by Linus Sunnervik
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
Stefan Edberg, 50, still believes and hopes for Roger Federer to win yet another Grand Slam title. For Sport Expressen the tennis legend talks about his support to his former protégé, his faith in the future of Swedish tennis and his view of tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios. “It’s with mixed feelings that I see him,” said Edberg.
For twenty years six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg has given back to Swedish tennis through his foundation. Each year, he has praised the four more promising Swedish juniors - a guy and a girl of the 14-year-old class (SEK 25,000 each) and 16-year-old class (SEK 50,000 each), with a check from the Edberg Foundation.
The winners are determined by a point system based on results in the Swedish Junior Championships, SALK Open and Bastad Open.
“The idea is to give juniors the same opportunity I had in my time. It is very costly to go out and play. Sure you can write a check and say 'Here you are', but this feels more right and more long term. We can reach much greater targets,” said Edberg.
What differences do you see for juniors in today's tennis compared to when you played?
“The average age of the top 100 players today is about 27. When I played it stood at 23-24 and a player could break through when he was 17-19 years old. Today it has changed so much that one can not become competitive before 21-22. These years are very costly for juniors, and you must be very good to remain around.”
Edberg says himself that his confidence grew when he broke through on the Professional Tour as a teenager, and self-belief is the key for today's juniors.
"Swedish tennis is behind"
He anticipates that things are starting to turn for Swedish tennis.
“On the men's side, they probably had their low point. There are slight signs of turning back upwards anyway, and we hope in the Ymer brothers. Elias is on the right track and Michael is right behind him. Now there is hope,” he says.
Edberg believes that there’s need to train smarter at a club level in Swedish tennis.
“I do not think it is about training more, but to coach smarter. If it were as simple as practicing more, it would be easy. Maybe even on the coaching level. I trained very hard at age 16-19. That combined with the contestants,” he says.
“If you look at the number of hours we play in Swedish tennis, we are very far behind many other countries. Plus there is the economic part. You have to get it to go around. We play mainly indoors, and the costs of the indoor halls rise faster than revenues. It's a huge facility that must be heated. In the long run it will be very tough.”
Edberg: “Mixed feelings for Kyrgios”
His name has still got high international status - especially after his comeback on the tour in 2014-2015 as coach of Roger Federer. Moreover, the year’s fairest player on the tour is still rewarded with the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award - a price that Federer has won eleven of the last twelve years.
“It's been pretty easy (laughs). Roger has won it so many times. There might be a surprise this year,” said Edberg.
The prize was named after Stefan Edberg in 1996 - right after he had finished his career.
“Yes, at that time, I was 30 years old... I thought that maybe I should have fallen off the pin first. But today I feel a great pride. Fair play is hugely important both in school, tennis and business.”
What do you feel for tennis next star Nick Kyrgios, who was recently fined because he didn’t give his best?
“I didn’t see anything of him, but just reporting. I see it with mixed feelings. I read that he went a little too far in Shanghai. From the point of view of fair play, it is not good. But from a tennis perspective, it may not be wrong that there is "the good one" and "the bad one". He has character and a hell of a talent nonetheless. I feel both. He stands for something, but it is not always positive.”
"I keep contact with Federer"
He is 21 years old now, how longer can he be overlooked as a "young"?
“You can almost go back and look at John McEnroe. They usually get through that. That said - it is with mixed feelings that I see him play. He gets too far sometimes, but on the other hand it may be interesting for tennis.”
Already this summer Roger Federer put an end to his 2016 season due to a persistent knee injury, but he has planned to make a comeback in 2017. Edberg still keeps in touch with the Swiss.
“I usually talk to him. Not so often, but periodically. We had two fantastic years together.”
Have you supported him and helped him in any way with his injury?
“We usually talk on the phone. We talk about how things are going, I try to understand the situation and give some tips if I can. Sure, we keep in touch. It will be an exciting comeback next year. And at the same time a challenge. He's not as young as before.”
Can he win a Grand Slam title?
“I really thought he would take one over the last few years. I stood for him, and it turned out to be quite close. It is possible that he has still one left. It does not get easier than before. But he has a slight hope, anyway. It would not shock me. If there’s anyone who can do it, it's Roger.”
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