from The New York Times
by Robin Finn
Stefan Edberg, the world's new No. 1 tennis player and for the longest time the most prolific shrinking violet on the men's tour, swiveled and swayed on the first tee of the Fresh Meadows Country Club last week as he got set to play host to a celebrity golf tournament.
Edberg, who had never before been an emcee and appeared on the verge of having second thoughts about this debut, looked as if he were seeing a ghost and not a green on the horizon. But there he was, with a nervous smile plastered to his face, three television networks in tow, and more than $50,000 to be raised for a children's charity at North Shore Hospital.
"When you're the best in the world, there's nowhere to hide," said Edberg's agent, Ivan Blumberg, who has been tempted to do a doubletake while watching this most reticent and uncontroversial of sports stars make a slow, smooth segue into tennis's most visible role.
"But if winning Wimbledon and becoming No. 1 in the world doesn't make a person confident, not much will," Blumberg said.
Edberg has slipped into the role of the world's No. 1 player and found that it fits him like a pair of pajamas. He is, for the first time in his professional life, completely comfortable with himself. Encountering nothing in the mirror to inspire pessimism, he is taking a novel turn at being his own biggest fan. His tennis and his brow are wrinkle-free. Even the limelight seems less intrusive.
At selective moments, he has let down his guard, made a spontaneous quip, allowed a smile to crack the stony exterior his longtime coach, Tony Pickard, calls "the mask." He has won $1.1 million this year, and is the top-seeded player in the United States Open, which begins today, and his stint as king of the mountain has already brought a new perspective: all those aggravations of tennis celebrity that once cut into him like so many voodoo pins - the promotions, the autograph sessions, the handshakes, the chitchat, the interviews seem manageable now. He'll never be a backslapper or a soul-barer, but he has discovered that he doesn't have to turn his back on the public after match point in order to relax.
"Maybe I didn't believe in myself enough before," he said of his altered outlook. "I'm not trying to create a new image for myself, I always try and keep it simple, but I am learning how to enjoy certain things a little more."
Which is not to say that Edberg, who describes himself as a "worrier," has turned juggernaut overnight.
For Edberg, the prospect of making a public display of his golf skills was so daunting that he went off to Hilton Head for a crash course in making par. On the rainy day before it, still anxious about his swing, he needled Pickard about accompanying him to a driving range each time there was the merest pause in the showers. Pickard, however, wasn't about to let his protege catch pneumonia in pursuit of a pretty tee shot.
So when his moment on the tee finally arrived, Edberg, with the same furrowed brow he takes onto the tennis court, promptly shanked his drive out of bounds and out of sight over a nearby roof; all that was missing from the moment was the tinkle of breaking glass. But the emcee didn't falter and didn't fail his foursome; he didn't smile, either, but gaping grins aren't Edberg's style.
"I'm not out there to smile" is an Edberg-ism that crops up often in post-victory news conferences.
Edberg also didn't try to snap his driver over his knee: the only time he ever attempted to inflict harm on a tennis racquet, it refused to break.
"I was 13 or 14 and I lost a match and got so mad I took my aluminum racquet and smashed it against a concrete wall, but it didn't hurt it," said Edberg. He then tried, unsuccessfully, to drown the racquet in the shower.
This time he calmly palmed the ball tossed to him by his companion, Annette Olsen, and peppered his second attempt straight down the fairway to a smattering of applause.
"We were playing a scramble format, but we actually used a few of my shots later on," he said the other day at the Norstar Hamlet Challenge, where he assumed a more familiar role as the top-seeded player in a tournament he won yesterday. "I was supposed to enjoy hosting the golf, and I really did," he said, sounding somewhat surprised.
Being No. 1, besides coming as an immense relief, has brought its attendant obligations, none of them favorable to a player with the personal habits of a recluse and the on-court manner of a vaudeville straight man.
"It's like when you're playing cards and you don't want anybody to know what you're thinking, it's keeping your poker face," he said with a smirk of contentment at producing an adroit metaphor.
In the past, the 24-year-old Swede labored to stay away from the limelight, playing out his own version of tennis's J. D. Salinger.
"I don't want people knowing everything about me," said Edberg, whose home base is a London penthouse where Olsen keeps things orderly and does the cooking when even a trip to a restaurant seems like too big a concession. "I'm not out to create an image for myself; I like to keep things simple."
Edberg admits he doesn't clean, doesn't like clutter, and only cooks under duress. He would rather play a round of golf or squash, or take in a movie, than linger over a meal.
He likes London because his neighbors don't pry and still takes the tube there because he has a notorious impatience with city traffic; his most riveting anxiety about the United States Open is the potential for becoming mired in a traffic jam.
"Back in the town where I grew up, I could ride my bike every place I needed to go," said the son of a Vastervik policeman who used the family home as collateral in order to keep his son in tennis lessons. "And if you don't know somebody, they don't strike up a conversation with you. I'm always a little discreet, a little shy.
"It's a little bit of the Swedish mentality; it's hard to explain, but everything is so dark there for so much of the year, and people tend to close themselves in. It's gotten so that it's hard for me to go back there in the wintertime."
When he wants virtual anonymity, Edberg said, he repairs to his vacation house in the south of France.
But Edberg, a man who guards his privacy like a turtle and has never been accused of overconfidence, has undergone an inner transformation of sorts since taking Ivan Lendl's title away. "He'll never be a flashy guy, but he's become a very confident guy," Blumberg said.
"He has this aura about him," said Pickard, who has tutored Edberg for the last six years. "There's a confidence about him that really wasn't there before. Whether he'll handle the pressures of being No. 1 isn't even a concern to me: this is an intelligent young man, and yes, he's introverted, but there's nothing wrong with that. He has an overwhelming desire to succeed, and he knows how fortunate he is: whenever he's grumbled along the way, I've told him he could be punching washers in a factory someplace, and that truth hit home." The night Edberg fulfilled his singular ambition of becoming the No. 1 tennis player in the world by defeating Michael Chang in a quarterfinal match in Cincinnati, he didn't celebrate. No jumps for joy, no uncorking of sparkling wines or emotions, no Tarzanish chest-pounding.
Instead, Edberg raised his blond eyebrows and termed his new perch "interesting." Then Edberg duly ate his pre-semifinals pasta, checked his racquets for kinks, and got to bed on time.
Not until two days later, after winning his third tournament in a row and accumulating a career-best 17-0 winning streak, did Edberg allow himself the luxury of a brief wallow in self-congratulation.
"Then we went out and popped a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon, not too bad," he said, glowing a bit at the memory of an uninhibited evening in an otherwise unyielding schedule. "I wanted to wait until I had won the tournament to celebrate: I want to do the things that will keep me No. 1. I've been waiting to get there for a long time."
Edberg has been a top-five player since 1985, but until this month, his best ranking had come in 1987, when he was runner-up to Lendl.
Last year was a disconcerting one for the serve-and-volley specialist: he failed in two Grand Slam finals and faltered in the finals of five other major events. His personal life was unsettled, which intruded on his concentration on the court. He left too many tennis courts on a losing note, and the ensuing disappointment intruded on his private life.
"I had things on my mind that threw me off my tennis; I couldn't put it together," he said. "There was something missing, and I kept asking myself, 'Why don't I win one of these?' It's a strange life that you live as a tennis player, you have to be a little selfish, and what keeps me going in this sport is the great feeling of winning a tournament, of leaving a place without losing a match."
Edberg and Pickard regrouped after Edberg, playing like a victim of shellshock, was defeated by Jimmy Connors in straight sets in the Round of 16 at the United States Open.
"He was only focusing for so long and then, in the finals, it tended to disappear; we decided to go back to work and put things right at the Masters," said Pickard. Edberg defeated both Lendl and Boris Becker en route to that title and went to the final of the 1990 Australian Open before a torn stomach muscle forced him to default the match against Lendl.
By the French Open, both Edberg and Becker were within striking distance of Lendl's No. 1 spot, but both lost in the first round. Edberg, after absorbing a tongue-lashing from Pickard, left for England that same afternoon to begin preparing for Wimbledon. There, he played a brand of tennis so inspired that he ripped off his shirt and flung it into the stands after defeating Becker in five sets.
"Some things are just meant to be; it's like they're written before they happen," said Becker last week from the Hamlet, "and that's how it was for Stefan on that day."
The day after Wimbledon, Pickard and Edberg began plotting the strategy that would make the Swede No. 1 by midsummer. "I told him he'd had two chances before and blown them, and that this could be his third strike," said Pickard, who Edberg terms "the tough guy" in their partnership. "But he worked hard for this; he did everything right, just the way we planned. Now the plan is to consolidate and stay there."
While Pickard stands sentry for Edberg's ranking, he'll also be making certain that this new Edberg, the celebrity emcee the talk shows have begun clamoring for, continues to be well-served by his hankering for privacy.
"Sometimes I can be too nice," Edberg said, "and if you're too nice in this sport you're going to get hammered, and I'm talking about off the court, not on it."
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