DUBAI // Stefan Edberg has re-emerged on the international scene just as he left it, with grace, composure and consummate professionalism. Having drawn the curtain on a distinguished playing career more than a decade ago he could resist the lure of competition no longer and will line up alongside many of his former adversaries at the Legends Rock tournament in Dubai this week.
The Swede, a replacement for the injured Goran Ivanisevic, is grouped with Wayne Ferreira and Anders Jarryd in the round robin competition. In the other group are Jim Courier, Paul Haarhuis and Sergi Bruguera. Edberg has never been one to court celebrity despite his greatness as a player. "I am a laid-back individual and I do not want to be the centre of attention like some players. At school I would always sit at the back of the classroom and just get on with my work."
"When my professional career came to an end there were other things I wanted to do in life. I had achieved my objectives in tennis. And though I have resisted offers to return in the past I thought 'it could be fun'. It's great to see so many players of my era still involved as ambassadors for the sport." Since retirement Edberg has turned down offers to lead the Swedish Davis Cup team, instead using some of the ability and acumen he displayed on court to become a successful businessman. But even he has found the present financial climate a challenge.
"I am part owner of an investment company, which is giving me plenty of trouble at the moment. It is a difficult period and I am having to commit a lot of time to it." Even in conversation Edberg is meticulous and methodical, ensuring every point is set neatly into the context of his career. It seemed logical therefore when he explained that what he cherishes most is not a single moment of victory but the consistency that saw him ranked the world No 1.
"Of course winning my first Wimbledon was very special. But for me being ranked No 1 is what I am most proud of because for that you have to win several tournaments, be consistently competitive over a long period of time. Not many people will achieve that." Reflecting on the modern game Edberg displays a humble, considered detachment in a frank admission that players of his era would struggle against today's greats.
"The game has changed now. Some of the leading players are at a higher standard and have taken tennis to a another level. [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal have really dominated. But now a new generation of players are starting to challenge their supremacy." However, noting the rise of football as the dominant global sport the former Wimbledon champion says it will be a challenge for tennis to captivate a younger generation.
"Looking back, the 1980s was the heyday for tennis. It was very popular. Now football dominates and almost swallows up the other sports. This makes it difficult to introduce the sport to children. Hopefully taking tournaments to places like Dubai will help that process." Edberg is looking forward to possible meeting in the later stages with the enigmatic Courier, who defeated him twice in the Australian Open final. His desire to win was betrayed in the semblance of a smile he admitted. "I can remember some of his weaknesses. I just hope he has forgotten mine."