Thursday 14 December 2017

Federer is far from finished -- Edberg

Swedish legend aims to help Swiss star regain top spot

Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand during practice
Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand during practice

Simon Briggs

'We're getting the band back together'. The classic 'Blues Brothers' quote could just as well apply to the tennis elite of the 1980s.

When Stefan Edberg landed in Melbourne yesterday, he completed a set of four slam-winning players who have all signed deals to coach contemporary players over the off-season.

There is a timeless quality about Edberg, whose noble brow and cropped blond hair seem to have escaped from a Pathe News bulletin.

Yesterday, he radiated an air of gentlemanly restraint -- slight confusion, even -- as he was besieged by microphones and TV cameras in one of the farther-flung spots of Melbourne Park, the walkway beside Court 17.

"There has been a lot of talk about former players coming on the tour and now it's all happening at one stage here," said Edberg, who was speaking publicly for the first time since his appointment.

"Obviously it does create a lot of interest; it's good for tennis.

"But it's nice to see Ivan (Lendl) and Boris (Becker) around in the locker-rooms, it's nice to be back talking to one another. It's a different thing now, you're more mature, you're not competing on the court and things are good."

In contrast to Becker, who has taken on what is almost a full-time role with Novak Djokovic, Edberg has agreed to spend only 10 weeks with Roger Federer this season.


Even that has clearly been a wrench for a man who says he lives "a pretty comfortable life, nice and quiet".

Had it been anyone else calling him up last autumn, you fancy he would have put the phone straight back in its socket. But Federer -- who was due to play Australian wild card James Duckworth overnight -- is a hard man to turn down.

"I was really surprised when I got the phone call," Edberg said.

"Obviously I've been away from tennis quite a bit. This was nothing that I thought I would do.

"But Roger is such a special person on and off the court, a person that I really respect and because it was him at least I gave it a thought."

For all his air of understatement, Edberg is a ferocious competitor, as is evident from his tally of six Grand Slam titles. He would not have joined the Federer circus if he did not believe in his ability to arrest the great man's decline.

And as Federer looks to conserve energy by coming to the net more, who better to enlist than the smoothest volleyer of his generation?

"He's such a great player," said Edberg. "But there's always minor things you can work on. That's why I do it, because I really think I can make a little difference. And if I can make a little difference, maybe that will take him back where he was.

"Obviously I talked with my family (before taking up the role) because it's a change in your lifestyle. But it's such a great opportunity as well, just to be around Roger.

"I hope I can have a good input, keep him in this game for as long as we can because he's been so great for tennis.

"Everybody wants him to be around for some time and I believe he has got some tennis left in himself.

"As long as he can stay healthy, and he has the motivation to be out there every day working hard, then he's got the potential to do well over the next few years.

"It's going to be a tough road but I still believe he's good enough on a given day to beat anyone.

"Obviously, if he could win a slam here it would be great. But it's a tough task, there's a lot of good players out there."

One of those good players is of course Djokovic, the champion here for the last three years.

He was out on court yesterday, as Melbourne Park staged its first night session of the tournament, and came through in straight sets against Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, winning 6-3 7-6 6-1.

It was a relatively testing evening for Djokovic, who has not had to play a tie-break in the first week of the Australian Open since 2011.

But the most eye-catching part of the night was Becker courtside, dressed in black and applauding enthusiastically whenever his charge came forward to volley.

"I wasn't nervous," Becker said of his first formal outing as part of Djokovic's support team.

"I was positively excited. I haven't been here for 15 years but the reaction from everyone in the locker room has been great.

It feels very organic to be here, and that it makes it easier for me."

But Becker did have one objection to the new set-up on Rod Laver Arena. "The seats are very small." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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