by Enrico Schiavina
contributed by Martina Frammartino
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
BENGT EDBERG, a 61 year old retired and separated from his wife policeman, has had a great passion for over twenty years: collecting photographs, newspaper clippings and all kinds of souvenirs about his son’s tennis career. The first historical relic in Mr. Bengt’s collection is a clipping from his home town local newspaper, "Vastervik Tidningen", a short article with photo on eleven-year-old Stefan Edberg’s victory in a small junior tournament. From that day on, at his home at 12 Grytstigen in Vastervik – a small town on the coast in southern Sweden, of which Edberg has become the most popular citizen of all time – Stefan’s father’s collection of sports memorabilia has been enhanced with an authentic mountain of stuff.
The tidy ex-cop has put everything in chronological order obtaining some tremendous albums that, during Christmas time, when Stefan returns to the house he left as a boy, he browses with him retracing the beginning, the first victories, the great triumphs of a fantastic career.
This Christmas, coming to the end of the album, Stefan and dad Bengt will find a little modest year-end balance, for the habits of a player who counts two wins in three of the four Grand Slam events, for a total of 6 “major” titles.
The only tournament win in the season was Madrid, a lower stage, ironically on clay, the surface with whom he has been struggling throughout his career, even when he was at the top.
The challenge to the red dust, the assault on the Roland Garros trophy, the only major title he is missing in his collection, is now the only real gripe of his career.
And certainly the Swede has not renounced to that goal - as did Ivan Lendl, now resigned to retire without ever winning Wimbledon -, must still have a little more hope. Moreover, already once he has come close to the Paris title, in that incredible 1989 final against Chang.
It 's a different Edberg, the one we are seeing lately. Who knows, maybe tennis is really becoming less important in his life, after occupying the first place at the top of his list of interests for at least fifteen years. If having finally married his long-time girlfriend Annette Olsen may not have changed anything in his head, perhaps his first daughter’s birth - Emily, born in London on July 15th - has really turned him into a happy and satisfied dad. "My daughter’s birth was the greatest thrill of my life," in fact he said, and from that day every defeat seems less heavy.
Motivations, hunger for victory, are those which - according to Stefan - turn a good player, also the natural talent, into a champion. And Edberg has always had a lot of motivation, his energy and his determination have always been fierce... Yes, that's right, a fire of desire has always burned inside the Swede, hidden by a cover of coolness and politeness that has kept deceiving many people for a lifetime, to drive into the biggest mistake ever in the judgment of a tennis player. What a great misunderstanding you raised, Stefan: they have always believed you are cold because you didn’t rejoice, they think you are submissive because you don’t burst and don’t complain. Noone ever judged you a fighter, someone even called you “loser” or “rabbit”. Nothing could be more wrong, because Edberg has always had the determination of the winner, he wouldn’t have gone so far without these qualities, even if he has always managed to hide them behind a ice mask.
There are so many episodes in the ten years of his professional career: unlikely comebacks, exhausting standoffs, great performances under pressure, and also in Davis Cup. Recently, then, he had also begun to let himself go: the US Open in '92, his last great victory, was obtained more with determination than with talent, this time externalizing his feelings with attitudes of consumed “fighter”, fists in the air and clenched teeth shown to his opponents.
We would like to see him like that again, and it is not granted it will not happen, because often right the victories obtained in old age (Stefan is only 27, but for today’s tennis he is a super-veteran) are those that more magnify a champion. And, for class and talent, surely Edberg still has the opportunity to obtain great victories.
But Edberg’s image that will remain in the fans’ memory, that will mark tennis history, is likely that of a moderate champion, an elegant and quiet player, as measured in his behavior and public statements as polite towards opponents and umpires (he has won a lot of times the "Sportmanship" award for the fairest tennis player of the season). In short, a player of old times.
Shots of extraordinary elegance on court that - at least for his time – have very few rivals. When it comes to pure talent, John McEnroe’s name always comes out first, then Leconte. Edberg is forgotten, just for his extratennis conduct that has never attracted too much publicity and never made of him a total character, but his backhand and his volleys should be placed in a refrigerator and stored forever to be shown to future generations, as example of style perfection and coordination.
With these qualities he was born, but he also needed to work hard on them, and for all his life. As a junior, when Percy Rosberg – who already discovered a certain Bjorn Borg - saw in him the instinct of the great net player and canceled the typical Swedish two-handed backhand; when he was already on the pro tour to speed up his movements, side to side and back to forth, to become one of the quickest players in the world to take the net; on the mental point of view, to get stronger and stronger, to build nerves of steel and tactical intelligence, letting himself be shaped by Tony Pickard, the English coach who paid his confidence off by taking him to the top of the world.
"I’ll play as long as I’m still willing to work this much, to do all these sacrifices,” he has been saying since a while, and his fans (numerous in Sweden, but especially in England, in the rest of Europe, Australia and Japan, where is a kind of demigod) are already shaking at the idea of a “burn-out”, the typical crisis that has suddenly hit all the great Swedish tennis players.
For now, though limping and forcibly leaving some room for the young lions, his tennis seems to hold up, his body is still intact, his head still free enough from doubt and uncertainty. We shouldn’t expect, we think, poor figures of Stefan Edberg: he is too smart, too pragmatic of a guy – even though behind that indifferent look - not to understand how long playing will still make sense and when, instead, it will be time to call it quits.
Silently, in these years he invested with great caution the immense wealth accumulated with tennis, he bought real estate and grounds in Sweden (in addition to the houses where he lives in London and on the French Riviera), shares, rather than only read sports newspapers he studied economics and finance. In short, he prepared his future, which he has already clear in front of him, a businessman from Sweden successfully transplanted in South Kensington in London, a nice little family, everything you could wish for a quiet life, without any of the problems that have made a hell of certain former champions’ lives after tennis.
The hope is that, in the meantime, his father will have pasted in his memory album the newspaper clippings of many other victories, to browse at Christmas time with Stefan.
Born in Vastervik, a city of 40 thousand inhabitants overlooking the Baltic Sea 200 kilometers from Stockholm, on January 19, 1966. Lives (since 1987) in London, in an apartment in West Kensington, with his wife Annette, married on April 18th 1992 in Vaxjo, and his daughter Emilie, born last July 15th in London. He is the son of a police officer, Bengt, and a housewife, Barbro. He has a brother, Jan, aged 20. He left his studies in 1982 after completing compulsory education. He began playing tennis at Vastervik Tennis Klubb at the age of 7. His first teachers were Sven Bergstein and Percy Rosberg who was also coach of Bjorn Borg. Since 1983, his coach is Britain’s Tony Pickard. Professional since 1983. He is 1.88 meters tall and has a weight of 77 kgs. He is right-handed.
In the ATP rankings he was No. 1 for the first time on August 13th 1990 and for the last time on September 28th 1992 for a total of 72 weeks. Better than him, at the ATP top, only Lendl, Connors, John McEnroe and Borg. He was also number one in the world in doubles (for the first time on June 9th, 1986), like only John McEnroe. In the Grand Prix and ATP Tour he has won, as of the end of October 1993, 39 tournaments and he has been a finalist 33 times in singles. In doubles he has 16 wins and 17 finals to his credit. In Grand Slam he has six wins: Wimbledon '88 and '90, US Open '91 and '92, Australian Open '85 '87. In addition he was 5 times finalist (Australian Open '90, '92 and '93, Paris '89 and Wimbledon '89), 7 times semifinalist (US Open '86 and '87, Wimbledon '87, '91 and '93, Australian Open '88 and '91).
In doubles, teaming up with Jarryd, he won titles at the US Open and at the Australian Open 1987 and was runner up in Paris in '86 and at the US Open in ‘84. He won the title at the Olympic Games when tennis was a demostration sport in Los Angeles 1984, while at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 he won the bronze medal in singles and doubles. He is one of the five players, with Forget, Hlasek, Maciel and Emilio Sanchez, to have participated in the last three Olympics. In Davis Cup as of 1993 his budget marks 24 wins and 11 losses in singles and 11 wins and 8 losses in doubles. He debuted in Bastad on March 13th, 1984 in the tie between Sweden and Paraguay playing doubles alongside Jarryd and was defeated by Pecci-Gonzales 62 86 46 61.
He earned $ 14,371,544 as of October 30th '93 only in prize-money. As a junior he won the under-18 world title in 1983 after winning, only player in the history of the Junior World Ranking, the Junior Grand Slam. He loves golf, basketball, skiing, fast cars and music of Pink Floyd, Genesis, A-Ha and Duran Duran. His favorite actors are Paul Newman and James Dean.
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