from Tennis Magazine
by Guy Barbier
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg says goodbye and it is a whole school of elegance and attacking game that disappears - temporarily, we hope - even if the current world number one Pete Sampras poses himself as a spiritual son of the Swedish champion. At the eve of his 31st birthday (January 19th), Stefan Edberg, still 14th in the ATP Tour played his last official match hobbling against Cedric Pioline in the final of the Davis Cup in Malmo. A sad exit for a class guy who successfully combined fair-play and trophies so that we would never get tired (see next pages) of browsing the album of his exceptional career. A tribute to one of the greatest players of all time...
On the big screen, on the evening of April 6th 1987, the battle between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard electrifies the 10,000 spectators of the Dallas Convention Center. They paid to see this true "shock of the century" of the medium-weight, broadcast live from Las Vegas and in closed circuit in a thousand cities of the United States.
Between Hagler's destructive power and Leonard's (who made his return after a long absence from the rings) aerial precision, the "Superfight" is a perfect caricature of the opposition of styles and characters that boxing loves. Amplified by a sound of hell, punchs explode into the hall in a frightening way.
At the very first row, side by side, John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg. Like many of the best players in the world, they are in the capital of Texas to compete in the final phase of the deceased WCT championship owned by the billionaire Lamar Hunt.
After Sugar Ray's victory at the points, welcomed in delirant enthusiasm, Edberg is recovering from his emotions, moving on foot to the hotel. «John was for Leonard, and I rooted for Hagler,» says Stefan. Everything was clear, in the end: under the esthete lied the puncher, behind fair play, the smooth facade of a tennis that denied any unnecessary lenght, lurked the desire to win.
The prize list, of course (detailed elsewhere), can provide the clearest illustration. How could he, without being an exceptional fighter, claim a total of 41 tournament victories, including six Grand Slam titles and five other major finals lost, a Masters, four Davis Cups, the throne of world No. 1 for 72 weeks and gains that exceed the $20 millions?
The record is impressive, but Edberg's personality is such that one needs to constantly refer to it for his discretion, his kindness, his exemplary conduct (no one has ever seen him in a nearly 15 year career vehemently challenge a chair umpire decision) not judging it weakness or lack of character. But it was he who told Tennis Magazine, June 1990 (TM, No. 171): «Being a finalist does not mean anything. What is needed is to leave the court with the trophy in your hands.»
In the Hall of Fame of fighters
The honor parade and compliments that accompanied Edberg around the globe for his final season can make us forget here that some circles called "sophisticated" had formerly classified Edberg in the category of "losers", even after his first Grand Slam title, claimed on the Australian grass in 1985. His second Kooyong title two years later, against the local idol, Pat Cash, then appeared as a development which had made Tennis Magazine headline: "The bad reputation." Indeed, his fight against Cash was heroic, pulled in the fifth set after experiencing a terrible slump that had allowed Cash, wildly encouraged by his crowd, to come back from two sets down. Today, there are more fierce and epic struggles, that remain in memory about Stefan Edberg. In 1988, he was the first - and he did it twice in the final - to beat a licensed master of grass, Boris Becker, on the Wimbledon Center Court. Again - in 1990 - he led two sets to love before being joined, to better place the decisive acceleration in the final set.
But the icing on the cake still appears to be his second US Open (1992) in which he defeated Pete Sampras in four sets in the final after winning three successive matches in five sets and each time having overcome the deficit of a break in the fifth! His only showdown against Michael Chang in the semifinals, had lasted five hours and twenty-six minutes!
Two handed backhand
And do you know what Edberg recently had to say evoking that titanic tournament during a lunch at the Queen's Club in London? «Fortunately for me, Sampras had a very hard match the day before against Jim Courier». Poor Sampras and lucky Edberg...
Actually, even before his triumphs across the world, even before he started having an easy life or counting his dollars, Edberg had shown determination and ambition. When he chose, at 16, to quit his studies only for tennis, when he knew, from his small town of Västervik, on the shores of Baltic, he the son of a policeman and a housewife, how to keep the right direction in his tennis with just a single visit per month to the National Training Cente in Stockholm, when he chose, at 15, to quit his two-handed backhand for a single-handed one that would become one of his major weapons. Even if he does not forget to credit his coach Percy Rosberg, the same who had trained Björn Borg at his debut, for the aid he provided in this delicate transition, Edberg precises today: «It was me who decided».
This way was "born" Stefan Edberg as a player. Inheriting from Borg and Mats Wilander his ability to remain ice cold in the fire of action, but owner of a volcanic tennis, inclined to attack and to the conquest of the net and killing volleys. Rebel against the technique of his glorious forefathers, Stefan Edberg nevertheless tracked his path in the greatest classicism. Junior European Champion in Nice in 1980 (with a two-handed backhand), Junior European Champion in Budapest in 1982 and winner of the Orange Bowl in the same year. A firework among the youngsters that was completed in 1983 with a final Junior "Grand Slam" that had never been achieved in a calendar year.
His following career in the pros was therefore in line with this exceptional path, as well recalled by the "album" to browse in the upcoming pages.
Stefan Edberg has to be given huge credits. In first place, to have been able to impose a tennis based on attack and risk (not very distant from the Australian greats of the game of the Sixties), in an age when top spinners and hitters have erected barricades in profitable baseline fortresses. Edberg has built his formidable record against such different and imposing champions as Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, or even John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, a player he has often struggled against, for example in Flushing Meadows. His fourth round at the US Open in 1989 played at night and lost 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 against a 37-year-old Jimbo remains still today his most painful memory of all his Grand Slam matches. «I really was null - he said -. Everything seemed horrible, the night, the wind noise... ». He'll learn, as we know, to subdue, if not to love Flushing's arena. It's right there that he will play, in his opinion, the "Perfect match" in 1991, in the final against Jim Courier, rolled 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. Edberg was also able to impose his attacking game on European clay (86 Gstaad, 92 Hamburg, 93 Madrid), something that, for instance, champions of the caliber of McEnroe, Connors or, at least for now, Becker have never succeeded with. But for sure, it's on the red clay of Porte d'Auteuil that Edberg's greatest deception remains printed: his final lost in 1989 against Michael Chang at Roland Garros. An advantage of two sets to one and ten break points spread in three different games in the fourth set. And a defeat in five sets that made all the Roland Garros cry.
Despite all, Edberg remains one of the 14 players to have played at least once in each Grand Slam Final in history. The symbolic "revenge" the Swede took on Chang in the last Roland Garros remains one of the great moments of the year.
Stefan Edberg's game, that Georges Deniau revisited one last time a little further, has been admired by everyone, and first of all by his peers, which, questioned by Tennis Magazine in 1992 (T.M., No. 195), had ranked Stefan first for backhand, volley (before McEnroe) and physic. Given the total of his quotes in all compartments of the game, he emerged from this survey as the "champion of champions".
Edberg's other great credit has been maintaining a perfect balance, and display in all circumstances, despite the stress of competition, the pain of some failures, the thrill of success, the weight of money, a style of sportsmanship and fair play. Behavior that earned him five times the Sportsmanship Award given each year by the ATP Tour. This award will be named after him.
Edberg found his balance in his engagement and fidelity to those he appointed today with a smile as his «two best companions on the tour», his wife, Annette Olsen, with whom he married in April 1992, and his coach, Englishman Tony Pickard, enlisted in 1984. Difficult to imagine more discordant couples in appearance than the Swede and the Brit. Pickard is wordy and joking as much as Edberg is reserved and modest. But in competence, respect and then friendship they will form a duo of formidable efficiency.
Based on the most solid foundations, and furthermore given of a wonderful physical of natural athlete, Edberg "managed" his career of champion without a false note. Healthy mind, healthy body and a consistency which made him reach the astronomical record of 54 Grand Slams in succession. From Wimbledon 1983 to the US Open 1996, without a break! Will this record be beaten one day?
Edberg's solid health must not make us forget that in three occasions he has been crucified by misfortune. Two successive years at the Australian Open: in 1989, when a back injury forced him to retire before the quarterfinals, and in 1990, when, hurt at the abdominals, he was forced to withdraw in the final against Ivan Lendl. Injuries even more disappointing, considering that Edberg was playing his best tennis at the time. And finally, this ankle strain has limited him against Pioline in the Malmö Davis Cup Final, an accident that took him out of the last day of play and denied him a possible final coronation. How were French tennis fans unable to support thoroughly the Noah band due to the presence of Edberg on the other side?
This popularity without frontiers is finally the last miracle come out of a very low profile compared to the sometimes sensational personalities of his main rivals. It was said that Edberg
had to wait for his last year, his farewell tour, to receive the honors which were due. Nothing is further from the truth. Edberg has always received - in Japan, he is idolized - an extraordinary dimension of love from everyone, including the young people, seduced more by the class than by the glitz, from Las Vegas or elsewhere.
At Tennis Magazine, he is the undisputed champion of the letters to the editor. In fifteen years, not a letter - not one! - which has been unfavorable. In the survey our magazine had launched with its readers in June 1991 (TM 183), Edberg had also overwhelmed everyone when the "most loved player" had to be decided.
Aware of his influence, Edberg never exaggerated. The lucidity has never abandoned him. So, on the possibility of further progress beyond the age of 30, his current age (a chance that champions like Guillermo Vilas and Ivan Lendl considered certain), Edberg remained categorical: "Improving after 30 years? No, impossible!". No question in marking him as the "last representative of the servers&volleyers" or "the prince of attack with no heir ", etc.. Edberg prefers to enroll his name in the more than centenary history of the game and he knows its classics. «Tennis - he said - has gone through many different periods. It's quite possible to see the return of styles of play that had been thought extinct. In ten years, there can be another majority of attackers!». But damn, at the moment to say goodbye to Mr. Stefan Edberg, can anyone find him a defect? Maybe, after all, having been on Marvin Hagler's side...
by Georges Deniau
In almost fifteen years he has delighted us with his attack tennis. Georges Deniau, editor of the Tennis Magazine tecnique pages, dissects Stefan Edberg's game, rating it from 0 to 10. Perfection is never far...
His first serve was not as penetrating as Sampras' or Becker's, but his "mixed" ball or, if you prefer, his "first-second", was very effective with lift, because he almost always followed it to the net. With the same style, he followed his second serve many times. In recent years, he had also improved his flat or sliced serve, as required in today's tennis.
In spite of a poorly esthetic start of preparation, he managed to make it more effective through the years thanks to an intelligent tactic exploitation, made of balls hit early, changes of rhythm and a great sense of when to follow the shot to the net. Even if it could be effective, it nevertheless lacked the power and the strike of the great top-spin forehands.
He had a very raw backhand. Thanks to his backhand, he could criss-cross the court with rare precision or take initiative attacking to finish the point. During the last seasons, he further used a "loose" flat with a slight topspin backhand, with which he could change the rhythm of the rally or force the attack, so necessary today.
The volley was his major weapon. With John McEnroe, he has probably been the greatest volleyer in the history of the game. Great athlete, always in flexed position, he covered the net with an uncomparable style, on the right side as on the left. He had the art of the good choice: length, shortening, acceleration, wrong-foot or overflow. His backhand volley was inspired, his forehand volley was very technical.
If attack is the best defense, then he has been a great defender. He knew how to force the volley from his opponents next to the net with his covered forehand, but, most of all, he took his chances well with his backhand passing shots, cross-court or down the line, even if the lack of power and lift prevented them to be plunging enough. Actually, he defended as little as he could, since he was almost always the first to take the initiative.
He was little demonstrative, but his desire to win, his physical and moral fighting spirit, his courage in attacking made him a formidable fighter. Always composed, respectful of his opponents and the umpire, he based his strenght - like Borg - on self-control.
Speed, fluidity, coordination, legs power.. Stefan was a superbe athlete, always in good physical condition. Thanks to these qualities, he could obtain good results on all surfaces, even on clay, where he was so close to consecration, at 1989 Roland Garros.
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- The Top 10 Wimbledon Matches
- Halle 2012 - Where my dream came true
- 1996, Edberg's last appearance at Foro Italico
- Final step before going mad
- «I should no longer do this to myself...»
- "The quiet and the wild"
- Becker trims Edberg to earn Queen's title
- Gentleman Stefan