from La Gazzetta dello Sport Magazine
by Iacopo Iandiorio
His class and fair play left the mark, so that the ATP decided to name the Sportsmanship Award after him, a prize he himself won for five times. But the Swede has also been a great for his attitude towards an attack tennis, the one he prefers, that allowed him to win six Grand Slam Championships and three Davis Cups.
It looks like time goes by leaving no trace on him. You see him distinguished and elegant, as always, with his characteristic blonde forelock on his forehead, and it looks as if he's just got off the court. It's true that it's not been so long since Stefan Edberg from Västervick said goodbye to tennis, little more than two years ago. But his athletic appearance, his lynx eye and, most of all, his class, in and off the beloved court, have left unchanged.
He welcomes us with the kindness everybody acknowledged and, in spite of his commitments, he gives us an hour to tell about himself dispassionately.
His balance and fairness left the mark, so that the ATP named the "sportsmanship award" after him, a prize that Stefan won five times in a row. And if you ask him what he would like to be remembered for, he answers peaceful: "For my sportsmanship and my behavior. Besides the victories in Wimbledon".
Interviewer: So, Mr. Edberg, what are you doing today?
Edberg: I'm working in the organization of the Scania Open, a tournament held every year in Stockholm in November. I'm also involved in sponsors commitments with Adidas and Wilson in several happenings. I never play exhibitions, if it's not with kids. Finally, I created a foundation for young tennis players here in Sweden, to help them grow and to support them economically.
Have you ever thought of personally teaching tennis to the young?
No, I haven't. I've already got my family, my financial investments to follow, my commitments. Frankly, I'm not very interested and involved in teaching to kids. I sometimes played with them, not often anyway, in the camps organized by the sponsors.
What if your children want to learn tennis one day?
I don't know. If they want to play I'll do as my parents, I will support them. It will depend on them, I won't force them to play tennis if they don't want to. They'll do what they like, what they most like. There are many other things to do in life.
What sports did you practice as a child?
I played both football and ice-hockey, the most widely spread sports here, but most of all tennis: it was the sport I most liked, also as a child.
What age did you start playing and why?
At about 7, just because I wanted to try another sport, besides football.
Did your parents help you?
Well, my parents have never practiced any physical activity, nothing at all. But I never lacked their support. It was my first coach in my tennis club in Västervick, my home town, to start me to tennis. Not school, where I practiced other sports. Yes, basically I think I started because I had excellent coaches in my club. On the other hand many Swedes started this way.
Then you, the champions, have been good examples for the new generations...
I think so, and I hope this tradition lives on. Currently, we don't have top ten players, but we keep producing good players and we have a great Davis Cup team. And the last triumph in Italy is the proof. There are ups and downs, of course, but I think we'll have good players in the future again.
How could Sweden produce so many champions over the last twenty years?
Actually, also in the past, in the '50s and '60s, we had good players: Sven Davidson, Lennart Bergelin, Ulf Schmidt. Of course, from Borg on we had more consistency. Surely Björn has been the key to the wide spreading of tennis in Sweden; then also Mats, I and the others did our share. I think it's the result of a hard work, not only by the individuals, but also by the tennis clubs, that are very well organized in Sweden and spread everywhere, in order to give everybody a chance. Moreover, playing tennis is not so expensive in Sweden, and, after Borg, the young saw tennis as a profitable sport, from an economic point of view, which can't do any harm.
Didn't you have regrets, after quitting, a couple of years ago?
Absolutely not. I have seriously played tennis for 14 years, I think it's enough. And then I played 'till I was almost 31, a good age to quit. I wanted to leave at a good level. I did it.
Won't you imitate Borg or Wilander, who thought it over and tried to come back?
No, I'm sure I won't.
In the end, you're happy with your choice, aren't you?
Yes, I'm really happy with this decision.
What advice would you give to young tennis players?
I think talent is necessary, to have it is good, but hard work is important. If you have talent but not dedication, you won't break through.
How much time did you train?
Until 16, when I still went to school, I didn't play many hours a day: in the evening from 7 to 8, or from 8 to 10. Then I increased my sessions. But it has never been a burden to me, I did what I liked. And if you get results as well, you work even harder.
Which do you think was your best quality on the court?
It's hard to say. I think I was consistent in my performances, I always tried to give my best in every match, I always tried to have a professional behavior. From the technical point of view, I would say my attack tennis. I always looked for an effective and winning tennis, based not on power, but on speed. Power is important, but it's also important to know your own weak points. The key in tennis is your physique, but also speed on the court and mind quickness are.
Which do you think is the best tennis player around?
I love to see a varied tennis, not monotonous, with serve and volley, but also baseline rallies. Better, this is the kind of tennis I would love to see, because today too many always play the same monotonous tennis.
Maybe is that the reason why the crowd in Sweden don't grow fond of tennis as some years ago?
It happens. There's been a "golden age" when Connors, McEnroe and Borg played. Every 13-14 years, cyclically, these big periods come back, then, inevitably, there are fewer champions and the attention goes down. I think tennis is recovering now. It's a big sport, it will survive. It would be nice to see different ways to play it, different characteristics, also human ones. This would help its renaissance.
Who do you think is the best today: Sampras, Rios, Moya?
Sampras is still the number one, even if he has his bad moments. Rafter had a good period in '98, as well, for 3-4 months he showed a great tennis. Rios had a brilliant start of '98, and Moya is a great claycourt player, as he proved in Montecarlo and at the Roland Garros, but he didn't show the same level indoor. Among the Swedes, I appreciate Björkman a lot.
Rios, Sampras and Becker recently complained because there are too many ATP tournaments: what do you think about it?
There are some more than in the past, I would say. We played at most 22-23 tournaments in a year, today they play 27-28. Too many. To play less would be good for the show. But it's hard to change this situation.
What's the win you remember with more pleasure?
There are many. Of course, the first ones to cross my mind are the most important ones: the first Wimbledon in '88, the Us Open, but maybe more than all my first title in Milan in '84, at 18, in the Cuore Cup. In Davis I would say the success in '84 against the US (ann: 4-1, and Edberg with Jarryd took the doubles against McEnroe-Fleming).
The most beautiful match?
I consider my perfect match the one won against Courier at the Us Open '91 in three sets. Maybe my match to show the pupils of the tennis schools.
When you started playing, did you have a model, an idol?
I think Björn Borg was the hero for all of us boys, even if the two of us never played the same tennis. Thanks to him, many approached this sport. I think the same happened in Italy with Adriano Panatta.
The secrets of your game?
No, I didn't have many secrets. Nothing special: I think only talent and hard work, I was consistent, able to play good tennis all through the year. Of course I also had some bad weeks, but, fortunately, not many.
What heritage did you, Wilander and your Davis team leave?
Surely the team spirit. In 15-20 years a team spirit has been born that didn't exist before, that still exists today and that I hope the next generations will save. It's one of the keys of our success, we work for each others, we work for the team.
Who do you owe more to in tennis and life?
It would take too long to quote them all. Yes, Percy Rosberg, my coach in Stockholm, who had a big influence on my tennis when I was between 14 and 17, or Tony Pickard, my coach for eleven years of career. But in the end, most of all I have to thank my parents, especially because they helped me at the start, when I was an unknown.
Even though they never practiced any sport?
Yes, it's true. But the moral support they always gave me was essential, even if they didn't know a thing about sports. Then, as a child, they took me from a tournament to the other, always traveling with me, even if I took all their week.
What was the best Edberg?
Obvious, I think I played my best tennis when I was number one in the ranking (between '90 and '92). I had a long good period.
And the worst?
I had a couple of years not of high level, between '94 and '95.
What comes through a champion's mind when he doesn't win for long?
It's hard to say. You always play with the aim to win. And when you reach the quarters, the semis, the finals and you don't win... Yes, it means you're playing well, but it can't be enough for you.
What's your best youth memory in Västervick?
When I played my first tournaments, I was 9-10; it was a nice period with the friends of the club we had great time, we went to play district tournaments together. We also used to play football, hockey together, but already at that age tennis was all my life.
Were you good at school?
Good, I would say better than anybody else (ann:laughs). No, seriously, I never had problems at school. I liked mathematics a lot, and also geography and gymnastic.
You've been living in London for 14 years: is it only for tax reasons?
I've been living in South Kensington since I was 18. Yes, at the start I moved to there for tax reasons, taxes are very high in Sweden. But now my family, my wife Annette and my children like it. We're alright, so we stayed here.
Don't you miss Sweden?
I'm very lucky, 'cause I visited all the world and still today, if I want, I pack up my suitcase and catch the airplane. It's very close.
Was it love at first sight with Annette?
We met 12 years ago, she is from Vaxjö. But I don't want to touch this question (ann: she was Wilander's girlfriend). It's enough to say we met, we immediately liked each other and we got married in '92. That's it.
What's the quality you most appreciate in the others?
Respect, honesty and punctuality.
What bothers you instead?
I would say the opposite. Liars, unpleasant and disrespectful people.
Who are Edberg's heirs in today's tennis?
I don't know. Let me think. I can't make a name. Also Pete Sampras, big champion, doesn't certainly play my tennis, made of serve and volley. Today tennis is made of power, doesn't have many tactical variations, all the players play the same way.
In the end, nobody plays like Edberg anymore?
No. I would say certainly not.
- Hall of Fame Teleconference with Stefan Edberg
- The Tennis Week Interview: Stefan Edberg
- Stockholm Open is tightening its belt
- "I suppose I'm a boring person"
- Edberg about life without serve and volley