from Il Corriere della Sera
by Gaia Piccardi
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
The Swedish ace: "I took my time to say yes: I wanted to make a difference. Now I'm even ready to explain Roger when to quit"
LONDON. Twenty-seven years ago this flowery meadow of strawberries, fruit flies and dreams changed the life of a policeman’s son from Vastervik, Kalmar County, Southern Sweden, a blond guy who played tennis on the clouds, never, absolutely never, mussing his forelock.
Few blades of green survive among Stefan Bengt Edberg’s hair, 50 years old next January 19th, fierce rival of Boris Becker (yesterday we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary since the 17 year old German wunderkind’s thriumph in 1985) whom he beat in two memorable editions of Wimbledon ('88 and ‘90), that were so beautiful, intense and noble that looking back at them hurts a little.
He was at home with Annette, his two teen-age children and some memories of desserts and volleys that combed Church Road’s grasscourts when, in December 2013, the phone rang. "Hello, Roger Federer here: do you want to coach me?”.
And here is, Stefan, to explain in front of a tea cup (in London it’s five o’clock) why the best player of all time will win his eighth Wimbledon title this year, making his legend even stronger (if possible). And why, probably, there's more to come.
Mr. Edberg, do you still shiver crossing the Doherty Gates after so many years?
Yes for sure. The first time I played at Wimbledon I was 17 years old and I had never seen a grass court in my life. However, I hadn’t missed Borg’s five triumphs on the TV: Sweden broadcast nothing but that. I stepped off at the metro station and I walked to the club. The queue, the atmosphere, everything, that green... I was overwhelmed with emotion.
The '88 final with Becker, the first one, was moved to Monday due to rain.
It was a special match. I did not have trouble sleeping on Sunday night, then at lunch I exaggerated, eating too much. I began with a tremendous weight on my stomach, but ended in ecstasy. A match point at Wimbledon is something difficult to explain: 17,000 persons that stop breathing focusing their eyes on you. I wondered: is that happening to me?
Your regret: Paris '89.
Right. I wish I could relive a single point of that final: if I had played crosscourt, if the ball had landed on the line... But Chang was in state of grace: that was his Roland Garros.
Where do you keep your trophies (6 Majors, 42 titles, 4 Davis Cups)?
After moving from London to Vaxjo, the city of my wife, they have remained in boxes. The two Wimbledon plates are at the Hall of Fame in Newport and at the Bastad Museum. A little I miss them, it would be nice to use them to serve sushi for dinner.
Why did a reserved guy like you say yes to a world celebrity?
Roger’s call left me in shock. I asked him a week to decide, we spent it training in Dubai and getting to know one another. I wanted to be sure to make a difference, something he had no doubt about. I thought: when will it happen to me again?
What was the spring?
I see myself in Roger. In his quiet personality, in some ancient gestures.
How do you train Federer? Are you a coach, a motivator, or a guru?
A bit of everything. The work on court is made by Lühti, the Swiss Davis Cup captain. I alone would not be enough. We study the rivals, we look back at the matches, share feelings. What Roger goes through is something that I have some way already experienced myself.
Has tennis changed a lot from the time you played?
Very much, and for the better. The average level has risen, everything has improved: rackets, stadiums, sports popularity. Four tennis players dominated for 10 years. Perhaps the game lacks a little variety: behind the champions, the others tend to look all the same.
Federer has the problem of retiring in style. When did you know it was time to call it quits?
The morning I woke up wanting to go on holiday rather than on court. It's a matter of motivation. At almost 34 Roger has still an intact body, is world n.2, has the desire to play tennis like a kid. Should he ask me to tell him how I hung up the racquet, I will do it. But I think he has already his mind clear: as long as he can fight with the top players, he will go on. Wimbledon is his best chance, but I think he can still win Slams on any surface. I want to and I have to believe it.
Tell me something about Federer we still do not know.
He is as special on court as he is in his everyday life. He is humble, simple, tied with his family, funny. We laugh a lot, or it would be impossible for both to resist in such a competitive sport for so long.
Will tennis survive without his best player?
It is a healthy, wealthy, and loved sport. Even without Federer, the world will keep on spinning. There will be a transition period, that will force us to accept the changes. Then the melancholy will pass and we will start searching for the new Roger Federer.
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