from Tennis en español
by Stan Smith
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
STEFAN EDBERG comes from the old school, whose philosophy can be summarized as follows: "Fight as tenaciously as you can, as long as you can, in every game, but always behave like a gentleman. And when you finish, congratulate your opponent for the match well played, no matter if you won or lost, and move on to the next game or the next stage of your life."
Now that Edberg goes to the next stage of his life, after tennis, there is much to learn from his character and his game. He was a smart player, an athlete with class. Of his character, we learn that in order to win it’s not necessary to disturb your opponent or the officials, or the spectators. To be a champion, there is no need for bodyguards, advertising agent or private jet, or to constantly be in the focus of attention. You just need to be yourself and not try to be something or someone you are not.
Regarding Edberg’s game, in the following pages we’ll discuss in detail what you can learn from the art of his most admired shots: the forehand volley, the backhand one, the serve, the backhand and approach shot.
When I looked at the pictures that illustrate this note, I noticed a feature of his technique that stands out among all: Edberg played his tennis with the same balance with which he lived his life.
FOREHAND VOLLEY: Hit with the leg up
His excellent legs allow good balance. Edberg's thighs are very strong and do all the work here. The torso is almost erect and calm, the head is still, no shakes or wobbles. The arms and legs will balance each other to perfection, right arm forward, right leg backward and vice versa on the left side. The eyes are on the ball, the racquet is well forward, with the head slightly above the wrist to achieve strength.
The balanced position allows preparation for the following shot. This first volley is a perfect example of one of Edberg’s trademarks. Then he will continue to the net.
BALL TOSS: End it with the arm fully extended
There's something to learn from this picture: the left foot is parallel to the bottom line (total spin of the body), the knees are bent (it’s vital for the power), the hips are rotated in the opponent’s opposite direction, his back is extremely bent (perhaps too much for his health, but that's why he has such an effective serve), the shoulders have rotated so much that Edberg gives his back to his opponent, always head up, eyes on the ball and the tossing arm fully extended, fingers straight. This means he didn’t toss the ball randomly, without control.
END OF SERVING ACTION: Pull yourself up and into the court
Edberg comes to give a tremendous acceleration of the racket head, because all parts of his body drive upwards to impact the ball. The hitting arm has finished its bursting movement upwards, which is the important part of the swing, and now just accompanies naturally. The left foot is the first to land on the court, but now points forward to allow him to follow his serve to the net. Still, the head is up and focused and doesn’t look up or down to the ground. This is an effective serve and Edberg has got one of the best. Use it like him to take time to get to the net on the first or second serve.
IMPACT OF BACKHAND: Low with the legs for a low backhand
Again, the legs are the key here, and again the result is a great balance. Edberg shows excellent knee bending, the left knee almost touches the ground. This allows the torso to remain nearly erect and in perfect balance. Although the head of the racquet is under the ball (because it will hit with topspin), Edberg holds the 90 degree angle between his arm and the racquet, which is a very strong position. When you impact the ball, the left arm will go back and shoulders remain profiled. This results in balance and power, because the racquet head accelerates forward, almost like a whip.
BACKHAND ACTION: Do not hesitate
Here Edberg has hit a backhand passing shot on the run, a shot to win or die that is one of his best. Note that the racquet arm is high (because he has hit with much top spin) and the nondominant arm is low: they form a straight line, almost like a dancer or a skater. Again, the head is erect and the torso fixed, to achieve a perfect balance. The shoulders are still sideways, aligned with the target, even at the end of a very full accompanying action. You have to acquire courage and confindence to perform a passing shot so loosely.
APPROACH SHOT: Ready to come forward
Here Edberg prepares for an approach shot from just inside the baseline. He already moved his weight to the front leg, although the ball has not arrived yet. Again, balance is the key: upright, fixed torso, head still. The eyes are on the ball.
Notice the right arm bent. This is ideal, because it allows you to straighten and accelerate to hit the ball. Like Edberg, you should be profiled to the net. If placed in front of the net, you will end up to hit the ball obliquely and cutting it, and your approach shot will float in the air.
APPROACH SHOT AT THE POINT OF CONTACT: “Paso carioca”
The footwork in which the back foot crosses behind the front one during the shot as exemplified here by Edberg is called "paso carioca". This footwork helps the body stay profiled during the stroke while you bend towards the ball and gives you momentum and power with very little effort.
Notice that the hitting arm has straightened for the shot and the left arm is starting to recede, to maintain balance and allow the explosive acceleration of the racquet head.
Edberg’s position over the ball indicates that he made a classic underspin approach shot with a low bounce.
BACKHAND VOLLEY: Advance to end the rally
This is a second or a third volley. Edberg has constructed the point and has advanced to the net to close it. Arm and legs are balanced beautifully, the head is upright, the balance is unbelieveable. Perhaps that’s why Edberg never had so many injuries. The racquet head is above the wrist in a strong position, although Edberg is in full stretch. And more importantly, he has advanced and shaped to finish the volley.
Adopt the style of play that best suits your personality
Knowing Edberg, in this picture he has just hit a winner in a crucial point in Wimbledon, probably in the fifth set of a semifinal or final. This shows that, although he looks generally calm and has a well deserved reputation for a perfect athlete, he has always kept fire burning fiercely inside of him, which comes to light in great occasions during critical moments. This aggressiveness is reflected in his style of play.
You may have noticed that Edberg never stands completely still. He always moves back and forth like a panther, ready to pounce on its victim, as soon as it shows a weakness. He always wants to pressure the opponent.
If you are really quiet and conservative by nature, you can be a counterpuncher and wait for the opponent to make mistakes. But Edberg, win or lose, always wanted to control what was happening in the match, from here his attacking style of serve-and-volley. Like him, you should play the way that best suits your character.
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