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Flashback Friday: Stefan Edberg announces his final year on ATP tour
Ranked No. 1 in the world for 72 weeks, including a year-end top spot in 1990 and ‘91, the Swede won 41 singles tournaments and was also a Davis Cup stalwart, helping lead Sweden to the title four times.
December 18, 2020
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President Theodore Roosevelt was the quote machine of his time, arguably the first American president to grasp the power of what would later be called a sound bite.
Having installed the first White House tennis court back in 1902, Roosevelt likely would have appreciated the way a particular tennis champion personified one of his trademark axioms: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The kind man with the great game was Stefan Edberg. Swift movement and sharp volleys carried Edberg to six Grand Slam singles titles—two apiece at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. Ranked No. 1 in the world for 72 weeks, including a year-end top spot in 1990 and 1991, Edberg won 41 singles tournaments and was also a Davis Cup stalwart, helping lead Sweden to the title four times.
He was also one of the game’s most gracious competitors, winning the ATP Sportsmanship Award five times.
Though Edberg’s relentless attacking game was unquestionably in the spirit of the high-energy Roosevelt, in the verbal department, they were light years apart.
But on this December day in 1995, Edberg made a powerful statement, announcing that 1996 would be the final year of his career. For the first time in a decade, Edberg had fallen out of the Top 10, ranked No. 23 at year’s end.
“I feel like I’m still capable of playing some great tennis,” said Edberg, “and I want to leave the game on a high note, while I am still playing at a level I can be proud of.”
Edberg would give plenty that final year, compiling a match record 46-26, a swan song highlighted by a quarterfinal run at the US Open.
“I feel that I have had a good week and a half here,” the 30-year-old Edberg said in New York. “I have really enjoyed playing here this week, and so it has been a good way to end it playing some good tennis. It would have been a lot harder I think going out the first week and not really having a chance, but I feel quite good right now. I feel quite relaxed, tell you the truth.”
And so Edberg went into the sunset. As expected, there were no post-career scandals. Nor was there any post-career bluster in the form of an aging net-rusher lamenting the decline of serve-volley tennis or dismissing those who come in his wake. Also, as expected, there came enshrinement into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in 2004.
More recently, Edberg revealed regret that he’d announced his retirement so far in advance. Speaking with The Tennis Podcast this past summer, Edberg explained how he’d discussed retirement strategies with Roger Federer (who he helped coach for two years, 2014-’15).
Assessing the notion of a year-long farewell tour, Edberg said, “We actually talked a little bit about it and I would not recommend it to anybody actually, even if it’s a nice thing to do, because it does put too much pressure on yourself and there will be too many things going on in your mind. So, if you’re going to announce it, I would do it just before my last tournament . . . or have it in my mind but not for anybody else to know.”