from Times online
by Barry Flatman
When it comes to tennis success at the Royal Albert Hall, there is hardly a copious list of local boys who made good. Many who live within a healthy lob’s distance of venue for this week’s BlackRock Masters may own a top-of-the-range racket and, until the current economic situation took hold, possess the kind of disposable income to afford to best possible coaching. However there’s much more to success as Stefan Edberg can attest.
Edberg will be in illustrious company, jumping back into London’s competitive fray after repeatedly refusing, in a polite but steadfast manner, the overtures of those who promote senior tennis. Seven times Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras tops the cast list while John McEnroe has been admitting to friends and confidantes that this will almost certainly be his last singles playing visit to the event.
Back in the days when the affable but unobtrusive Swede was the world’s best tennis player, he was as much a part of the scenery in London SW7 as Harrods or the Hyde Park grass. He made his home in a sumptuous apartment no more than five minutes walk away and was very much a part of the London tennis scene, practicing at the Lawn Tennis Association’s now vacated headquarters at Queen’s Club. Never seeing himself as anything approaching a superstar, he habitually used the London Underground to travel back and forth to Baron’s Court and ate regularly in some of the less ostentatious Italian restaurants of the area. So there will be an air of familiarity for him after finally deciding to make a competitive comeback to the sport, 12 years after going into retirement.
“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,” admits the player who spent 72 weeks as the world no.1 and collected six Grand Slam titles, two of them at Wimbledon in 1998 and 1990.
“People ask why I spent so long not playing but I had a pretty long career and I played for pretty much 14 years almost non-stop, because remember I was in seven Davis Cup finals in a row and they were always played in December. So I was quite tired of tennis and needed to get away from the tennis to do some other things and I really didn’t feel like coming back for some time.
“It’s only over the last year or two that the thought had come into my mind and obviously I have been asked so many times to play the veterans’ tour and every year I’ve said I’m not quite ready and probably won’t be ready. This year I’ve decided to give it a try.” These days Edberg may live back in his native Sweden, contentedly playing the role of family man, dabbling in the stock market on his home computer, building a property portfolio and playing plenty of squash to keep himself in excellent shape following a spate of back problems. His children Emilie and Christopher are now aged 15 and 11 respectively and after many years of declining offers to compete on the BlackRock Tour of Champions, he finally agreed this year, making his debut at the Trophee Jean-Luc Lagardiere in Paris a couple of months ago.
Surprisingly, given the event was on his least favourite surface slow red clay, Edberg won beating twice French Open champion Sergi Bruguera in the final. Then a week ago, on the rival Outback Champions’ Series, he reached the final in Dubai, losing out to the tour’s co-owner Jim Courier.
Clearly the competitive juices still flow but characteristically Edberg adopts an almost self conscious air when it’s suggested that his missed the delight of actually winning. “I don’t know about that,” he said.
“Being in this part of London again is sort of like my second home. I decided that if I’m going to play I can pick some of the nicer locations you have on the tour, and Paris and London are two of the best. Then Dubai was a nice place for a little bit of a holiday while playing a bit of tennis.
“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.” Edberg has gained a taste for this event a couple of times by gladly answering the call of his regular practice partner Tim Henman to play in Kids At Heart charity matches. After last year’s appearance, when he belied his then age of 41 by looking more than competitive, the campaign to lure him back to the competitive arena intensified and he finally relented.
And for that to happen is something of an achievement because Edberg is a very ordered individual who likes to make his mind about something and still resolutely to his decision. His long time coach Tony Pickard has been in conversation with his former charge over the past few days and reported: “He’s excited by it and he’ll probably do well but I’m a little surprised he’s decided to come back. He is the sort of person who says, when I’m done then I’m done and he rarely goes back on a decision. So it will be interesting to see how he goes.”
TV Coverage: Blackrock Masters, Tuesday 6pm ITV4
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