The title is inspired from John Hislop’s ‘My Baba and I’. It some how made me believe that it’s the most apt way to describe the impact the visual sporting spectacle had on me during my growing years, its befitting that I write something as a tribute to him on 19th January his 44th Birthday.
I first heard of Stefan Edberg in my school when a certain friend of mine was in awe of him for his style grace and elegance. In Wimbledon 1988, I was rooting for the popular choice Boris Becker, while my cousin Bunnu, went for Stefan Edberg and Edberg won and I dint appreciate Bunnu’s hi-fis and jigs. Things changed in the next year when I went for Edberg and Bunnu went for Becker and Becker won the 1989 Wimbledon crown. In the year that followed Edberg beat Becker again to make the Wimbledon Final tally between them 2-1 & am sure Becker wouldn’t mind trading his over all career record of 26-10 against Edberg to Edberg’s 2-1 at Wimbledon Finals.
Then started the long story as Stefan Edberg became an integral part of my life and I was also following Tennis Master events and not just Grandslams. I was an avid subscriber and follower of The Hindu newspaper for its extensive Tennis coverage and soon realized that Nirmal Shekhar their Tennis Editor also had similar likings for Stefan & used to cover him often in his articles. Even though like a true Journalist he was changing loyalties once players with the likes of Agassi Sampras Courier Chang and ilk joined the fray my loyalties were firmly rooted to Edberg and Becker was my second favorite.
I dint like the Yankees gen’next Tennis federation. I followed US open 1990 in news paper and was stunned to see Edberg eliminated in round one to Alexander Volkov. I knew something special was coming in 1991 and Edberg did win the US Open title for the first time and was in form of his life and by a far margin Edberg’s best Grandslam final against a formidable Jim Courier. To my heart break, few months later Edberg’s form took a dip when he made to the Final of Australian Open but looked completely out of touch and lost to Courier. Edberg’s performance was an acute heart ache as the other team I support; Indian Cricket team was not doing well at all in Australia. India were being outplayed in the fourth test at Adelaide and though Azaruddin show some sparks in the fourth innings, a defeat was inevitable there too. Edberg’s slam form continued its dip when he lost to Medvedev and Ivanesevic in French and Wimbledon 1992. The mother of all Grandslams came in form of US open when Edberg rallied not once but thrice in fifth set to beat Krajicek, Lendl & Chang respectively in 4th Quarters and Semis. In finals he beat Pete Sampras, in a match that supposedly changed the destiny of Pete Sampras when he felt the pain of being no.2. He got a chance in Australia to defeat Edberg but the Edberg was down 0-4 in first set and came back to win the match in straight sets.
After that his form painfully took a dip and was making rather uncharacteristic early exits from Grandslams with the exception being the 1994 Australian Open wherein he reached semi finals. There were days when I used to follow the coverage on then Prime Sports for one full day just hear a mention of the name of Stefan Edberg, in the bargain I understood the game of tennis a bit.
During Stefan’s painful exits, I was often consoled by my sister and cousins about the glory days of Edberg and I used to feel rather relieved while answering their routine questions like, did Edberg win Wimbledon, what is the only Slam Edberg did not win etc.
The worst fear of my wonder years came true when in 1995 Stefan Edberg announced that he is going to retire the coming year. The reception that he got at each and every tournament in his last year on circuit was phenomenal. He had his moments in his last year on circuit when he beat Chang in French Open third round and Krajickek in US Open first round and when he went to the Quarter Finals of US Open and eventually lost to Ivanesevic. It was a night game and there was a scheduled power cut from 9am IST and destiny had it that the match was finished before the power-cut and I had the last glimpse of my hero on a Grandslam court. The unavoidable tears rolled past my cheeks not in the same way as they continually did for the glycerin induced Aishwarya Rai in Sarkar Raj during climax scenes but in a less melodramic and more heart wrenching manner.
Stefan Edberg made the biggest impact on me and laid a strong foundation in my sporting beliefs that the best moment in sport is when an underdog overhauls an established opponent. May be because Satellite Television came to India when Stefan was well past his prime and as I was growing wins never came easy for Stefan but even in defeat the man had a lot of charm style and poise.
The slim-hipped, smooth-moving, polite-talking, prized pupil of a finishing school in manners and volleying, when "in the zone" is the best sight any sport or sportsman can ever offer.... Stefan Edberg in motion is probably the strongest synonym for Poetry in sport.
I would also like to post a certain fact here and will leave it to the readers to decide if it’s a coincidence or strong connection of admiration. In the year Stefan hung his boots, his wife was expecting their second child a son and out he came in 1997, right on the day yours truly was celebrating his Birthday too, February 28th. Have shared this fact with very few may be one to be honest but I believe it’s apposite to be virtually engraved in my first official tribute to Stefan.
No matter even if his slam record now stands at a modest 6 which in that era was quite exemplary, I still would like to dedicate these lyrics Stefan ‘You are simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone I ever met’,
Thanks a zillion.