by Richard Pagliaro
Two days after Stefan Edberg was immortalized with his induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, he sat in a room surrounded by family, friends, fans and fellow Hall of Famers celebrating a ceremony even closer to his heart — his daughter Emily's 11th birthday.
As a room full of people — including Rod Laver, Martina Hingis, Pancho Segura and Tom Gullikson — sang "Happy Birthday", Edberg wore the smile of a proud parent. The former No. 1 looked genuinely happy to be doing exactly what he finds most fulfilling these days — spending time with wife Annette, daughter Emilie and seven-year-old son Christopher.
"To me, I'm a dad. I'm not a tennis player", Edberg said.
The 38-year-old Edberg, Laver, Hingis, Jenny Hopkins and Carly Gullickson were among the pros who convened at Cape Cod's Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club for the adidas tennis smash, July 12-14th.
A slipped disk in his back prevented Edberg from playing, but he compensated by spending time, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. Throughout the event, Edberg exuded a natural ease interacting with fans and accommodating their requests.
Now in its fourth year, the adidas tennis smash is no mere celebrity tennis tourney, but a spectator’s dream offering the unique opportunity to not only watch classic tennis at the Ocean Edge Tennis Stadium, but to mix and mingle with top-ranked pros in a casual, comfortable and characteristically Cape Cod atmosphere.
The event benefits an important cause, with proceeds going to the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the funding of care and support programs for brain tumor patients and their families. The Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation was founded in 1995 by Tim Gullikson, former pro and coach of Pete Sampras, and his identical twin brother, Tom Gullikson, a former pro, coach and captain of the United States Davis Cup team. Tim was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995 and lost his battle with the illness in 1996 at the age of 44.
Speaking to an audience after an impromptu indoor volley drill, Tom Gullikson recalled his initial memories of the young Edberg.
"One year in Brussels we had a pretty big indoor tournament. I was ranked about 45 or 50 and I was in the qualifying playing this young Swedish kid in the second round, Stefan Edberg," Gullikson said. "I played him on a Sunday morning in Brussels and I beat him 6-4 in the third set. He was maybe 17-years-old at the time. Then in the afternoon, I was playing this young 18 year old kid from Australia named Pat Cash. And I lost to Pat Cash in the final round of qualifying like 6-3 in the third. I was in my mid 30s at the time. I retired very shortly after that. I turn on the TV about 18 months later and I was watching the Australian Open finals and who was playing the finals? Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash. Eighteen months previously, I played them both on the same day and I'm sure Stefan probably fondly remembers that match."
In a career that saw him compile an 806-270 (.749 winning percentage), Edberg produced many memorable moments on the court. At the age of 17, the Vastervik, Sweden native became the first man to win the junior Grand Slam when he swept all four junior majors in 1983. Edberg turned pro amid high expectations and spent his 14-year professional career fulfilling them.
A six-time Grand Slam champion, Edberg amassed 41 singles titles and 18 doubles championships in his career. Edberg and John McEnroe are the only men in Open Era history to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles simultaneously. Edberg is such a gentleman it often obscures the truth about his game: stylistically speaking he was a revolutionary in his home country. He shattered the Swedish stereotype of swift, steady, stoic baseliners who modeled their styles on 11-time Grand Slam champion Bjorn Borg. Edberg's aggressive attacking game may have looked risky, but like McEnroe before him he was in tune with a fundamental truth of tennis: the wide serve that pushed his opponent in pursuit off the court followed by the crisp volley into the open court he created is the highest-percentage play in tennis.
The obituary for serve-and-volley tennis has been written again and again in recent years yet the world's top player — Roger Federer — plays all-court tennis and serve-and-volleyers ranging from Tim Henman to Max Mirnyi to Taylor Dent have enjoyed varying degrees of success. Edberg's elegant serve-and-volley style captured the attention of a generation of fans. He sees the sport as cyclical and believes the net game will eventually be revived by more players.
"Obviously, tennis goes through changes and cycles," Edberg said. "You know, having been away from the game now for a couple of years since I stopped here obviously, looking at the game today, one would wish to see a little bit more variation of play out there. But at the same time, you know, tennis makes progress. Might not be as exciting as it was in the past, but it depends who you ask. Younger people may be on a different opinion. I'm not quite sure. But it's hard to make changes, but at least one can look at it. If there is anything that can be done to improve the game, you should always look at those things."
Federer's feel at the net and his one-handed backhand are slightly reminiscent of his boyhood hero — Edberg — but the most striking similarity between the pair is in their movement: both glide gracefully across any surface, both are tremendously adept at transitioning from defense to offense and both asserted an attacking instinct when playing their best tennis.
At their best, Edberg and Federer are prime examples of Grand Slam champions who worked very hard to make the game appear extremely easy. Edberg said his movement was the key component to his success as a champion.
"I think it really was the key: my physical fitness and the way I was moving around the court was really my strength", Edberg said. "I didn't really particularly hit the ball that hard. I think really the movement was really the key to my game in playing solid and obviously aggressive tennis. I think the movement is key to most of the players out there is to be able to move around the court in the right way. Because everyone can hit the ball out there, but it's getting to it and getting to the right place at the right time is really what tennis is all about. It's really a running sport."
He made his mark as a champion, and Edberg's integrity, honesty and sportsmanship made him one of the sport's most admired figures. Revered and respected by players and fans, Edberg always conducted himself with class both on and off the court. His superb sportsmanship is so legendary, Edberg not only earned the ATP's Sportsmanship Award a record five times, the ATP actually renamed the award in his honor — it is now known as the "Edberg Sportsmanship Award" — in 1996.
In today's era of abrasive athletics where WWF-style taunts have infiltrated all sorts of sports, talking a good game is sometimes more common than playing one. During his career, Edberg let his classy conduct on court speak for him, but spoke out about the importance of sportsmanship in the game.
"I always thought it to be quite important as an idol to many people, having somebody to look up to and be a good example", Edberg said. "To me sportsmanship is very, very important — maybe even more important in today's society. (It is) something that I'm proud of and feel that it's very important to have these kind of people around."
Impeccably attired in dark blue adidas sweat pants, a white tennis shirt and sleeveless blue vest, Edberg looks as fit today as he did when he played his last match — a 3-6, 4-6, 3-6 loss to Cedric Pioline in the 1996 Davis Cup final — Edberg sat down with Tennis Week last week for this interview in which he discusses his induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, identifies his toughest rivals and recalls his greatest Grand Slam moments.
- Edberg Honoured In London
- Exclusive gallery of the Rogers Cup HoF induction
- Rogers Cup HoF - Edberg's speech, Federer's message
- Stefan Edberg enters the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame
- Stefan Edberg's Rogers Cup conference call
- Edberg Turns Back the Clock to First Wimbledon Title
- Edberg about the Australian Open
- Press conference in London before Henman match
- Stefan Edberg - About US Open
- What's actually doing... Stefan Edberg?
- Hall of Fame Inductee Edberg Celebrates at Ocean Edge
- 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"