There's a french word that has become synonymous with Brussels: ennui. Belgium, Brussels, boredom. The three B's. What a splendid setting for big, blond Stefan Edberg, perhaps the most brilliant and—if you believe the newspapers—surely the blandest serve-and-volley player since the invention of movable type.
Under a toneless winter sky, the man accused of sleepwalking his way to No. 1 wears a drab olive sweatshirt and faded jeans that match his eyes. He's folded into a chair in the locker room at the Forest National Tennis Club, silently awaiting his first-round match at the Donnay Indoor Championship in Brussels. "Stefan doesn't say much, even for a Swede," says countryman Mats Wilander. "And during tournaments he says even less."
Edberg, 25, passes the time reading newspapers: The International Herald Tribune, France-Soir, USA Today. He has learned a kind of endless patience. He sits quietly through the undercard matches, forever slightly bored but with an ear cocked toward the wall where the loudspeaker crackles as softly as a banked fire. He listens for his name to be called.
"It's a very special life you live at the top of the table," says Edberg flatly. "You have to live in your own world, back and forth between hotel and court. You go out, you come in, you eat, you sleep, you practice, you play. The more successful you are, the less time you have to do anything else."
An hour goes by. Then another. And another. Finally, Edberg glances up from his papers. He stifles a yawn. He clears his throat. His lips form words. "Why don't Norwegians eat spaghetti?" he asks.
"I said, 'Why don't Norwegians eat spaghetti?' "
"They don't have long enough plates."
Edberg smiles gently. For all his purported dullness, he's an engagingly modest, mild and diffident fellow with a sharp sense of humor—in three languages. Like many Swedes, he has a limitless fund of Norwegian jokes, which he fires broadside from behind the ambush of his benign countenance. "Why did the Norwegian take sandpaper into the desert?"