by Andrej Antic
contributed by La Zingara
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
The silent player from Västervik was his nickname. But with tennismagazin Stefan Edberg had a lot to say: about his game, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, his rivalry with Boris Becker and the euro.
A meeting with Stefan Edberg is first of all a trip down memory lane. You have to think of a fabulous serve and volley player, the duels against Boris Becker at Wimbledon and a fair and always friendly sportsman. Nice, the Swede is still, as we meet him in the lounge of the Wald Hotel in Stuttgart. In the evening he plays a show match against Goran Ivanisevic at the inauguration of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (see page 90). "The hip tweaks a little, I can not serve so good," he says a few hours later, when he wins the match, but it's hardly noticeable. After the interview with tennismagazin he goes to his room and takes his Wilson Pro Staff Six.One racquet with a worn leather grip. We have asked him in the hotel to give us a demonstration of his shots. "No problem," Edberg says, and conjures a few volleys in jeans and with a Retro sports jacket.
Mr. Edberg, you look in top shape. Do you still play often?
Yes, I try to play three times a week for 45 minutes. I think I still hit the ball quite well.
Your younger compatriots are not hitting that well. Do you know where the best Swede is currently ranked?
At 400. His name is Patrik Rosenholm.
He's exactly at place 391. What is actually happening in Swedish tennis?
Hard to say. There are many sports, competing with tennis. We have still tennis courts, built in the course of Björn Borg's boom. They are usually crowded. Previously, a court was enough for two or three talents, today four or five share a court, at the expense of quality. Sponsors have also become more difficult to find. We have lost the momentum. What I think is positive: there are a few strong 17-year-old guys. I see a chance that they can make room in the top 50. But it may take some years.
Are you involved in Swedish tennis?
For years I have done little. There was the Stefan Edberg Foundation, which grants scholarships to young talents. That was it. After ending my career I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family. But since August of last year I became active again. Together with Magnus Larsson and Carl Axel Hageskog, our former Davis Cup captain, I have founded an academy near Växjö. It is called "Ready Play". We have partnerships with the Växjö University and with local clubs, once a month they send players to us in our center. Our main goal, however, is to train coaches. For a young player it can be as well - without a
good leader he might not breakthrough on the tour. I personally have great fun training with junior players.
Are you still thinking often of the old days, when Sweden was a great tennis nation?
Honestly, I'm not the guy who looks back. Sure, it was a fantastic era. There were golden times with Mats Wilander, Joakim Nyström, Anders Järryd. Henrik Sundström and me. We were really friends, which I think doesn't happen on the tour today. We traveled together, always had someone with whom we could talk. When we went to the place we were rivals. However we have respected each other. With this team spirit we grew up, we have been brought up.
You were the perfect serve and volley player. Explain how it came to match your playing style.
I had a coach in Västervik, my home town. He was himself a serve and volley specialist. So, when I was twelve years old I already practiced the net game more than the other children. I always wanted to quickly end the point. I used to hit a good forehand and stormed forward. As I got older, my kick serve became particularly effective on clay. So I have won many matches. I was pretty quick in moving forward. From the baseline, I was not so sparkling. Serve and volley, that was my game. So I always wanted to play. For me it was natural.
Did your parents play?
No. I do not know how I came to tennis. I've played hockey, football. Then suddenly tennis became popular. I wanted to try it once. Fortunately, I was pretty good pretty quickly. Tennis suited me, more than any other sport.
About your forehand, it was always despised.
The forehand was my weaker side, but it wasn't as bad as many thought. I used to take the ball early in order to come forward. In my own service games I hardly needed it. That's why I never thought much about it. I might have needed to work harder on my forehand. Meanwhile I suggest you something different. I slightly changed the height of my grip and the swing is also new. My forehand is definitely better today.
When was your first meeting with Bjorn Borg instead?
I was 16 and the Swedish Federation invited the best juniors to practice with him. They said: "Each of you will have 30 minutes to exchange with him". Björn wanted match games. What I can remember is that I had to run incredibly much. And Björn expected that we played fast. Once a rally was completed, it was necessary to be ready for the following one. Later on I had to think about training with Björn.
Were you nervous?
Not so much. I saw it as an opportunity of playing against one of the greatest and to show what I could do. When we were done, he said a few words to me. But I no longer remember what.
Back to your playing. Aren't you sorry that today hardly anyone is playing serve and volley?
It is true. Serve and volley is dead unfortunately, today it is also much harder to play this way. The professionals return hard, the courts are slower, the balls softer. The associations have made life hard for the attackers. The outcome is: players are no longer used to it. Coaches don't encourage this style. It would be an advantage if you had these skills. It is no longer possible to play serve and volley all the time. However every now and then - say 30 to 70 percent of the rallies - it would be an advantage. The receiver would have problems. For them, it is now much easier to return a first serve because they know that noone will follow it. They have time, they can also block the ball. But if someone attacks them, they are under pressure.
Have you got a few simple tips on the volley for our readers?
Use the same grip for forehand and backhand, short swing to hit the ball in front of your body - but this is probably what also every coach would say.
Your 16 year old son Christopher plays tennis. Does he play serve and volley?
No, his style can not be compared with mine. He moves on the court quite differently from me. He has a two-handed backhand. The problem with serve and volley is: it takes a long time to learn it. You have to start at a young age so you must react quickly. It takes experience and it is very tiring, even if the rallies are shorter.
Could Roger Federer play serve and volley?
Yes. He has all the prerequisites. He's older now and it might help him. I think he would be successful if he went two to three times to the net, out of ten points. But he must also be ready for it in his head. I think he is being resisted.
Talking about Wimbledon, do you still like to go there?
When I lived in London, I was there every year, not so often in the past ten years. But last year I was there and I will come again this year. The club looks completely different than it was then. But it is still fantastic, a great place to meet old friends.
Between 1988 and 1990 you met Boris Becker three times in the final. What do you think today about this rivalry?
Boris and I had been playing against each other as juniors. Our duel has benefited both of us. We were the boys who fought against the Lendls and McEnroes and we have then assumed command. Boris was a difficult opponent. He could incredibly lift his level of play in a match. Unfortunately, he has always played very well against me and won more often than I did. However, do you know what's remarkable? We met each other at Grand Slam tournaments only four times. Today's stars, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, meet in each semifinal.
Have you envied Boris because he was more in the focus of attention?
Not at all. I would have never changed my lifestyle with his. Becker was a hero, like Borg. He came out of nowhere. I enjoyed doing my things in the background. I had a lot less pressure.
What do you do today if you do not play tennis?
I am a partner in an investment firm, I bought a property, follow the financial markets. Currently, I am very glad that we did not have the euro in Sweden. From time to time I invest in new projects - but with very little risk. Quite differently from tennis, where my motto was always: full risk.
- Book on history of Swedish tennis available in English
- Stefan Edberg & Tony Pickard Mr Class and his teacher
- "I am a happy person"
- Federer criticizes young players: "I wish they volleyed more"
- Edberg and Järryd defeated in Båstad doubles exhibition
- Our very special birthday wish to Stefan
- Stefan Edberg: Andy Murray made the right decision
- "It's nice to tell your kids you were number one..."
- Stefan Edberg back to the Ostkustens Pärla
- Stefan Edberg says Murray can win Wimbledon again
- Stefan interviewed by the BBC
- Edberg: from dream to reality
- Stefan talks about his passive arena in Växjö
- «He's one of the smartest players I have seen»
- On the ball in the Western Algarve