TENNIS : One of the British game's few links with success was severed yesterday. Tony Pickard, the coach from Nottingham, and Stefan Edberg, the Swedish former Wimbledon champion, amicably brought their 11-year association to a close.
The London-based Edberg, 29 next month, spoke of a "great relationship" and emphasised that he would not be seeking another coach. "I'm going on my own," he said, "which I've pretty much done this year anyway, except for the Grand Slams."
Pickard, 57, declared that he and Edberg would be "pals for as long as we live". As to his own future, Pickard said he appreciated the greater opportunity for home life less travelling had afforded and would review his position after Christmas. "I'm not
going sit on my backside doing nothing, that's for sure."
Further involvement in the British game is uncertain in view of the acrimonious conclusion to Pickard's three years as the Davis Cup captain after the defeat in Portugal in March. "I left because of the people that were running the training department inthe LTA, and they're still there, so there's no way that that's ever going to change."
Pickard, frequently ribbed for adopting the royal "we" when discussing Edberg, deserves credit for coaxing a tentative thoroughbred to maximise his potential.
Victorious against Boris Becker in the Wimbledon finals of 1988 and 1990, Edberg has won six Grand Slam titles, eluded only by the slow clay courts at the French Open, where he was the runner-up to Michael Chang in 1989.
Edberg's unique attendance record - he has participated in 46 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments - also says much for Pickard's guidance.
Though blessed with a classical attacking style denied to the majority of his countrymen, Edberg was slow to impose his gifts of a powerful first serve, a tricky second "kick" serve, a magnificent backhand and a sharp volley.
The talent, evident when the young Edberg worked with Percy Rosberg in Sweden and confirmed when he achieved a junior version of the Grand Slam, appeared to retreat into a shy personality when he was put to the test on the professional tour.
Tony Trabert, the 1955 Wimbledon champion, remarked that Edberg had a tendency to walk on his chin. "Yes, that's what it was," Pickard said. "It was what we used to call the droops.
"It could all be going fine, and then suddenly he'd do something, figuring the other guy shouldn't do anything better, and the head would go, and the whole world knew. And I could have got up out of my seat and gone and booked the tickets home.
"A lot of young men with the talent Stefan had normally would be pretty arrogant, but he was a pretty insecure young man really. I could see what the problem was and never left it alone.
"It took about two-and-a-half years, non-stop, of my changing every negative into a positive. It was a progression. I was strong enough to be able to cope with it, we worked damned hard together, and the boy listened. We got rid of it together."
According to Pickard, the breakthrough came in 1988. "Although Stefan had already won two Australian Opens, I think he really realised that the negatives had gone when Sweden played Czechoslovakia in the Davis Cup, and he was 4-1 down to Miloslav Mecir
in the fifth set and came back and won it.
"For me, that was when he realised, because I can remember him saying to me, `That was positive, Pickard, wasn't it?' I know well enough that however hard a coach works, that when it comes to the crunch, it's the player who has to do it."
The process of placing mind above matter was not as frustrating as it may seem, Pickard added, "because we were doing other things as well to cultivate and mature the talent. A lot of people would disagree with me, but I believe champions are born, but they have to be coached to be able to perform to their best and to win."
Edberg has even developed into a polished performer in the interview room. "Once you become successful," Pickard said, "then your confidence grows. Don't forget that Stefan's English improved, and his understanding of the questions in English improved. And over the years he picked up quite a lot of my bad habits, and maybe some of those show in his press conferences now."
Asked to select the highlight of their partnership, Pickard did not recount a triumph at Wimbledon or in New York or Melbourne.
"I think 10 August, 1990 was the most fabulous evening," he said. "That evening, Stefan beat [Michael] Chang in the quarters in Cincinnati, and when he came off the court, we sat in the locker-room, and he asked me why I was smiling so much. And I said,
`Well, tonight young man, you've just become the No 1 ranked player in the world'.
"That was a very special moment. It doesn't happen to a lot of people, does it? It's something you dream about. You can have all your football managers. You can have all your team events. I helped and coached somebody to become the best player in the world, and I consider that I was very fortunate to be a part of it."
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