Tennis Prose



Sweden Mystery: Where have the tennis vikings gone?

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s Swedish tennis was flourishing with an array of champion calibre talents. There was Stefan Edberg, Thomas Enqvist, Magnus Larsson, Magnus Gustafsson, Thomas Johansson, Niklas Kulti, Jan Gunnarson, Anders Jarryd, Thomas Hogstedt, Niclas Kroon, Peter Lundgren, Kent Carlsson, Henrik Sundstrom, Jonas Svensson, Jonas Bjorkman, Mikael Tillstrom, Mats Wilander and Magnus Norman. These numerous Swedish champions followed the trails blazed by Bjorg Borg’s eleven Grand Slam titles.

But the Viking spirit and soul of Sweden has been transformed into a different, less awe-inspiring example.

Today there are only two Swedish players who are making a minor impact in the ATP World Tour – 23 year old Mikael and 25 year old Elias Ymer, who lost yesterday as a wildcard in the first round of Stockholm to Frances Tiafoe in straight sets. Leo Borg also received a wildcard but was defeated by Tommy Paul 62 64.

167 ranked Elias Ymer has won 22 ATP main tour matches and was once ranked 105 in 2018.

His younger brother Mikael, not playing Stockholm this week (he’s playing instead at a Challenger in Roanne, France), is currently ranked 93. The brothers did win a Stockholm doubles titles together a few years ago, the last time any Swede has won any ATP title, to the best of my knowledge. Mikael has won 39 ATP matches and his best ranking was 67 in March of last year.

Leo Borg, the son of Bjorn, is just 18 years old but having a difficult time progressing to the ATP circuit from ITF juniors. Right now he’s ranked outside the top 2000. At French Open and US Open junior tournaments this year, Borg lost in third round in Paris and first round in New York.

How and why Sweden is no longer able to produce world class professional tennis talent is not easily explained. There are still excellent professional hockey players – Elias Pettersson, Gabriel Landeskog, Elias Lindholm – who star in the NHL – and golfers Henrik Stensson, Alex Noren and Jonas Blixt who win pro golf tournaments.

Unfortunately I can’t give any explanation for this dilemma. Critics can blame the Federation, coaching or the mindset of the young athletes of Sweden but nobody knows for sure what the problem is or who deserves blame, otherwise this mass failure could be corrected.

For those who can remember the golden, glory days of Swedish tennis, it’s a perplexing mystery why Swedish players are struggling to excel or even make it to journeyman status.

All great things must come to and end and it appears Sweden’s days of being a Tennis Super Power have come to that point of evolution.

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  • Krzysztof · November 10, 2021 at 11:56 am

    It is worth to mention Jonas Bjorkman, multiple Grand Slam champion 😉

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 10, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    Krzysztof, It is worth to mention Bjorkman won nine Grand Slams and six singles titles and was no. 1 in doubles and no. 4 in singles 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 11, 2021 at 7:52 am

    I unintentionally omitted Bjorkman in the original post (just added him). I had him in mind but the jumble of all the Swedes to type into the article made me momentarily forget him. He was one of my favorite Swedes, always a friendly guy to interview, we did a Biofile in the 90s and we chatted for some of my Facing books, he had good stories about playing Marcelo Rios and Marat Safin. Thanks for the reminder Krzysztof.

  • Hartt · November 11, 2021 at 5:56 pm

    What I find amazing is that a relatively small country of about 10 million that has long winters, produced so many top tennis players over a fairly long period. I have been watching the Stockholm Open, and there is an interesting list of past winners. McEnroe and Becker had the most titles with four each. But Swedes have done well – Enquist with 3 titles, Johansson and Edberg with two each, and Bjorg and Wilander each with one title.

    The SFs this year will feature four North Americans. Canadians Shapo and FAA will face one another and Americans Tiafoe and Paul are in the other SF. So the Stockholm final is sure to have a Canadian vs an American, we just don’t know which two. Denis is the defending champ, having won the tourney in 2019, the last time it was played.

  • Hartt · November 11, 2021 at 6:07 pm

    I knew “Bjorg” was wrong as soon as I typed it, but it has been a VERY long day of watching tennis and I think I am as tired as the players!

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 11, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    Looks like decent crowds at Stockholm despite no Swedes to support. Strange that Mike Ymer is playing the Challenger in France and not Stockholm. Good that this historic tournament has survived despite no Swedes for two decades. The sport sells.

  • Hartt · November 12, 2021 at 11:01 am

    Apparently there is some controversy about Mikael Ymer not playing Stockholm, but I don’t know what has been said or if Mikael has given his reasons for not playing the tourney.

    I am very excited about seeing the match between Felix and Denis today. Even though Denis is the defending champ I am rooting for FAA. Felix will be No.10 in the rankings on Monday and I think he will have a great 2022 season. In a recent post he said he now has the deep self-believe to compete successfully against the very best. FAA just turned 21 in August, so he is still at the beginning of his career.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 12, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Hartt, what you failed to mention is Felix is still 0-8 in ATP singles finals. He has to end that fatal flaw ASAP. Mike Ymer must be at odds with the Stockholm tournament, seems like some kind of secret controversy festering beneath the surface. Curious to know more details. Has to be something to skip an ATP 250 and go play a Challenger in France instead. That’s one of the most illogical schedule decisions we’ve ever seen in pro tennis so there has to be something going on there.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 12, 2021 at 2:56 pm

    Paul beat Tiafoe 57 76 64. Foe put himself in position to win but Paul hit some magical shots in the tiebreaker, including a Sampras like volley winner with spin which provoked a middle finger response from the irate Foe. Paul cruised in third and closed it out at love 64. Foe hopped the net and gave Paul a warm hug and some words probably to compensate for the middle finger in the tiebreaker. American tennis finishing the year very strong. Nakashima and Korda in a battle in Milan.



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