Stefan Edberg - snubbed by the Tennis Hall of Fame
by M. L. Liu

Word has come that "(Boris) Becker is the lone nominee in the Recent Player Category" on the 2003 Tennis Hall of Fame ballot. (See here).

This was rather startling news. I had long assumed that Stefan Edberg, who retired in 1996, would be a shoo-in for the nomination and induction, as soon as he became eligible, which happens to be this year. And I am not alone in making this bold assumption: Among Edberg fans there has been talks of making arrangements to attend the induction ceremony next year. And at an exhibition event held in Cape Cod this past July, Brett Haber -- the emcee -- introduced Edberg as a "future Hall of Famer."

To be perfectly frank, I personally don't give a rat's care about Halls of Fame. I had never paid any attention to them, in any sport. And it didn't escape my attention that when Mats Wilander was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame this year, hardly anyone noticed.

But the announcement that Becker rather than Edberg is this year's nominee is jarring, as it amounts to a slight on Stefan Edberg.

And it is rather baffling. This is what is posted on the Hall's web site:

    Players are elected based on their records of competitive achievement, with ancillary consideration given to sportsmanship and character.
    Individuals are elected in one of three categories:
    • Recent Players - are those who were active as competitors within the last 20 years, but have not been a significant factor in competition tennis during the previous five years
    • Master Players - are competitors in the sport who have been retired for 20 years.
    • Contributors - are individuals such as writers, coaches, and administrators who have made exceptional contributions to the sport.
Let me say right off the top that I have high regard for Boris Becker. The point is not whether Boris deserves the nomination, but whether he should have received the nomination while Edberg is snubbed. Yes, snubbed, slighted, a slap on the face.

Let's consider the foremost criterion for the consideration: Records of competitive achievement. I think it is generally agreed that Edberg and Becker have comparable records in this regard - equal number of grand slam titles (six), and similar counts in tournament titles (Becker: 49 singles and 15 doubles titles, Edberg: 42 singles and 19 doubles titles.) The fact is that the careers of these two great players were entwined from the days when they were juniors, and their friendly rivalry at the Wimbledon is remembered by many fondly. On this account, they both deserve to be honored.

Consider the "ancillary consideration" of sportsmanship and character then. Need I remind anyone that Edberg is the namesake of the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award? And does anyone who witnessed his 1992 U.S. Open victory have doubts about Edberg's character?

But the strangest thing about Becker's nomination is that he should not even be eligible yet. To repeat the Hall of Fame's own edict: "Recent Players - are those who were active as competitors within the last 20 years, but have not been a significant factor in competition tennis during the previous five years." If you check the official records (see"), Becker played through June 1999 and won a few matches that year, reaching final in Hong Kong in April that year.) Do you agree with me that it's a real stretch to say that Becker "has not been a significant factor in competition tennis during the previous five years"? And even if somehow an argument can be made that Becker does meet that criterion, then don't you agree that, by the same token, Edberg should have been considered at least three years ago?

Incidentally , a poster on pointed out that the announcement even made a mistake about Becker?s records, stating that he was number one ranked for 109 weeks, which is wrong ? Bjorn Borg holds that record. Becker occupied the number one rank for twelve weeks.

The whole thing is perplexing and smacks of favoritism. What in the world can the reason be behind the rush to nominate Boris Becker while Stefan Edberg is ignored? I have my theories. Here they go:

  • The folks at the Hall of Fame are not good at math.
  • The folks at the Hall of Fame don't really watch tennis, and they, sadly, got Edberg and Becker mixed up.
  • Money talks.
  • There is this upcoming exhibition match at Flushing Meadows that you might have heard of - McEnroe vs. Becker. The nomination is a desperate attempt to generate some buzz for the event. (I am not joking, this line appeared in the Reuter report about the nominations: "Becker is due to face John McEnroe in an exhibition match at the U.S. Open next week.")

In any case, to me, this nomination has made a mockery of the so-called Hall of Fame. I just assume that Edberg stay away from it. I plan to.

postscript: On August 31 I received a response from Kat Anderson ( of the Hall of Fame, as follows:
    I understand your feelings toward the ballot announcement this year. Please be assured that the committee is very aware of both individuals' records and accomplishments. As I cannot speak for the nomination committee, I suggest you direct your inquiry to the chairman, Tony Trabert, c/o International Tennis Hall of Fame, 194 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840. (Unfortunately, Mr. Trabert does not have an email address.) I will also make sure a copy of this email is sent to the committee.
    Kat Anderson
    International Tennis Hall of Fame
I immediately drafted this letter to Tony Trabert. I expect to receive a response from Mr. Trabert.