Stefan Edberg

Born: January 19, 1966 in Västervik (Kalmar)
Height: 1.88 m
Plays: Right-handed
Sweden dominated world tennis for two decades, during the 1980s and ’90s. The ’80s stood out significantly, while the ’90s were notable compared to the subsequent decline in the 21st century. In the ’80s, the strength of Swedish tennis was embodied by a roster including Björn Borg (who regularly played only in 1980-81 given that decade), Mats Wilander, Henrik Sundström, Anders Järryd, Joakim Nyström, Jonas Svensson, and Kent Carlsson. The ’90s showcased players like Thomas Enqvist, Magnus Larsson, Magnus Gustafsson, Jonas Björkman, Magnus Norman, and Thomas Johansson. Stefan Edberg bridged both generations, contributing to Davis Cup triumphs over a decade and displaying a consistent serve-and-volley style across all surfaces, a unique approach among players of his generation.
Edberg, an exceptional junior player, achieved the rare feat of capturing all four Grand Slam junior titles in 1983, earning the lone “Junior Grand Slam” in the Open Era. However, his professional career nearly ended already at its beginning, during the US Open ’83, when his serve tragically caused the death of linesman Dick Wertheim. The incident plunged Edberg into depression, contemplating quitting tennis. Fortunately, he eventually realized it was a tragic accident and found the strength to continue.
His breakthrough came in ’84 during his first full year on the tour, securing success in doubles by aiding Sweden’s victory over the USA in the Davis Cup final alongside Järryd. In the mid-’80s, Edberg emerged as a formidable force in both singles and doubles, dethroning John McEnroe as the premier singles and doubles player and as the best serve-and-volleyer. Despite securing two Australian Open titles on grass (1985 and 1987, yet back-to-back), he recognized the need to enhance his game to challenge Ivan Lendl, identifying his forehand as a significant hurdle (his one-handed backhand belongs to the best of his era). Playing all the strokes with a classical continental grip was unique for the time (a norm for operating wooden racquets), limiting his ability to generate fast topspin balls off the forehand.
Under the guidance of his British coach Tony Pickard (a decent player in the 1950s and ’60s), Edberg evolved his game, tweaking his service motion as well as the grip (adoption of eastern backhand) in the late ’80s to maintain a high percentage of first serves (often around 65%) and produce kick-serves that posed considerable discomfort, especially for opponents with one-handed backhands, a prevalent style among players at that time. He naturally gravitated toward the net, fine-tuning his footwork to achieve optimal positioning and overcoming initial troubles with foot faults. As a receiver, Edberg acknowledged his forehand limitations, using it primarily to keep the ball in play while excelling in passing shots off the weaker wing with strategic angles.
Despite struggles against players with greater top-spin and athleticism, especially Jim Courier (Edberg lost to him four four-setters at Slams in the years 1991-93, even at Wimbledon), Edberg’s physical peak from ’89 to ’92 showcased remarkable tennis prowess (uniquely emphasised at the US Open ’92 when he overcame three elite players in consecutive five-setters being on the verge of defeat in fifth sets thrice), capitalizing on his exceptional movement and often employing a ‘cheap-and-charge’ strategy. He even came close to triumphing at Roland Garros, notably reaching the final in ’89 but squandering many opportunities against Michael Chang to win 3-1. Interestingly, he later reversed this outcome in ’96, displaying a different level of reflexes against a vastly improved Chang in his prime.
The late ’80s saw Edberg engaged in intense rivalries with Lendl, Wilander, and most prominently, Boris Becker. Despite Becker’s overall 25-10 advantage in their matches, Edberg prevailed in critical “best of five” encounters, leading 2-1 in Wimbledon finals, 1-0 in ‘Masters’ finals, and 1-0 at Roland Garros.
Edberg’s decline was swift, notably in ’94. Despite being 28, not considered a veteran by standards then, after reaching the Australian Open semifinal, his performance took a nosedive. Between Roland Garros ’94 (one of the tightest clay-court matches of all-times) and Wimbledon ’96, Edberg failed to progress beyond the fourth rounds at majors, a significant downturn for a player accustomed to quarterfinal appearances at least. He was interested in claiming Grand Slam titles, but realizing it wouldn’t be possible, he made the decision to retire despite maintaining a Top 20 ranking.
From a tactical perspective, I believe that Edberg’s serve remains an underrated aspect of his game. In the late 80s, he adjusted his preparation and technique for the serve, reducing the speed while enhancing accuracy and the percentage of successful first serves. He consistently varied the direction of both his first and second serves, keeping opponents guessing and often earning free points directly or as a result of his subsequent volleys. It’s noteworthy his economic approach on serve, constant attacks to the net behind the second serves were a norm, yet often at 40/0 or 40/15 he was staying back behind the first serve. An essential aspect of his serve was its adaptability in changing pace. Initially hailed as a powerful server in his teenage years, he transitioned in his 20s, prioritizing precision over sheer velocity. Nevertheless, he reserved those big serves for critical moments, often deploying them in the closing stages of matches or during tie-breaks.
Career record: 801–270 [ 283 events ]
Career titles: 41
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (champion 1985 & 87; runner-up 1990, 92-93; semifinal 1988, 91 & 94)
Roland Garros (runner-up 1989; quarterfinal 1985, 91 & 93)
Wimbledon (champion 1988 & 90; runner-up 1989; semifinal 1987, 91 & 93; quarterfinal 92)
US Open (champion 1991-92; semifinal 1986-87; quarterfinal 1996)
Masters champion 1989
Davis Cup champion 1984 (doubles), 1985 & 1994
World Team Cup champion 1988, 91 & 95
Gold medal of unofficial event at Olympics 1984 (Los Angeles)
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1 Response to Stefan Edberg

  1. Voo de Mar says:
    Activity: 1982 – 1996

    Five-setters: 26–19 (57%)
    Tie-breaks: 246–167 (59%)
    Deciding 3rd set TB: 18-10 (64%)

    Defeats by retirement: 2
    Walkovers given: 3

    Longest victory: US Open ’92 (SF)… Michael Chang 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4… 5 hours 26 minutes
    Longest defeat: French Open ’94 (1R)… Henrik Holm 5-7, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 4-6… 4 hours 4 minutes

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