Stefan Edberg's retirement, announced yesterday, a month before his 30th birthday, represents more than the loss of a great player; it signifies the end of the golden age of Swedish tennis, which began with the rise of the phenomenal Bjorn Borg in the early 1970s.
The London-based Edberg, who won the Wimbledon singles title in 1988 and 1990 - the year he became world No 1 - also achieved two victories at both the United States and Australian championships. He last tasted success when Sweden won the Davis Cup in Moscow last December. After a decade ranked in the top 10, Edberg has slipped to No 23.
"I thought it was best to announce my decision now. Everyone keeps asking when I'm quitting. It will be in a year's time, whether I'm ranked second or 100 in the world," Edberg said. Edberg, whose last tournament will be the Stockholm Open next November, intends to use pounds 200,000 of his own money to create a trust fund to support young Swedish players.
Edberg, who formed the third link in a chain of success with Borg and Mats Wilander, was a totally different type of player to the other two, decidedly unSwedish with his elegant serve-volley style. Whereas Borg and Wilander constructed points chiefly from the baseline, Edberg's net play has been one of the joys of the sport for the past 12 years. So, too, has his magnificent backhand, and his knack of spinning the second serve, so that the ball would "kick" away from opponents, was another effective weapon.
In common with Borg and Wilander, Edberg had a sound temperament, but during his early years on the professional tour his downbeat body language cost him a number of important matches.
His coach, Tony Pickard, from Nottingham, deservedly was given credit for coaxing the reserved Edberg to overcome "the droops" and lift his chin in adversity. His resilience was never more evident than during the 1992 United States Open.
Having given a sublime performance to win the title in 1991, dismantling Jim Courier in the final, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, Edberg performed a breathtaking series of escapes in successfully defending the championship the following year.
Before defeating Pete Sampras in the 1992 final, he extricated himself from being a break down in the fifth set of three consecutive matches, against Richard Krajicek, Ivan Lendl and Michael Chang. The semi-final against Chang lasted five hours and 26 minutes, a Grand Slam record.
It was Chang who denied Edberg the one major title missing from his collection, climaxing a prodigious performance at the 1989 French Open by defeating the Swede in the final, 6-2 in the fifth set. Chang, aged 17 and three months, emerged as the youngest male to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Edberg, who won two of his three duels with Boris Becker in Wimbledon finals, holds a unique record which began at the All England Club - he has participated in 50 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
In a sport frequently beset by absenteeism among leading players, Edberg did not miss any of the four major championships, from defeating Christophe Roger-Vasselin, of France, in the first round at Wimbledon in 1983, to losing to Andre Agassi, of the United States, in the third round of this year's US Open, when the Swede was unseeded for the first time in a decade.
When the one hundred per cent attendance record began, 12 years ago, Edberg not only made his debut in the main draws at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open, but simultaneously became the first player, male or female, to accomplish a junior Grand Slam.
The policeman's son from Vastervik also played a part in Sweden's four Davis Cup triumphs in the last 11 years, marking his debut in the 1984 final by partnering Anders Jarryd to a doubles win against the Americans Peter Fleming and John McEnroe.
Moreover, Edberg's behaviour throughout his career has never been anything less than exemplary.
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