by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer at the 2006 French Open ceremony, their first public meeting
I wanted to write a year-end post, with the wishes for the best 2014 for all of you, as I've always done in recent years, but this time I came too late. Each and every fan had already received the best season greatings by... Stefan Edberg himself. We all know that you have spent a super Christmas time with the news of the last days that Edberg will be Roger Federer's coach (or advisor, mentor, source of inspiration, whatever you may call it....) for the start of this new year.
Isn't it a huge present for all of us, for the dedication we have been following Stefan with in the last twelve years, through this website and all the social networks linked to it?
In the latest days, as the news of the technical partnership took confirmation, I was wondering how many times in the past we had wished for a deeper involvement by Stefan into current tennis. I remember that a poll was published in 2006 on STE...fans, asking the fans which option would be the best for another tennis-related career after his retirement from tennis. Well, "coach of a top-ten player" was the most voted. And now, suddenly, we discover that he has entered the technical staff of the most successful player in the Open Era...
As Roger Federer has started his new season in Brisbane, some fans around the world are already praising his "new offensive attitude", his new quest for the net, the fact he's playing doubles, rating these events as the early effects of the "Edberg treatment". Calm down! The enthusiasm and the expectations are enormous, but Roger Federer himself said several times that the chance of applying a more frequent use of the net must be debated with Edberg and his team, suggesting that the real work with the Swede hasn't started yet.
If some effects on Roger's game are to be seen, it's definitely too early and neither the Australian Open can be a meaningful test.
A poll on a new potential tennis-related career for Edberg published on STE...fans in September 2006
We have read the most different comments on the news by experts and so-called experts. Leaving those simply enthusiastic behind, I would like to discuss a little deeper the skeptical ones, being essentially two:
1) It's all about marketing.
2) It won't work, because Stefan's style is outdated, serve&volley can't be played today and Edberg has got no real coaching experience.
As far as the former, I partly agree: maybe it's not all about public relations, but I find that this sudden revival of the '80s and '90s (we have dedicated a special to it) can't be a coincidence. If at just a few days of distance two of the most popular players of today's game allow into their staff two of the most popular players, and greatest rivals, of twenty years ago, the idea that a sort of endorsement by the governing bodies of men's tennis is behind it may not be so far from the truth. Remember that Federer is the president of the ATP Players' Council and he has publicly stated recently that involving the legends of the game is positive for the Tour. And besides, neither Djokovic or Federer have radically changed their teams to make room for the new coaches. Becker will be Djokovic's head coach, but Marian Vajda is still there and so is Severin Luthi with Roger.
The need for some changes in today's tennis and the regret for the higher style variety of the '80s - '90s Golden Generation have become increasingly popular factors among the audience. Maybe the three-shot-rally tennis was not so enjoyable to watch, but, equally, not all the fans (and the media) are happy if every Grand Slam final lasts five or more hours. The rivalry between Djokovic and Nadal is not so entertaining as the previous one between Federer and Nadal was and so something must be done to revive interest.
It wouldn't be surprising if a bigger involvement of stars such as Edberg and Becker were the first sign, and the easiest to be perceived by the large crowds, of some high-impact changes that would come up in the next few months, starting with a slight speeding up of the surfaces. Not like getting back to roots, but...
Edberg is not a novice
On the other hand, if icons like Edberg and Becker are taken back to the stage, I would expect them to actually try and make something to leave a trace. About Stefan, when I read of people talking of him as an old crazy man regretting his good times gone and wishing for them to come back, I am always amazed. These people really think that Stefan would sit in front of Roger Federer and start a conversation like this: "Man, you've got it all wrong so far... Why don't you kick your serve out wide and take the net every time against Nadal? If you had done this way in the past, your record against him wouldn't have been so bad and you would have won at least three French Open titles...".
They seem to forget that Stefan may not have a real coaching experience, but has got a huge knowledge of the game. He was not just someone who came to the net and got his way because twenty years ago his opponents were bad passers. He was a master in taking time away from his opponent, turning defense into attack when his rival took the initiative and possibly the best performer of the approach shots ever seen.
I very much agree with Marco Mazzoni (we shared his editorial about the Fedberg duo yesterday) when he writes that these aspects have been Federer's weaknesses throughout his career. Even though Roger has got all the technique to approach the net in a classical way, making a good use of a deep sliced backhand (since, in my humble opinion, he is technically speaking by far the most complete man who has ever played the game), he hasn't done it exploiting his full potential in the past.
His raise to the net has many times been quite erratic, his position at the net hasn't always been the best (as it may sound strange, I think Nadal has got a better sense of the net position than Federer has). So what? Does it look so weird if Federer asks for some help by the best all-time specialist in the field, now that making rallies shorter could maybe be the only way for him to keep competing at the highest level?
We do not know where this combination could ever lead. There are too many variables and that's also what makes it so interesting, but I really find it hard to imagine a less than positive outcome.
Edberg has got nothing to lose from this partnership. He hasn't got a reputation as a coach and, in the end, he's not Federer's coach. He has been called in to give some advise by a great player in the last stage of his career. It's an ultimate attempt to stay competitive at the highest level for a couple of more years: nobody could ever accuse Federer if this attempt fails, nobody could ever accuse Edberg for coming in and trying.
On the other hand, try to imagine if Federer should ever actually prove that a reasonable use of an attacking style could still be successful, as Stefan has been saying for years now. It could have an impact on tennis evolution, on the mindset of the new generations. Stefan's stature and place in tennis history can only come out stronger.
There's another aspect that has not been fairly highlighted so far. In his famous interview with the Basler Zeitung, made a few hours before the official announcement, asked about what impressed him the most of Edberg, Federer replied: «He has a positive attitude and joy for life and this is important to me». This is not a quality you can underestimate, when you're talking about someone giving advise to a great champion. If Federer doesn't need a teacher to explain him what he has to do from a technical point of view, the presence of a high profile figure, capable of sending him good vibrations in this stage of his career, when defeats will inevitably increase, may be crucial.
12 weeks of fame...
We just have to sit back and enjoy the show. In the meantime, the first good consequence of this combination has been the growth of popularity for our website. Clearly it broke though in the Roger Federer fan community, which is simply huge and, consequently, captured lots of new fans among a different generation of tennis followers. Our Twitter interactions have boomed, we recorded 13,985 website visits in December, 1,612 only on Saturday 28th. These two are by far our monthly and daily records lifetime. It took us nearly 10 months to pass from 15,000 to 16,000 fans on our Facebook page, just 6 to gain a thousand more fans and reach the 17,000 quota. Right now, the page is growing of some 100 fans a day and, at this pace, it's not unrealistic to think that it may rich 20,000 fans before the announced 10-12 weeks of the Fedberg partnership have come to an end. That's outstanding!
By the way, I want to thank those fans who linked STE...fans on Roger Federer's official website's forum, praising it as a balanced source of information and wishing that something similar could be created for Federer, once he leaves the Tour in the future.
On the other hand, we have received complaints by a few of the old fans, stating we have dedicated too much room to Federer in recent days and "who was an Edberg fan is not necessarily a fan of Roger Federer".
While this view is perfectly understandable (and we're happy to know that there are fans who would follow Edberg with or without Federer), we don't see how this website, that for years has been collecting and translating news from almost unknown Swedish pages (among the others), could ever ignore the fact that suddenly a former world number one and one of the all time greats has chosen Stefan Edberg as part of his coaching staff.
We will keep on sharing old stories and clippings, news about Stefan Edberg's activities in finance, as well as reports of senior exhibitions and all the other things you have seen and appreciated in the past twelve years. But, as long as the Edberg-Federer project goes on, and even after it, whatever Roger Federer says about Stefan Edberg is for our website, Facebook page, Twitter and Youtube account a matter of primary importance and interest. So much that we have decided to create a news section called "Fedberg".
Happy New Year!
- Stefan Edberg & Tony Pickard Mr Class and his teacher
- "Federer should skip the claycourt season," says former coach Edberg
- "Federer is exceptional, but tennis needs a new name too"
- "I am a happy person"
- Federer criticizes young players: "I wish they volleyed more"
- Edberg to join Federer at Melbourne
- Stefan Edberg can have a great effect on Federer's game
- Dream Final: Edberg vs Becker
- "I was surprised when Federer got in"
- Nadal prefers continuity to celebrity
- Federer & Edberg: the meaning of a challenge
- «A source of inspiration»
- Roger Federer looks for new angles with Stefan Edberg
- Federer and the "certified pre-owned"
- And now, Federer-Edberg!