by Jonas Arnesen
Translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
In the spring of 1983, the Swedish Davis Cup team began the amazing journey that brought to seven straight finals. This weekend Sweden will be fighting to regain a place in the World Group. How did we get to this point? SvD.se tennis reporter Jonas Arnesen has followed the team closely for over 30 years and sees several reasons for the decline.
We wrote from a packed Scandinavium in Gothenburg in December 1988, when Sweden played the Davis Cup final for the sixth consecutive year.
Prior to the meeting with the Germans, Sweden had lost just two of the previous 22 ties, the team had the most successful and beloved stars in all categories of Swedish sports, and they were proud to be playing for their country.
Swedish tennis flourished, during the season Mats Wilander had won the Australian Open, the French Open and had become the first Swede to triumph at the US Open, Stefan Edberg had won his first of two Wimbledon titles and with the two men from Smaland the Swedes were the clear favorites against Boris Becker & Co..
After only two days the guests won, still the main setback was yet to come.
With barely a week left until Christmas Eve and in the arena where four years earlier the Swedes hailed after the final victory against the United States, the spectators turned against home favorites that did walkover in the last singles match.
Although the tie was decided, the audience expected to exploit their expensive tickets even in the last day. But only Stefan Edberg took his responsibility and, despite his appeals, Davis Cup captain Hans Olsson did not succeed in getting any player - some had had a late night out and Kent Carlsson was injured - on court for the fifth match.
Olsson grabbed the microphone and asked the crowd for understanding, but his words were drowned quickly by boos and whistles and the following day the captain and his players got critical headlines from the newspapers.
The halo that had been around the Swedish tennis pros was gone, the popularity plummeted, internal conflicts sowed division and sponsors pricked up their ears, yet no one could even imagine that what had happened at the Scandinavium was the beginning of the decline of Swedish tennis.
The king of clay Kent Carlsson was the only one - at least publicly - who stood up in defense of Hans Olsson a few months later when he was fired and just underlined that the team's homegrown stamp was gone.
With the help of the Swedish final in 1989 - again lost to Germany, then with John-Anders Sjogren in the captain's seat - the Federation managed to sweep the problems under the carpet and the warning about the development of junior side in Swedish tennis fell behind and was not taken seriously.
When, in an interview on Svenska Dagbladet, the now deceased successful coach Tim Klein said that Sweden was about to become a B-nation, he was laughed at by the leaders whose self-righteous attitude had serious consequences both on economy and on sports.
In the belief that tennis had the same attraction for sponsors as sugar for flies, the tennis federation was taken by surprise when the 20-million contract with Beckers - who sponsored a successful team - expired in 1992. Beckers had no interest in extending the agreement, Swedish tennis brand had dropped in value and the federation lacked expertise in marketing, which, together with the ongoing financial crisis, meant that the sport got the cold shoulder from the industry.
The absence of strong sponsors forced the federation to cut operations by 20 percent and the dependence on the Davis Cup income increased.
But the link between sporting success and income was gone. The 1994 semifinal at the Scandinavium against star-studded United States became a setback in audience and economic terms and the final away against Russia a few months later blotted difficult internal conflicts.
John-Anders Sjogren had decided to leave the captain's chair, his successor, Carl-Axel Hageskog, started a direct feud against the Davis Cup Committee and, after the final in Moscow, Göteborgs-Posten and Svenska Dagbladet could reveal that the committee had resigned.
Hageskog allied himself in the Board with Anders Wetterberg - later Secretary General - and for some years ruled the state of all the Swedish tennis.
The successful model of teams - 12 of Sweden's 18 top ten players nurtured in teams - was let down for individual initiatives and the importance of measuring the juniors' strength internationally at a young age was underestimated.
"Today, we have all the possibilities to change the rules, as most want, to resume our target of being a leading junior nation," we read in the guidelines presented in 1995.
Davis Cup titles in 1997 and '98 were the result of work done many years earlier, but still gave tennis handlebars to wave off the criticism and fears about the future.
The economic crisis was not to hide. Despite four home ties in 1997 the federation suffered a loss of about 1.5 million, and interest in the final against the USA in Scandinavium was so weak that many tickets were not sold.
The year after, the triumph away from home against Italy in 1998 went to Sweden, but the relegation from World Group to Euro Zone was just one year away.
Since 2005, Sweden has been forced to play qualifying on five occasions and there would have been a few more times if Robin Soderling's involvement had not acted as artificial respiration.
- Book on history of Swedish tennis available in English
- Edberg and Järryd defeated in Båstad doubles exhibition
- Legends shine in Båstad
- Edberg: "Swedish tennis is still behind"
- Book on glory days of Swedish tennis is out in Italy
- STE...fans, 12 and counting!
- Stefan and Annette in the Royal Box!
- Norman: «I thought Edberg could never beat me»
- Edberg's tennis hall wins passive architectural award
- Edberg supports squash Olympic bid
- "The same Slams as Edberg and Becker? I got shivers..."
- Happy birthday, Stefan!!!
- Stefan Edberg, last winner on grass
- Merry Christmas from... Stefan Edberg :-)
- Celebrities queued in Södra Climate Arena