Between the '70s and '90s, a country of eight million inhabitants ruled the tennis world with Borg, Wilander and Edberg. But after them the downfall. Why? With a guide book, we went to have a look.
STOCKHOLM. Thomas ran to the net on the opponent's drop shot, opened his forehand, leaned the ball to the left of the Russian Safin, and then looked up to see where the lob was going to die. Besides the line. He had won. He didn't kneel, didn't throw his racquet, didn't kiss the Melbourne rebound ace. He simply clutched his fists and smiled, a normal gesture. "I didn't have the feeling it was something historic."
In January 2002, Sweden was winning its final Slam and did not know it. In the land we've been associating with tennis since the '70s, there are no more champions. Gone in 14 years. Not only one who is capable of winning the Roland Garros is missing, but no title in any other tournament, never a final over the last five years, not one semifinal, or a player among the world top 100. There are only two in the top 400. Like a Brazil without football.
Thomas Johansson - that Thomas - today is 41 years old and is the Stockholm tournament director. His name is in the staff of the Peak Tennis Academy, in Östermalm, residential area of the city, apartments for diplomats and bankers, 75 thousand crowns (eight thousand euros) per square meter. Here, they offer five day packages for 5,300 euros to amateurs who want to try the thrill of training in the same conditions as professionals.
"Game Set Match - Borg, Edberg, Wilander e la Svezia del grande tennis", by Mats Holm and Ulf Roosvald
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The Valhallavägen walking is behind the circle: only Valhalla has left for Swedish tennis, the memory of its heroes and their battles. Where's the future?
"When I won in Australia," says Johansson, "Sweden had been missing a title for ten years. Yet my success did not seem an anomaly, we had many top players." Still eight in the top hundred in 2000 and five in 2004, after the peak reached in 1988-1990: three of the top six and twelve in the top 100, behind number one Edberg.
To try and understand the emptiness of today we must scrape under the renowned yesterday. The golden age was narrated in a beautiful book by Mats Holm and Ulf Roosvald, "Game Set Match", reconstructing the lives of Borg, Edberg and Wilander with interviews: it arrives in Italy these days (add editore, pp. 384, € 16). Edberg tells them that "today it takes much money to break through. At 14 or 15 it means spending from 500,000 to a million crowns per year."
Roosvald explains that "a good generation has existed even after Edberg, but without number ones the emulating spirit has gone down. Tennis was for everybody, you just bought a racquet and were playing: coaches were everywhere, today you must pay for them. Being number 300 in the world costs and many courts were given away to 5-a-side football."
- THOMAS JOHANSSON
Among the parks and lakes of Bromma, in Alvik district, the 17 courts on two floors of the Salk-hallen are a good point of observation. Holm and Roosvald explain the Salk-hallen was built in the thirties, in response to king Gustaf's Royal Club. The king had transplanted tennis in the country after a trip to England.
An élite sport until July 1962, when the tv broadcasted a doubles match, Lundqvist-Schmidt against our Pietrangeli and Sirola. 9-7 in the fifth set. Sweden went crazy. The State built gyms in schools and hitting walls. In the small clubs you could try this new thing called tennis.
Until Mr. Rune Borg, a salesman in Södertälje, won a racquet and gave it to his son Björn.
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