Stefan Edberg belonged to a generation of Swedes who dominated tennis in the 1980s.

Sweden was unquestionably the superpower of men’s tennis in the ‘80s. Over the course of that decade, Swedish men won 13 Grand Slam singles titles. On three occasions, Sweden was the Davis Cup champion, more than any other nation during those ten years. Its players saturated the ranks, winning all sorts of titles on every possible surface, many holding spots in top ten.

The grand catalyst for this nation’s success had been Bjorn Borg. He’d won his first of six Roland Garros titles at the age of 18 in 1974. The next year, he’d led Sweden to its first Davis Cup triumph. In 1976, Borg won the first of five straight Wimbledon titles.

Like Borg, just about every one of those great Swedes won mostly from the baseline, their games built on topspin, two-handed backhands and the ability to keep dozens of balls in play.

But there was one exception. Dare we call Stefan Edberg a rebel?


Edberg (pictured here in 1995) won six Grand Slam singles titles.

Edberg (pictured here in 1995) won six Grand Slam singles titles.

Edberg conducted himself with such class that the ATP eventually named its annual sportsmanship award after him.

In the realm of playing style, though, Edberg was constantly in his opponent’s face – that is, with swift movements and razor-sharp volley skills. In 1983, the year Edberg turned 17, he won all four junior Grand Slam titles. By November 1985, Edberg had earned wins over such notables as Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and his fellow Swede, Mats Wilander.

From 1977-85, the Australian Open capped off the tennis year. It was also played on grass. Heading Down Under, Edberg was seeded fifth. In the round of 16, he rallied from two sets to love and two match points down to beat Aussie Wally Masur. Two rounds later, Edberg won one of the finest matches of the Open Era, squeaking past the first-seeded Lendl in a rain-delayed, four-hour epic, 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7.

So it was that on December 9, 1985, having just won his first Grand Slam semifinal, Edberg was set to play the first Grand Slam singles final of his career. His opponent was Wilander. It was Wilander’s sixth major singles final – a resume that included Australian Open victories in 1983 and 1984.


If there's somebody I don't mind very much to lose to, it's Stefan. Mats Wilander

For most players, this kind of occasion can be daunting. Not for Edberg. Perhaps he felt supremely battle-tested following his epics versus Masur and Lendl. Or maybe he was relaxed versus a familiar face. Though Wilander was certainly a formidable competitor, Edberg and he were friends going back to childhood. On the eve of the final, the two shared beers, and the next morning, they warmed each other up for the final, subverting the longstanding tennis custom that a player should not with his or her opponent on match day. Sweden’s first-rate synthesis of competition and camaraderie harkened back to the great Australians who’d ruled tennis from 1950-75.

A thoroughly tranquil Edberg volleyed that day with the power and precision worthy of the host nation’s distinguished roster of net-rushers. In 93 minutes, Edberg beat Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, closing out the match with a laser-like backhand down-the-line passing shot.

Said Edberg, ''I've never been so happy in my life.''

''If there's somebody I don't mind very much to lose to, it's Stefan,” said Wilander. “He's a very good friend.''

The tennis calendar was reorganized following this event, and there was no Australian Open in 1986. Instead, the tournament returned to its prior spot at the beginning of the tennis year. Edberg once again found splendor in the grass and successfully defended his title.