Tennis Week: How did it feel being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame over the weekend and what was the experience like?
Stefan Edberg: It was an exciting weekend because I didn't know what to expect. You know, I've never been to Newport before. Getting there and seeing it, it was quite an astonishing place. It has a lot of tradition and it's very beautiful. They did a great job setting up the entire event and the parade of champions and 50th anniversary of the Hall of Fame was very, very special because they put a lot of effort into the entire event to make it very nice. It was very special and it is an emotional event. You know, it's one day and there are so many things that go through your mind about history and about who did what and who's been there for you throughout your career.
Tennis Week: Did it prompt you to think about the fact you are among a long line of champions — those who came before you and those who are now coming after you?
Stefan Edberg: Absolutely. Oh yes. You think about how many great champions are there and to be a part of tradition — that is very, very special and something, obviously, you will never forget.
Tennis Week: How did you write your speech? Did you think about it in advance or write in on the plane ride over?
Stefan Edberg: Well, I never write speeches ever. What I do is, I thought about it a little bit on the plane. I thought about who has been important to me, a few memories of playing and I made two or three notes about that.
Tennis Week: So it was more of a spontaneous speech from the heart?
Stefan Edberg: Yes, it was more spontaneous. You know, it's got to come from the heart, I think. I think I got most of the things said that I wanted to say. There are a few more things that maybe I should have said, but at the time you know it's tough to fit everything in.
Tennis Week: How did your family feel about your induction? It must have been special for you to have your family there?
Stefan Edberg: I think it was very special for my family. At least now my children are old enough to remember things and a day like this, they will remember. When I was playing, Christopher wasn't born and Emily was only three so she's not going to remember anything from when I played on the tour. They've both seen some exhibitions I've played, but it's not quite the same.
Tennis Week: When they saw you inducted did they realize who you are in tennis and what you've accomplished in the game?
Stefan Edberg: I don't think it's really quite got into them. I don't think they will understand until they get a little bit older, to be honest. You know, Christopher is not old enough and Emily is starting to get a feel for it. To me, I'm a dad. I'm not a tennis player. Maybe when Emily gets to 16 or 17 she starts to realize...
Tennis Week: You can show her the old videos to let her see...
Stefan Edberg: (laughs) Yes, I can show her the videos.
Tennis Week: When I think of your career, the first two things that come to mind are how graceful you were and the great sportsmanship you showed on the court. How important to you was your demeanor on court — not just the way you played and won, but the way you behaved and conducted yourself?
Stefan Edberg: I think I just sort of stuck to being myself. I never tried to be someone else. And I think that's why it's been sort of easy for me to keep a straight line over the years. Maybe I wasn't so very popular to start with because maybe I was hanging my head and maybe was a little subdued. Maybe I wasn't looking like the happiest person on two legs out there (laughs), but I think over the years maybe they appreciated what I did and what I stood for. It's come around pretty nicely that people (respect that).
Tennis Week: Were you always naturally calm or did it take effort for you to stay so cool on court?
Stefan Edberg: No, I'm pretty naturally calm, but I think you know getting my head up, lifting my head up, I've worked on that. And the small things you have to work on to make it better and it's quite important not being so hard on yourself, which I was in the beginning of my career.
Tennis Week: The best match I ever saw you play was the '91 U.S. Open when you beat Jim Courier, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0. Tony Trabert once said that was one of the best performances he saw in a major final. What did winning that match mean for you in your career?
Stefan Edberg: Quite a lot. I mean, the U.S. Open was not my favorite tournament to start with in my career. It was quite noisy and the weather could change from one way to another. And I never really liked playing at night there. I never minded playing at night at a lot of tournaments, but I never found the lights quite right there.
Tennis Week: Borg said he never liked the lights there either.
Stefan Edberg: It was tough to see the ball. It could be so extreme. In the day time it could be 85 or 90 degrees — really hot — and then at night it was freezing and sort of windy and I had some really horrific matches at night when the wind was blowing and it was cold. That made it difficult and that was hard to overcome, but I think in '91 I played some exceptional tennis and was probably mentally ready for the Open.
Tennis Week: A match like that '91 final where you played such flawless tennis — did you feel yourself moving toward that level of play throughout the tournament or did the tennis just flow from you in that particular match?
Stefan Edberg: I struggled a little bit the first week in '91, but the second week I was really very, very steady. The final was like walking on clouds — it was just such a great day. I think everyone has their day when you just play such exceptional tennis and for me it happened to be in the U.S. Open final, which makes it even more special for me.
Tennis Week: Was that the best quality match you ever played?
Stefan Edberg: I think so. If I had to pick out a match, definitely the best match I played under the circumstances, was that one.
Tennis Week: The following year you returned to the Open and successfully defended your title. What do you remember from that experience because you had a lot of long, tough five-set victories, beating Krajicek in the fourth round, Lendl in the quarters and the Chang match in the semis, was brutal.
Stefan Edberg: It was a brutal second week. Three five-setters and being down a break in each of them. They were really, really long five-setters. I think I started against Lendl on a Wednesday or Thursday and I had to finish the next day. Then five hours — almost five and a half hours — against Chang in the semifinals on Saturday. The coming back the next day and playing Sampras in the finals, so it was difficult. That second U.S. Open was a nice achievement after all the tennis I played.
Tennis Week: And all the pressure you had to face as defending champion.
Stefan Edberg: Oh yes.
Tennis Week: Sampras has always said that loss to you in the '92 final completely changed his career because he realized at that moment how much he hated losing and never wanted to feel it in a major final again. He's said that loss helped make him the player he became. When you beat him that day, did you envision Sampras would go on to have the career he had?
Stefan Edberg: Oh, yeah. I always thought Sampras could be a great player. But he lacked maybe the mental toughness to start with and maybe he was aware of that himself. Or maybe that changed with that match and he realized he had to work harder. And of course he became one of the greatest players to ever play the game. That was the turning point for him. Maybe it was the turning point for me too because that was the last Grand Slam title I ever won (laughs).
Tennis Week: What was your most memorable Grand Slam victory?
Stefan Edberg: They're all good to win (smiles). But obviously winning Wimbledon the first time was very special to me because of the history of Bjorn Borg winning five titles. About the only tennis you could watch on television in Sweden was Wimbledon and Davis Cup so to be there yourself and to actually be on the same court and to win it was a very special feeling. I would say the U.S. Open in '91 was very special, too, playing probably the best match of my career. So that's the answer to that.
Tennis Week: Roger Federer often says you were one of the players he admired and emulated when he was growing up. He is such a complete player. Can you envision Federer staying at the top of the game for as long as he's motivated to do so?
Stefan Edberg: Well, he's the best player. There's no question about it. He's got the game, he's got the strength. I think he can go on for another couple of years dominating the game with what he's got. There's only really one or two things that can stop him: obviously an injury or something personal to happen, but if that doesn't happen he's going to continue to dominate. In a way, it's quite nice to see because he plays such beautiful tennis — it's really beautiful to watch. I quite like the way Federer plays the game.
Tennis Week: What is your future in tennis? Are you still working a lot with juniors in Sweden?
Stefan Edberg: I'm still involved in tennis and I still have my foundation, which I'm running back in Sweden. I still do some work locally. I set up a place with Carl-Axel Hageskog, who was the previous Davis Cup captain for Sweden. We set up a place where you can combine studies with playing tennis nearly full-time.
Tennis Week: Sort of like an academy?
Stefan Edberg: Yeah, yeah, you can say so. I'm spending some time on court with these guys and some of the girls. They're about 16, 17 and 18 years old.
Tennis Week: Do you still play a lot? Because you look so fit, like you could walk out on court right now if you wanted?
Stefan Edberg: I do play regularly. At the moment, I'm not playing anything because I've got a slipped disc in my back in the moment.
Tennis Week: It's not because of this (emulates the back bend on Edberg's serve), is it?
Stefan Edberg: (smiles) Probably that's part of the reason. Otherwise, I play some tennis twice a week and I some squash too. I keep active. And that's why I still keep playing with the young guys: so I can still keep competitive and give them a match out there.
Tennis Week: Do you think any of the Swedes — Joachim Johansson, Thomas Johansson, Robin Soderling — are potential top-10 or top-20 players long-term?
Stefan Edberg: Well, Johansson has the potential. As you know, he's had a huge setback with his injuries so he's going to find it hard to get back to where he was. Soderling, I think, he's got the game to get up there. He was just in the semis of a tournament. Ususally with these young guys, like Soderling at his best is really good, but it's getting to a consistently good level every time you step on the court that can be difficult.
Tennis Week: Even Federer, as a young player, struggled to get that consistency at times.
Stefan Edberg: Absolutely. But Soderling has potential: he's got the game, he's strong so he could definitely get up there to the top 10. Soderling has the potential to get there, there's no question about that, it's staying there that can be a little bit more difficult.
Tennis Week: You played so many great players at or near their peak. Who do you consider your best rival? Who brought out the best in you?
Stefan Edberg: The Spanish guys on clay (laughs). No, I think obviously the Becker rivalry was great at the time. Becker was such a great competitor especially in the big finals. There was a little rivarly with Mats (Wilander) too. We both brought out some great tennis in each other. I was lucky enough to play McEnroe at his best, which was awfully tough. I competed against Lendl at his best, which was not easy either. I competed with Agassi close to his best and he caused me a lot of trouble because he returned the ball so well. And Pete Sampras somewhere close to his best as well. He sometimes blew me off the court when he was close to his best. So I was lucky enough to play against great players at the peak of their careers or pretty close to it.
Tennis Week: You had some memorable matches with McEnroe (McEnroe won seven of their 13 meetings). You were both attacking players, but obviously so different in terms of temperament. What was it like playing McEnroe?
Stefan Edberg: I kind of liked John, the way he acts on the court. He makes it pretty interesting. I always liked to watch him play. I didn't agree with him all the time, but I didn't really mind playing against him because he was more arguing with himself or the umpire. He didn't really care the opponent that much. He was more worried about the calls so that was a good thing about John. I didn't really get too irritated playing him because I knew what to expect. He did a great job arguing — he was the best — so we miss him (smiles).
Tennis Week: Did you ever have a time where you just mentally lost it on court?
Stefan Edberg: Oh yeah. It happens to everybody.
Tennis Week: How did you keep it together and stay so cool for so long?
Stefan Edberg: Well, there are times when you're there, but you're not quite there. When you're tired and you just do the best you can for the moment. It's like you haven't got the strength and you just have to finish. So you just play and do the best you can and then take a break from it because you have to understand it happens to everybody at some point.
Tennis Week: During rain delays at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open they'll sometimes televise old matches. Do you ever see old matches that you've played; do you ever watch yourself?
Stefan Edberg: Hardly ever. I've got all my prizes and all the videos packed away in boxes. And I haven't gotten to the stage where I do watch them. I've got a chance now because they asked me to send some of my trophies for the Hall of Fame museum. So I had to get up in the attic, go through the boxes and dig out the few videotapes I had.
Tennis Week: Do you think you'll ever sit down with your kids and show them any of those matches?
Stefan Edberg: I think if they ask we'd do it. If they get to the stage where they're interested and want to see it. When they want to do it and they're interested we can, but I think that's the key with kids: they have to want to do it. It's like that with tennis: you don't want to push them into playing tennis unless they really want to do it on their own. But if they come to you and want to play tennis then you're in a much better position because it comes from them and they're interested.
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