by Andrew Baker
Whenever tennis fans gather to reminisce, it is rarely difficult to put an answer to the "Whatever happened to..." questions. Tennis stars, and in particular multiple grand slam winners, tend to move on to high-profile second careers involving frequent television work and veterans' tour appearances.
But Stefan Edberg, blond Adonis, Swedish icon and six-time grand slam victor, is, these days, practically invisible, an international man of mystery.
That will change next Tuesday, when Edberg will emerge from self-imposed obscurity somewhere in Scandinavia to play Tim Henman in a charity match at the BlackRock Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall in London. "It should be a lot of fun to play Tim," Edberg told The Daily Telegraph. "We play in the same way, with the serve and volley." But Edberg retired 11 years ago, and Henman a little more than 11 weeks ago. Isn't he going to be a little rusty? "Yes, you're right. Actually I've just got back from playing a match in Copenhagen, and that was the first really competitive match I have played in five years. So I am really feeling the effects all over my body."
Edberg, who is 41, has declined countless offers to join the veterans' circuit. But he has not allowed his tall, powerful frame to run to seed. "I keep in reasonable shape," he claimed. "Or at least I keep in some kind of shape."
He says he "keeps in touch" with tennis, but he is not coaching and he has no official role with the Swedish federation. So what exactly is he doing to stay busy?
"A lot of people don't really know what I get up to these days, and that suits me just fine," he said, with a hint of a snigger.
"I've always been a little bit private. Let's just say that I'm keeping pretty busy. I have an investment company, and I have some interests in property. Let's just say that."
Edberg is looking forward to coming back to London, where he was once a familiar sight on the streets around Knightsbridge.
"I lived in Queen's Gate for a while, just around the corner from the Albert Hall, so it will be good for me to see all the old places," he said. "I always had a really good relationship with British fans, they always made me feel welcome, and I'm sure they still will."
Any tennis purist will relish a contest between two such stylish players, eminent exponents of the now almost vanished serve and volley game. "Now that Tim has retired from the Tour, I don't think there is anyone left who plays the way that I used to," Edberg said. "The game has changed, there is no doubt about that. Maybe these things just go in cycles."
It is more likely that tennis balls and courts have changed, so that everything happens slightly more slowly, and even at Wimbledon a master of the clay-court game, such as Rafael Nadal, can expect to perform with credit. Many fans will be delighted the days of wham-bam tennis are over, but others will miss the variety of tactics the serve-and-volleyers offered.
In any case, Edberg was more than just a two-shot speed merchant. As well as his two Wimbledon titles (1988 and 1990), he twice won the Australian Open and twice won the US Open. He also reached the final at Roland Garros in 1989, but the 'Slam of Slams' just slipped through his grasp.
These days, Edberg is usually an interested observer of tennis from afar, and he is perplexed by the seeming unwillingness of the very best players to mix their games up a little more.
"It surprises me that Roger Federer doesn't serve and volley more," he said. "He certainly can do it if he wants to. The problem for a lot of the other players is that it is not the kind of technique you can pick up straight away. It takes a lot of time to develop. And I guess these days the guys return serve a whole lot better than they used to, so that probably doesn't help."
There are a couple of clouds on Edberg's sporting horizon. He is concerned about the image of his former sport with the recent allegations that players have been betting on matches. And he is concerned about the plight of his former favourite football team, Leeds United, the team he used to watch when English football was screened on Swedish television when Edberg was growing up. "Luckily," he said, "I also support Chelsea."
On the whole, though, he is content with his lot. "When you stop playing, you learn to enjoy life in a different way, to enjoy different things in life. Of course, it was great to be a tennis player, but it was quite tough at the top. There is a lot of pressure and it is not all fun." He sighed. "There is a lot of attention." A very private star, Stefan Edberg.
• Stefan Edberg will play against Tim Henman at the BlackRock Masters Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall in London on the evening of Tuesday, Dec 4 (for tickets call box office on 020 7070 4404 or book online at www.theblackrockmasters.com). The match will raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust: www.teenagecancertrust.org
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