A Class Act
Although Stefan Edberg missed out on the Davis Cup triumph which would have been a fairytale climax in December to his retirement year, he will surely always cherish the simple but heartfelt gesture of appreciation from the French Davis Cup captain, Yannick Noah, almost as much.
Breaking away from his own team's understandable delirious celebrations at winning the flrst Davis Cup flnal in the 96-year history of the competition to go down to the flfth and last set of the flfth and last rubber, Noah hoisted Edberg onto his broad shoulders and took him on a lap of honour round the court.
Of the countless presentations made round the world during 1996 to the softly spoken son of a former Swedish policeman, this was among the most poignant. Noah was refiecting the respect and admiration which everyone in the tennis world, especially his fellow players, will always have for Edberg the player and, just as importantly, Edberg the man.
More formally, the Swedish Tennis Association presented him with a telescope to mark his farewell, telling him "You've been a star all your life so now you can look at the stars."
"I felt better being in the background. That's the way I like it" said Edberg, the flrst winner of a junior Grand Slam in 1983 who went on to collect six Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990, while making a record 54 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tournaments from Wimbledon in 1983 through to a quarter-flnal appearance at the us Open last year.
About three years ago, I hailed a taxi in London and asked to be taken to the lta headquarters at Baron's Court. "You're the second person connected with tennis I've had in the cab today" said the driver. "I think the other was Stefan Edberg."
"You're not sure?" I inquired. "I am really" he replied. "It's just that when I was helping him put his bags into the cab and I said to him 'You're Stefan Edberg, aren't you?', he smiled and just said "You may well be right!"
That sums up the modesty Edberg demonstrated throughout his illustrious career. He won 41 singles titles (22 hard, 11 carpet, 5 grass and three clay) plus 18 doubles titles and at least one singles title every year between 1984 and 1995 and might have been on the winning side in the Davis Cup flnal for a third time but for a twisted ankle in his flrst rubber in last year's flnal.
In the increasingly harsh commercial world of professional sport he is a consummate sportsman with a sharp, though wonderfully understated sense of humour. He won the atp Tour's Sportsmanship Award so many times (flve in a row) that they have now named the award after him.
At a time when modern technology helps artisans far more than artists like him, he is conscious that some wished he could have become more extrovert. In the last few years he did a little. Yet with Edberg just a raised eyebrow became noteworthy. He does not mind. "I just stuck to doing the things that I did best" said the champion described by Mark Miles, chief executive oYcer of the atp Tour as "a class act in every respect."
"I think that over the years people grew to understand what I stood for. They knew what type of player I was. I think they respected me for that."
They did and they always will.
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