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It's not so sweet at 16 for Edberg


WASHINGTON -- The great first volley doesn't have the sting it once had. The high-kicking serve that set up put-away volleys hasn't been as reliable.

For Stefan Edberg, 29, these are the problems he has faced as his world ranking has dropped to No. 16.

But Edberg, who has earned more than $18 million in prize money, is not ready to put away the rackets for good.

"Obviously, I haven't performed as well as I have for the last 10 years," Edberg said. "I have found myself a little bit in the hole, not playing as well as I want to. I don't see it as a major disaster. I still can perform and make my way back into the top 10."

Edberg, the No. 2 seed in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, began his title defense Tuesday by routing Australian Michael Tebbutt, 6-2, 6-2. He plays 108th-ranked Paul Wekesa of Kenya today in the round of 16.

Last year, Edberg's No. 7 ranking put him out of the top five for the first time in nine years. Now, another streak is endangered -- the Swede's 10-year streak of finishing in the top 10.

"I was sort of disappointed last year because I had nine years in the top five," Edberg said. "That was a big disappointment. I still have a chance to finish in the top 10. There's less pressure than before. All I need is a couple of good wins. Physically, I'm all right. I just need to get in the habit of winning again."

Edberg's slump might be best characterized by his performance at Wimbledon the past two years.

The two-time Wimbledon, Australian and U.S. Open champ has fallen hard at one of his favorite tournaments. He has had consecutive second-round exits to players ranked 113th (Kenneth Carlsen last year) and 176th (Dick Norman this year). That hasn't happened since his first two years on the tour, 1983 and '84.

"It's not been what I would've expected," Edberg said. "I didn't have a good Wimbledon. I would have expected to play better on the grass. I worked hard for it."

Edberg, who has made an all-time high 49 straight Grand Slam appearances, said after his match against Tebbutt that a sore shoulder has been bothering him since Wimbledon.

Edberg is a classic serve-and-volleyer, but more volley than serve.

Edberg, who was ranked No. 1 in 1990 and '91, methodically places his serve to set up his volleys. His accuracy and touch on volleys almost makes him a player of a different era. Unlike Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and their imitators who try to overpower opponents, Edberg relies on his touch and smarts.

"Now, there are a lot of powerful players out there, and that's the way the tennis trend has gone the last couple of years," Edberg said. "The serve is bigger than they did before."

Todd Martin, the fourth seed, is 4-0 against Edberg since they first met in 1993. Martin, 25, says Edberg may have been unable to match the big servers at Wimbledon.

"I think that may have been the case at Wimbledon," Martin said. "A lot of guys get overpowered at Wimbledon."

Fifth seed Jason Stoltenberg, who lost to Edberg in the finals here last year and recently beat him for the first time in seven tries, said younger players are starting to see Edberg as a little more vulnerable.

"They see him losing to players that he normally wouldn't lose to," said Stoltenberg, 25. "He's been around for a long, long time. Even though he will be a great player for as long as he plays, now players have more of a realistic chance of winning than, say, a couple of years ago."

In the past three years, Edberg has had a lot of changes in his life off the court. He married Annette Olsen in 1992, and daughter Emilie wasborn in 1993. Last year, he parted with coach Tony Pickard after 11 years.

Top seed Agassi said the changes have affected Edberg's game.

"I think that it is his desire and motivation," said Agassi, 25. "If he had no other interests in his life, he would be the best. But he has a family, and maybe now he has to say it's time to move on."

This isn't the first time Edberg's desire has been questioned. Early in his career, many said Edberg didn't have enough heart and fire to win the big ones.

"I think the desire is still there," Edberg said. "But obviously, it doesn't get easier with time to motivate yourself every day. Whether I would have played better without having a family or played worse, that question is never going to be answered. I just have to deal with my life as it is.

"I have said for the last three years to just take it one year at a time. That's what I am doing right now. As long as I can stay healthy and the motivation is there, I'll keep playing.

"There will be an end at some point, but I can't tell you when, what and how."

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