by Stefan Holm
translated into English by Mauro Cappiello
No one believes in Sweden for the Davis Cup match against Serbia. It was better before, when coaches were forced to discard the top 10 players. - It's absolutely crazy, but that was the situation for some years, remembers Stefan Edberg.
The Swedish team that won the Davis Cup in 1987
From 1983 to 1989 Sweden played seven straight finals. How was it possible?
He remembers it like yesterday, how he sat in front of the tv on the upper floor of his villa in Västervik. The black and white photos of the Kungliga Tennishallen showed how his childhood hero, a 19 year old guy with headband, made history.
Stefan Edberg was only nine years old back then, but if he closes his eyes he can see how Björn Borg defeats Jan Kodes and throws himself into Lennart Bergelin's arms.
His victory meant that Sweden gained an unassailable 3-1 lead against Czechoslovakia and for the first time won the Davis Cup.
It was on Sunday December 21st, 1975.
- It was huge. At the time, not so much tennis appeared on television, but we could follow the Davis Cup. I sat glued and watched all the matches. Björn was expected to win his singles. The doubles match was always the most important, and then we kept our fingers crossed that Ove Bengtsson would score enough returns, says Stefan Edberg.
The Bohemian from Bodafors
Then he comes naturally to "Bragd-Birger". In 1975 everybody talked about the Bohemian from Bodafors. Birger Andersson, his real name, was sitting in the stands during the final but starred in the matches against West Germany and Spain.
- Yes, it was "Bragd-Birger" who laid the foundation for the final. That he could beat (Karl) Meiler and (Jose) Higueras is incredible, says Stefan Edberg.
He knows his tennis history, is aware that Birger had given up his professional career but made a comeback and became a national hero.
Bragd-Birger lost faith in himself during 1974, when he was outclassed by Rolf Norberg. In the autumn of the same year he began a new career as a coach and went for a tour of Spain with a few juniors.
Who improved the most during all those hours on the claycourts? Birger Andersson.
In the Davis Cup the following year he beat world class players even though he had dropped to the ninth place in the rankings. The Swedish ranking, obviously.
- Incredible, repeats Edberg.
Shared a dream
The 1975 Davis Cup victory and Borg's unprecedented success meant a lot for Swedish tennis. Stefan Edberg is the first to admit it. He was one of thousands kids that after every TV match looked for the nearest court or ran out in the streets with their "tennis trainer", which allowed single-player game because the ball was attached to a rubber band.
Joakim Nystrom did the same thing in Skellefteå, Mats Wilander in Torpsbruk.
They shared a dream, to be the next Björn Borg.
- Björn Borg had great importance and urged many talents to choose tennis. Furthermore, we imitated his style, which was very successful. Almost all foreigners played with single-handed backhand and slices. We were just as good as them and could hit top-spin shots from both sides, says Joakim Nystrom.
If Bragd-Birger's' win was surprising, what followed was nothing but sensational. Mats Wilander's surprise victory in the French Open in 1982 was the start of a full blue and yellow dominance.
- Success breeds success. When Mats won in Paris, I thought, "I'll meet him at practice sometimes. I'm better than I think." Then it popped up new players, says Joakim Nystrom.
Sweden quickly became the world's leading tennis nation. It was never more evident than in the Davis Cup. Borg's disciples played seven consecutive title ties from 1983 to 1989 and missed the semifinal only in two occasions from 1983 to 1998.
- It's pretty good, says Stefan Edberg.
- Yes, it's hard to beat, if you compare with other national teams.
How was it possible?
- Thanks to good players, good leaders, good conditions and some luck. Then we had, compared to other countries, a good team spirit. We grew up thinking as a team.
Edberg was included in the Cup Team from 1984 to 1996 and garnered many unforgettable memories. He has played seven finals, reversed three 0-2 situations and clinched the classic final in 1984, when Sweden beat the US in the Scandinavium Arena.
The Swedes took no account of the Yankees lined up with the world's two top singles players, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, and the world's best doubles pair, McEnroe and Peter Fleming.
Wilander beat Connors 3-0 and Henrik Sundström gave McEnroe the same harsh treatment.
Already in the doubles, Stefan Edberg, teaming up with Anders Järryd decided the match.
John-Anders Sjogren, who assisted Hans Olsson before he took over the main responsibility, ascribes that success to Björn Borg. He had humanised both McEnroe and Connors, affecting the Swedes' respect for contemporary superstars.
- Björn was an icon for the guys and got them to lift themselves. Arthur Ashe (then US Davis Cup captain) had tremendous respect for Swedish tennis. When we won, he said that Sweden would dominate for years, says "Jonte".
So it went. A golden generation of players, Wilander, Edberg, Nyström, Anders Sundström and Järryd, was followed by a new golden generation of players like Thomas Enqvist, Magnus Larsson, Magnus Gustafsson, Jonas Björkman, Thomas Johansson and Magnus Norman.
By joining their forces, Sweden also won the Davis Cup in 1985, 1987, 1994, 1997 and 1998.
Stefan Edberg played 50 singles and 20 doubles matches in Davis Cup context. If it were not for the inhuman competition, he would have played even more.
Sweden was so good that coaches were forced to discard the top 10 players.
- There were always other players who were at least as good. Whoever the captain took out, he was not wrong, says Edberg.
In 1984-1985 Joakim Nyström was the highest ranked in singles, eighth, and in doubles, fifth. During the same period, he didn't play a Davis Cup match.
- One had to perform wonderfully well for being selected.
"Today it is hopeless"
In 2012 Swedish tennis does not suffer from abundance issues. Robin Söderling makes a one-man team and, when he is not available, he forces captain Thomas Enqvist to take what he has got.
In the absence of alternative, he calls Michael Ryderstedt and Filip Prpic for the singles matches against Serbia. Ryderstedt is n. 348 in the world ranking, Prpic n. 1,426.
- At the moment, without Robin, the situation is quite hopeless. Looking at the paper, any victory would be a mini feat, says Stefan Edberg.
- I have worked for the Swedish Tennis Federation and know that it is not easy to get the players. To get anywhere, they must have talent and passion for tennis, says Joakim Nyström.
It was better before.
The only Swede who may have a reason to cheer during the weekend is just Nystrom. He is the assistant coach of Austria, who face Russia in Vienna.
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