help me a lot for the rest of the year, too.” “I feel like I've gotten... paid off really well for all the hard work I put down" he continued, "I worked harder this year than last year, but I didn't play very well for the first six months of the year. I had some bad losses and I won only one tournament before Wimbledon. I tend to be too hard on myself. I always want too much out of myself, which isn't good. But now I proved myself, so I feel I have less pressure."
He proved his talent to himself and to others. Among the 30 telegrams that poured in following the championship was a congratulatory note from Arthur Ashe and another from Bjorn Borg that said, "Welcome to the club." Are mailgrams a tradition among Wimbledon champions? "Well, I didn't get one from Becker," Edberg said and laughed.
Can he carry all this good humor onto the court for the world to see, as Boris Becker has done? "Some days I like to joke and other days I don't feel like it," he said. "I want to entertain if I can, but it isn't easy for me. You need a lot of confidence to do that. And I can't change my personality. I know what I'm doing and I don't really care what other people think. I can't go out and play a game and pretend to be somebody else. That would be much harder because you'd have something to live up to."
Like the legend of Bjorn "He Won Five Wimbledons" Borg?" "There's only going to be one Borg," Edberg said. There isn't going to be another one. But there isn't going to be another Stefan Edberg either." Seetling into the soothing lull of the jet engines, Edberg closed his eyes contentedly.
He has it all now with his five Grand Slam singles and doubles titles and his No. 2-going-on No. 1 world ranking. ("My friends called me last week saying, 'Congratulations, you're No, 1’," Edberg said about the confusion with the ATP computer in July. "Then they all called me back in the afternoon, saying, 'Sorry, there was a mistake: You're still only No. 2.")
What Edberg doesn't have is "star quality" and this distinguishes him from the pack. McEnroe, Connors, Borg, even Becker at age 19, had a magnetism that charged the atmosphere around them like an invisible electrical current. In Buenos Aires for Davis Cup, McEnroe said he got that "champion feeling" when he was around Andre Agassi, which was "so rare" in today's up-and-comers. Does Edberg understand what McEnroe meant? "Yes," Edberg replied. "You can come a long way by believing in yourself. I believe I've got the talent to be a champion and if I believe it about myself, I think that's enough."
Edberg may be onto something here: He can be the great champion without acting like a star. His insouciant charm and quiet presence have grown with his ranking and the public's belated appreciation of the Swedes.
Just 22, Edberg has had time to learn how to be a champion since his first moment of fame at 17, when he won the junior Grand Slam. His has been a steady climb from adolescence to adulthood while making millions of dollars, and he doesn't impress easily.
Last year, a tennis friend loaned Edberg his multi-million-dollar digs at Trump Plaza during the US Open. Asked to describe the state of swank in New York's most expensive apartment building, Edberg said, poker-faced, "Mediocre," and laughed. He would prefer to let his volley impress you.
Back on the terra firma of Toronto with its relative anonymity, Edberg picked up his Budget rental car and headed towards the next hotel. It had been a tiring 24 hours and the traveling trio was quiet, thinking about the luxury of eight hours' sleep. Suddenly the Contours' sixties hit "Do You Love Me" came over the radio and Edberg sprang forward to slap his thighs and sing along with gusto, "Now I'm back to let you know I can really shake 'em down".
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