by Jason Brown
Brewster, Mass. – Two years after fellow countryman Mats Wilander was inducted in the 2002 ceremony, six-time Grand Slam singles champion Stefan Edberg of Sweden became one of three newly-inducted members of the 2004 class at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, joining a list of distinguished legends of the game.
Following the induction, Edberg and his family took the short ride from scenic Newport, Rhode Island to the lovely coastal haven of Brewster, Massachusetts to celebrate the career milestone and to participate in the fourth annual Adidas Tennis Smash benefiting the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation.
Featuring a who’s who of past and present tennis stars, this year’s benefit included: Martina Hingis, Rod Laver, Tom Gullikson, Stan Smith, Carly Gullickson, Wendy Turnbull, Jenny Hopkins, Gardner Molloy, Francois Durr, Anke Huber, Pancho Segura, and the newest member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
USTA.com caught up with Edberg during his stay at Ocean Edge for the 2004 Adidas Tennis Smash to chat about his induction ceremony into the International Tennis Hall of Fame with 22-time Grand Slam singles champion Steffi Graf and Dorothy “Dodo” Cheney, the first American woman to win the Australian National Championships.
Edberg also reflects on his tremendous playing career and a slew of his greatest triumphs which include: winning the US Open in back-to-back years in 1991 & 1992, the epic five-set 1989 French Open final thriller against American Michael Chang, and playing a star role in Davis Cup competition for Sweden.
He also discusses his lasting legacy as one of the true gentlemen in professional men’s tennis, and the dying breed of classic serve-and-volley players for which he is associated with as among the best to have ever played the game.
USTA.com: So, how did you play in the exhibition matches at the fourth annual Adidas Tennis Smash?
Stefan Edberg: Hey, I wish I could be on the tennis court, but I have a slipped disc at the moment, so I have to watch and be on the sideline. It’s unfortunate – it happened two months ago so I have to take some time off. I had a problem with the disc about ten or fifteen years ago, and plus, I’m getting older.
USTA.com: Well, as a consolation, you’re in a beautiful place at Ocean Edge. Is this your first time in Brewster at the Adidas Tennis Smash?
Edberg: No, I was here two years ago, and I really liked the place here. It was one of the reasons that I’m back, and obviously because of the Tennis Hall of Fame over the weekend, too, which is nearby.
USTA.com: That must have been a great thrill to be inducted in Newport, Rhode Island at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Take me through that weekend and the emotions you must’ve felt.
Edberg: It was a super event and they really worked hard to put the event together. Being the 50th Anniversary made it very special, I thought, especially bringing all the past hall-of-famers to Newport over the weekend. It was something really special – it’s something that’s not going to happen very often.
USTA.com: It also must have been really special to have your longtime friend and coach Tony Pickard give your induction lead-in.
Edberg: Yeah, I think he was the right person, and it was great for him to come over there. It was great that we could spend a weekend together. It made it quite an emotional event. There are a lot of thoughts and emotions passing through your mind.
USTA.com: What were some of those thoughts and emotions running through your mind at that moment? Maybe, some of the great tournaments that you won over the course of your career, including the consecutive US Open titles in 1991 and 1992?
Edberg: Absolutely, and it’s tough because you got to say something up there on the podium, of course. It’s a lot of things, and I’m not quite sure what to say, because over the weekend there were a lot of thoughts about what I achieved over a career and what was important to me. It’s good to have these reflections sometimes.
USTA.com: In the cover story of the July 2004 issue of Tennis Magazine, Pete Sampras said in an interview that a career-turning and defining moment for him was losing to you in the 1992 US Open final. [Edberg won in four sets, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.] Did you feel kind of the same way about that match, that it might have been a turning point for his career, and maybe even yours?
Edberg: It probably was, because it was the last Slam that I won. It could of have been a turning point for both of us. I managed to win that final in ’92, and it was quite an effort at the time because I played (Michael) Chang in the semifinals which was a five-hour match. I didn’t even think I could play that Sunday after waking up in the morning. But it was a great match to win, and a great way to finish. Maybe for Pete it was something that was the start of his era.
USTA.com: You mentioned Chang – the man you played in that memorable 1989 French Open final that resulted in preventing you from completing your career Grand Slam. That match was particularly significant for Chang, as it was the moment that most people remember him for.
Edberg: Oh absolutely, he only won one Grand Slam and that was the French Open. It was my great chance to win the French Open. Looking back, it was probably nice that I should of won with the chances that I had in the fourth set, but I should have been able to get out of that trouble. At the time, I thought I would get more chances to win the French Open, but I never did.
USTA.com: Davis Cup was such a big part of your career, having played on four Cup-winning teams (1984, ’85, ’87, ’94), compiling an overall combined singles and doubles record of 47-23, and always making yourself available. How do you look at how Davis Cup has evolved over the years?
Edberg: From a Swedish perspective, I think Davis Cup is really big. It was a big part of my tennis career. I think it was a very different for a Swedish tennis player than it is here in America. I played many, many matches and at one point, I think I was in seven consecutive finals. I had a seven-year stretch where I never really stopped because I had the Australian Open in January and the Davis Cup finals in December. I played non-stop tennis for seven years! You have to stay really focused as a professional, but it was really important for me to play those matches.
USTA.com: What are your memories of the doubles match you played as an 18-year-old for Sweden against John McEnroe and the United States?
Edberg: I think because it was my first year that it was a big match. It was at home, a great atmosphere – nobody expected us to beat the United States at that time with the team that they had.
USTA.com: You mentioned before how long the tennis season is, having played nearly seven consecutive years without stopping. The long season is magnified today with many players, particularly on the women’s side, breaking down. What are your thoughts on the current season length and the playing and traveling demands put on players today?
Edberg: It’s quite a long season, but I had a playing streak you wouldn’t have today, so maybe it wasn’t as physically hard as it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Maybe it’s physically harder to be out there now, but you really need to look out for yourself, really take care of that body that you have. There are aches and breaks during the season, but sometimes, it’s really hard. It’s an individual sport – there’s nobody there to replace you.
Sometimes it’s a little bit of your own fault when you break down because you don’t listen to what your body tells you; you keep playing when you shouldn’t. It’s the biggest mistake that many of the players do. They feel they need to play in order to get those points, but if you don’t rest, you won’t get the results anyway.
USTA.com: To many people, the name Stefan Edberg is synonymous with serve-and-volley tennis. But lately, serve-and-volley players are a dying breed on the tour. Why are there so few serve-and-volley tactics today?
Edberg: It would benefit the game as a whole if there was more variation. The serve-and-volleyers are disappearing somehow and it’s hard to tell why the reason is. I think being a serve-and-volleyer takes longer time to mature and hopefully goes in cycles where maybe a guy like (Roger) Federer can convince others to start playing a new game.
I also think maybe a bit technology has made it possible with the racquets they play with. Today, it’s so much easier to return quick – you just need to block the ball, not really hit it, like you had to do twenty years ago. And most of the guys practice standing in, taking the ball really early. Reaction time is far better than it was twenty years ago.
One of the things that made it even more difficult towards the end of my career was the idea that the game was too quick and they slowed the balls down, making them heavier. The heavier the ball is, the more difficult it is to play volleys. I really like a fast sport where you can use your wrist, use your touch in order to steer the ball. The heavier balls really tend to favor the big, tall guys that can hit the (expletive) out of the ball.
USTA.com: Along with the serve-and-volley, your name is also synonymous with sportsmanship on the court – the ATP’s sportsmanship award is named in your honor as a five-time recipient (1988, '89, '90, '92, '95). What players today remind you of the way that you carried yourself so gracefully on the court?
Edberg: I know Carlos Moya is one of those guys in recent years. There are a few guys out there, I think, that fall under that category. Paradorn Srichaphan is definitely one of those players.
USTA.com: Going back to Davis Cup, Sweden recently played the United States in Florida. Jonas Bjorkman, Thomas Enqvist and Joachim Johansson are all solid players for Sweden.
Edberg: We still have a good team, but we don’t have the best team any longer. We still have a very good fighting spirit. But the Americans had a better team with better players and an excellent doubles team. I think America has an excellent chance to win Davis Cup this year.
USTA.com: Why is the Adidas Tennis Smash at Ocean Edge such an important event for you? This is your second appearance at the event, the first coming two years ago in 2002.
Edberg: Well, I think Cape Cod is a great place. It’s great to be here with the family, spending time here together. And obviously, to help out Gullikson with his foundation, and through Adidas, that has been very supportive here, too. So it’s a combination of three things.
USTA.com: I understand it’s your daughters’ eleventh birthday today. Do you have anything special planned?
Edberg: Not quite today, it is tomorrow. We’re talking about it, but we’ll have a birthday cake today. If we wait past six o’clock tonight, it’ll be her birthday in Swedish time.
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