from Der Spiegel
by Klaus Brinkbäumer
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg on the rivalry with Boris Becker, fair play in professional tennis and the fear of quitting.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Edberg, do you like Boris Becker?
EDBERG: What can I say? I have great respect for him. He is a great player.
SPIEGEL: Will you end your career once with a match against your rival?
EDBERG: It would be great fun. Boris and I had a great rivalry, we've fought passionately and pushed ourselves to our limits. We have a special relationship, a kind of blind understanding of soul mates - even if we are very, very different.
SPIEGEL: Do you talk to him about your common past?
EDBERG: No, we don’t talk much. We were nice to each other, but bitter rivals. Now we have become freer in dealing with each other. Maybe in a few years time we will be sitting at a bar and talk about those days.
SPIEGEL: You and Becker have the love for Wimbledon in common.
EDBERG: He won there in 1985, a different life began for him. In my youth, Wimbledon was the only tournament which was broadcast live on television in Sweden. And it was the heyday of Bjorn Borg, as a boy I wanted to be a Wimbledon champion.
SPIEGEL: You have played the best match of your life in New York in 1989, when you won the Masters final against Becker.
EDBERG: No, the match of my life was the 1991 US Open final against Jim Courier. 6:2, 6:4, 6:0. It was a night that I will never forget.
SPIEGEL: And the best moment?
EDBERG: The Wimbledon final in 1988 was beautiful, just special.
SPIEGEL: What do you remember?
EDBERG: For me it was a crazy day. It rained all day on Sunday, and I played cards with my coach Tony Pickard. Then, late in the evening, Boris and I were allowed to make five games in the first set, and then it was dark. On Monday, it was raining again, we were sitting around bored - I ate sumptuously. But then the sun came out, and 45 minutes later we were standing on the field: Boris was very focused and I had abdominal pain.
SPIEGEL: He won the first set.
EDBERG: Yes, and I still remember the rallies in the second, in the tie-break when I could turn the match around. And I see the last point before me: it was a long rally, I was standing at the net and played a few volleys, and then he aimed at my body, but the ball got stuck in the net. I fell on my back, so easier than ever. It was the moment I had been waiting for.
SPIEGEL: You won’t experience such moments in the future anymore. Do you fear life without sports?
EDBERG: I am unsure. I will continue to be a different person. First, I will feel relieved because the last twelve years have been very stressful. I'm going to relax, that could be a very good time in my life. I will live as a family man in London.
SPIEGEL: But after a while you will get bored.
EDBERG: That might happen.
SPIEGEL: From 1997 the ATP will give the Stefan Edberg award to the best sportsman. Are you excited?
EDBERG: That's fascinating, yet scary, my God, I'm only 30 years old. But apparently you keep me in mind as a champion and as a sportsman. And that's how I wanted to be remembered.
SPIEGEL: Was Becker a fair opponent?
EDBERG: I generally don’t like when players try tricks. A tennis match should follow the pace of the server: when he is ready, the other must be ready for the return. Many players delay and use gimmicks to confuse you.
SPIEGEL: Including Becker?
EDBERG: Becker has tried different things on different occasions. That's just his style, the question is simply if you want to be professional and fair. The two go together.
SPIEGEL: Even in professional sports, the idea of fair play seems just a little old fashioned.
EDBERG: But we need fairness, because without it it’s not sport. In the end, the idea of sport is about being able to compete within the rules.
SPIEGEL: Imagine: in the Wimbledon quarter-final against Becker, it’s 4-4 in the fifth set, and the umpire makes a wrong decision in your favor. Would you correct it?
EDBERG: Probably not. I let the umpires do their job.
SPIEGEL: The German Alexander Radulescu has done it this year against MaliVai Washington, and lost.
EDBERG: Nice of him. You know, I've already decided in 1988, to limit myself to my job. Everything else distracts me.
SPIEGEL: What happened then?
EDBERG: I played in Cincinnati against Mats Wilander, and the umpires were terrible. So we started giving points to each others, and at the end it was about anything else. It was funny and grotesque, but I lost the match because of that.
SPIEGEL: Is nothing more important than winning?
EDBERG: Yes. The biggest part of my life was to win tennis matches. Tennis was only just a fun thing, then a job, my job, and then my vocation. At 16, I realized what options I had. Tennis made me proud and led me into the world.
SPIEGEL: How do you like the development of your sport?
EDBERG: Tennis is relatively clean. But recently we had turbulence.
SPIEGEL: That's nice words. Critics of the game say it is too fast and too monotonous.
EDBERG: Progress comes to sport. If we ban the modern racquets, we have complaints from racquet companies. If we no longer allow two serves, but only one, we have horrible tennis on windy days.
EDBERG: Slower carpets, slow balls at Wimbledon, small interventions. The net could be raised by a few inches to slow the first serve.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps all of the problems have something to do with the pros. The players seem interchangeable.
EDBERG: Tennis has always been a sport of personalities. Now we have less of them than before.
EDBERG: It's simple: the sport has become so incredibly professional, that the players think they lose their concentration and the match if they get distracted, that's why some seem so insignificant. And the rules are strict. Everything is prescribed. When we say a curse word, somewhere there is a microphone, and then the newspapers roll over: "Bad guy, bad guy". Nobody can be happy to be publicly killed.
SPIEGEL: We are all surprised of the elegant and always charming Stefan Edberg, who never said a bad word...
EDBERG: ...I did constantly, but only very quietly...
SPIEGEL: ...A player like John McEnroe mourns.
EDBERG: I’ve loved to watch McEnroe. It was fascinating, and he was brilliant. We even talked about it in the locker room: "Did you see McEnroe yesterday?". Secretly I longed to be so as well. But I was just always calm and measured.
SPIEGEL: Doesn’t the game live on the clash of good versus evil?
EDBERG: It needs this duel of calm and smart against the wild and crazy, even if the image has nothing to do with reality. Without these poles nobody wants to sit and watch: Borg was good, Connors evil, Lendl was good, McEnroe evil. These players have made the game big for us, they have caused the boom.
SPIEGEL: Edberg and Becker was good against evil.
EDBERG: People thought so.
SPIEGEL: And now there is Pete Sampras and no opponent.
EDBERG: That's the problem. There was Agassi, but actually that was more of a PR campaign that only worked for a year. New players come and go, and only Sampras remains unmatched. Some people find it boring.
SPIEGEL: Is Sampras your worthy successor?
EDBERG: Of course, he's probably the best tennis player of all time. He also plays very powerful and very elegant.
SPIEGEL: And, like you did, almost emotionless.
EDBERG: I believe that it is important to keep a poker face.
SPIEGEL: The world chess champion Anatoly Karpov compares your style of play with his.
EDBERG: He's right. I'm cold and I try to outmaneuver my opponent. It's all strategy, and I try to anticipate what the other does.
SPIEGEL: Your colleague Thomas Muster enjoys it when his opponent suffers from cramps and sinks to the bottom.
EDBERG: I will just focus on me. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having everything under total control. Whether the other crashes or not, I do not care as long as I win the point.
SPIEGEL: What was your most bitter defeat?
EDBERG: Paris 1989, but only in retrospect. Back then, I played a great tournament and in the final against Michael Chang I was 2 sets to 1 up and lost.
SPIEGEL: The opportunity never came back.
EDBERG: Yes, it was my only big chance in Paris.
SPIEGEL: You should not quit.
EDBERG: Yes, I have to. You know, a lot of players have to quit because of injuries, others because their placement on the world ranking gets worse and worse. Many come back too late and many too soon - then try a pathetic comeback later, because they need money or can not get away from the tickling.
SPIEGEL: Like Borg.
EDBERG: I will never go on like this. You have no chance to come back, no matter who you are and what you have achieved. You never have two chances.
SPIEGEL: So why did you stop?
EDBERG: Because I finally realized that I will never again reach the level I played for five or six years. The results no longer meet my standard. What’s the use, then, of playing poorly and losing against players I shouldn’t lose against?
SPIEGEL: When did you become aware of that?
EDBERG: Of course, at Wimbledon, 1995. I played on a side court against the Belgian Dick Norman, whom I had never seen before. It only took a half hour, I had no time to think. He shot me easily with his serve, and then I had enough. I was left with a question mark in my mind: what I was doing, what was that all about?
SPIEGEL: You are still good enough to have fun on the tour.
EDBERG: I am indeed. I'm pretty healthy, I play tennis fairly, so I decided in 1995 to play even just a year. To go to Wimbledon again, again to Flushing Meadows, to win the Davis Cup again, hopefully. It can give it a little more fun. Then it's time to go.
SPIEGEL: Does it make you sad to see that Becker is still right at the top and wins tournaments?
EDBERG: No, why should it? He's always been different. I slowly came to the top, remained for long at the top and slid slowly. Boris came out of nowhere and had ups and downs ever since. With him there were also three years in which he has not achieved much in major tournaments.
SPIEGEL: The German Davis Cup coach Niki Pilic says Becker had stayed up longer because he had repeatedly changed his game and matched the younger, while you have remained faithful to your old style.
EDBERG: Oh, I do not know. I just play serve-and-volley and am very dependent on my body because I have to move very quickly. I always had to work harder than him and I can feel it now: at the US Open I played well, but in the quarter-finals, I had so much pain in the Achilles tendon, that I could hardly walk. Boris can sometimes rely on his huge serve and get away with easy points.
SPIEGEL: Is your style outdated?
EDBERG: A bit dated, yes. The young guys stand at the baseline and hit the ball over with brute power to me when I'm standing at the net. My era is over.
SPIEGEL: How long will Boris Becker keep up?
EDBERG: Not very long. It is also more difficult for him.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Edberg, thank you for this interview.
The Swede Stefan Edberg, 30, won 41 Grand Prix tournaments, twice in Wimbledon and at the US Open in New York. He spent 72 weeks at number one in the world rankings. He settled years ago in London. He likes "the aristocratic" at Wimbledon and the British understanding of sports: he distinguished himself as the fair and silent professional tennis player for twelve years in the world rankings. After the Davis Cup final at the end of November he will retire; this week he plays the tournament in Stuttgart on German soil. In the future, Edberg will work for his sponsor Adidas and occasionally play in the Senior tournaments.
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