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Serve and return

Roger Federer and coach Stefan Edberg.
By Sandra Harwitt
Thursday, September 4, 2014

His physique is as fabulously athletic as ever. His shot-making skill is still stunning as he matches Roger Federer stroke for stroke on the practice court. And his Nordic good looks betray the fact that he’s two year’s shy of his 50th birthday.

Yes, that’s none other than Stefan Edberg. Eighteen years after his 1996 retirement from the game, Federer’s brought Edberg out of retirement. The reasoning: So that he could pick the brain of the six-time Grand Slam champion, one of the last dedicated serve-and-volley impressarios in the game.

Edberg, in fact, is the perfect person for Federer to use as a sounding board, and that’s primarily what a coaching position with the record 17-time Grand Slam champion is all about. When one thinks about players who possess beautiful, effortless games, the names Edberg and Federer are at the top of the list. While other players dash around a court, they float, as if hitting tennis balls is just a natural course of life. And although he swears Edberg’s responsibility wasn’t to help his confidence in going to net, this year’s Federer is going forward more than ever.

Since we last saw Edberg in the mid-1990s, he’s been busy pursuing a career primarily outside of tennis. A big part of that decision was to be home with his wife, Annette, and their children, Emilie and Christopher. But he insists his interest in tennis never waned.

“I’ve been in business, in property and finance, but I’ve always kept in touch with tennis,” said Edberg, who chatted with after a practice session with Federer. “Tennis has always been there and will always be there in one form or another. But the tennis is a bigger part of my life now than it’s been in some time.”

It was at the beginning of this year in Australia when Federer arrived with Edberg as an advisor — or as players now refer to it, as part of their team. Coaching, beyond teaching his son the game, has been a new challenge for the 48-year-old Swede.

“Pretty much a part from my son, I haven’t done any coaching over the last 15 to 20 years,” Edberg said. “But what I have done is I’ve played a lot with young people between 16 and 20, so I have a pretty good idea about coaching.”

Apparently so.

The 33-year-old Federer had a disappointing 2013 season — by his own standards nearly catastrophic — in which he struggled with back problems, the first significant injury that he’s dealt with in his career,

In contrast, the 2014 Federer appears healthy and confident. He’s won three titles this season at Dubai, Halle and the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in Cincinnati, all under Edberg’s tutelage.

There’s no secret that Federer is pleased with the arrangement, as he’s mentioned on many occasions. But how does Edberg feel about coaching in his first season in the role?

“I think I’m basically enjoying it, so far,” said Edberg, in his usual to-the-point manner.

As someone who was a great in his time period, it is interesting to hear from Edberg about how the game has remained the same and what permutations have taken place.

“What hasn’t changed is the waiting around for matches, and the things that go on in the locker room are pretty much the same as before,” Edberg said. “But the game has improved. Obviously the game has changed, there’s no question about it. It’s improved in a lot of aspects. Facilities have gotten a lot better, the players are playing at a very high level.

“The game is obviously more physical today and everybody is pretty fit out there,” he added. “I would say we have what I call a golden generation of players right now. You have four guys (Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) that have been dominating the game for a very long period of time. They are great players with great abilities, which I think is something very unique and we haven’t seen before. It’s a big domination and it’s still going.”

All that said, Edberg is quick to remind that tennis is an ever-evolving sport, saying, “There are some new players on the block who are knocking on the door.”

But surely he isn’t explaining that to Federer — at least not quite yet — in their coaching sessions.