from Tennismagazin (August issue)
by Tim Böseler
contributed and translated into English by Doris
His duels with Boris Becker are legendary, his volleys were extraordinary: Stefan Edberg about his German rival, modern tennis and Swedish equality
Tennis Magazin (August 2010)
Mr. Edberg, have you already congratulated your old rival Boris Becker?
He has become a father again in February.
Oh, that you mean. No, I haven’t congratulated him for this. We don’t have a close contact and see each other only seldom. In November 2009 we met the last time in London. He told me then that he would become a father again. He made a very happy impression.
You played 35 times against Boris Becker. Why have those duels been so thrilling?
We were different chracters. I was reserved and introverted. Boris was the exact opposite: irascible and emotional.
The man of few words against the wild man.
One can outline it like this. We both played at the same time very good in Wimbledon. We inspired each other to a high level of performances. Without him I would have developed differently – and he probably also without me.
Which match against Becker do you especially remember?
The Wimbledon final of 1988. It was my first final in Wimbledon and Boris was the big favourite as he had already won there two times before (1985, 1986). It was a lousy day, very rainy. I played cards for hours with my coach Tony Pickard. We had to wait for ages until we could go out on the court. Just as we had started the match it got interrupted in the middle of the first set due to rain. On the next Monday it was raining again. I had a good lunch, then the match suddenly continued. I had tummy ache and lost the first set. But I won the second one in a tie-break. That was the turning point. I can remember exactly at the match point: I stood at the net, Boris was hitting to my body and the ball stayed at the net. I was so relieved and fell on my back. It was the moment I had waited for all the time.
You played against all big champions. Is Roger Federer better than you?
Yes. Not only because of his impressive results and records. The way he plays tennis has lifted tennis on a new level. He can everything. We had very good players at my time, but somehow everyone had a weakness. Federer and also Nadal don’t have a weakness anymore.
Would you have a chance with your classical serve and volley game against the current generations of players?
I would have a huge advantage: the guys wouldn’t be used to my style as nobody plays serve and volley anymore. So that would surprise them. But the game has totally changed. Today everything is played much faster, even though the courts have been slowed down. For an attacking player this is a nightmare. He needs the fast ballbounce at the serve. Especially when he, just like me in former times, serves with much kick. This advantage you don’t get at a tournament like Wimbledon anymore. Today's players are much better return players than we had been. It’s logical that there are no attacking players anymore. They wouldn’t have a chance.
Is serve and volley definitively dead?
I don’t think so. In the future players who play power tennis from the baseline with well timed netplay after the serve will be the main players. As nobody really uses serve and volley today the return game is quite predictable: to play the ball in, preferably long. That won’t be enough when the server attacks more often. Then you would be able to volley the returns. That would mean a completely new game.
Why does nobody play like this today?
Because it needs a lot of practice. Good attacking players need to control lot more components than baseline players. The basis for this has to be established in the youth. It won’t work when you suddenly try to teach a 20 years old player, who has played his whole tennis life from the baseline, how to use serve and volley. Attacking tennis is something natural, which has to grow. The coaches don’t have the time and patience for it today.
Was tennis better in former times or now?
Without a doubt today. At my times we had different kind of players and today everyone plays quite similar, so that you don’t have much varieties. But tennis as a sport has developed hugely in the last years as it has become more athletical, faster, more precise and therefore better.
Do you miss real characters on the tour?
There are enough characters in tennis at the moment. Federer, Nadal, Del Potro, Djokovic – they are all great guys.
But they are a bit colourless compared to John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors.
Players as McEnroe you will find once in 100 years. It surely helped tennis formerly to have “good” and “bad” guys on the tour. That attracted a lot of people, also ones who didn’t had a clue about tennis. But real “bad” guys you won’t see anymore today. You have to be totally focused in order to compete at the highest level today. Nobody can afford any antics. Everything gets noticed and you find lapses in the internet a few hours later. So nobody can afford it to act like some of my “bad” opponents in previous times.
You always belonged to the “good” guys. How did you manage this?
I followed easy rules: stay true to yourself, only allow prudent persons in your environment and think before you say something.
Pete Sampras once described you as the “ideal guy for a tennis idol”. Where does your immaculate reputation come from?
Maybe because I’m a calm and somehow diplomatic guy. My motto has been: saying nothing is better than saying too much.
You never went wild on the court. All just a matter of self-control?
It would have been counterproductive for my game if I had got angry. But it very often seethed inside me. I needed to stay calm, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to play my best tennis.
Do you miss the big stage today?
Actually I would have to say a loud “NO!”. I play some senior tournaments meanwhile, which could give the impression that I indeed missed the big stage. But I play those tournaments in order to meet old friends. It is also nice that my children are able to see me play there.
Do you enjoy the limelight now?
I will never really like it as it doesn’t suit to my character. Even as a young boy I didn’t like it to attract attention. In school I behaved as inconspicuous as possible. I always sat in the last row and never put my hand up. I got an attack of sweating whenever a teacher asked me to come to the blackboard. This fear to be in the focus of attention I also had as a professional tennis player. But I had to learn to live with it.
How often do you practice today?
Regularly. Tennis is my passion. I play with my wife, my kids, my friends and with good Swedish young players.
How popular is tennis in Sweden?
Soccer and ice-hockey are more popular. But the results from Robin Söderling at the French Open in 2009 and 2010 changed a lot. Especially his victory against Rafael Nadal last year aroused much enthusiasm. It was the best news for Swedish tennis in the last 10 years.
But in 2002 with Tomas Johansson a Swede was able to win the Australian Open.
Oh, you can forget about that. Nobody was interested in it. That Söderling was able to beat the king of clay Nadal in Paris was another dimension. One single match can change a lot. It was a perfect story and everyone was interested in it. That’s what’s all about in sport: when the story is good everyone notices it. The Swedes suddenly watched tennis in bars and cafés on the street, everywhere – that’s crazy!
What do you think Söderling is capable of doing?
A lot. It’s really remarkable what a hype he caused. He isn’t in the Top 5 in the rankings, hasn’t won a big title yet, but the newspapers are full with reports about him. At my time we had a lot of strong Swedish players, but the journalists only yawned when one of us entered the Top 10.
Do you get asked a lot about Söderling now?
No. I’m not that present in the Swedish media as other former Swedish players. For me other things in life are much more important.
What is this?
My family. I live with them near Växjö, directly on the countryside. I take my kids, Emilie and Christopher, to school in the morning. In the afternoon when they return we do something together. Mostly it involves sport.
You once said you wouldn’t want to become a “spoiled primadonna”. Did you succeed?
I think so. My life is not like you would maybe imagine it from a so-called “ex star”. I’m doing the dish washing and the laundry at home.
Yes, I don’t really enjoy it, but it has to be done. And my wife doesn’t have to do everything.
The typical Swedish emancipation.
That’s how it is. In Sweden it is normal that the man is involved in the housekeeping. Abroad sometimes men look strange at me when they hear about it. But it doesn’t bother me. I don’t only want to bring home the money as a man.
How do you earn your money now?
I already established an investment company with the help of an asset manager when I was a professional player. Beside this I’m the owner of 40 hectares forest right beside my house.
So you are a forester?
No [laughs], that’s not the case. I only sell trees to the wood and paper industry. That has to be organized and I can perfectly do it from my house.
What happens when you enter a restaurant in Sweden?
What should happen then? I’m going in there just as every usual guest.
When Boris Becker enters a restaurant in Germany the people all go crazy.
Well, Boris and I always have been very different.
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