A small country in a cold, harsh Northern climate does not seem the most obvious candidate to have produced some of tennis’ greatest tennis champions. Yet, Sweden has given tennis, among others, Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander and has produced no less than 25 mens’ slam singles titles in the Open era.
Like many European monarchies, tennis was played, or real tennis as it was known, in the royal palaces and among the wealthy. When real tennis became the modern game of tennis, the sport continued to be a popular one and enjoyed a vibrant club culture.
In 1906, The Swedish sports confederation began funding tennis. In 1925, Sweden entered the Davis Cup for the first time.
Sweden has benefited from being a rich country where players could both afford to play the sport and also had the infrastructure- namely, indoor courts and facilities- to support their ambitions.
In the seventies and eighties, professional tennis was played indoors at more events than in the 21st century. For example, in 1980, there were 33 indoor hard and carpet tournaments on the mens’ tour. Compare that to 2019 which had 16. This number of indoor events was an advantage for the Swedish players.
In Spring ‘85, five of the top 15 ATP players were Swedes who challenged the U.S.A for international tennis supremacy. Tennis was incredibly popular as a result of this success with other players believing they, too, could achieve great things and youngsters having plenty of inspiring role models.
Bjorn Borg gave young Swedes plenty of motivation to pick up a racket and emulate him. Borg was one of the first tennis players to crossover from tennis into pop culture and was treated like a rock star.
Did you know?- Bjorn Borg won the Channel Double- Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year- three times, in 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Borg retired aged 26 and his legacy on Swedish tennis continued with Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg following in his footsteps, reaching No.1 in the rankings and winning slams.
Sweden has continued to achieve noteable tennis feats on the world stage. Thomas Johansson upset the favorite Marat Safin in the 2002 Australian Open final. Meanwhile, Robin Soderling became the first player to beat Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros when he upset the Spaniard in the 2009 fourth round. Soderling would go on to make the final as well as the 2010 final.
Other famous Swedish players:
Sweden has won the Davis Cup seven times ( 1975, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1994, 1997, 1998) and made seven finals in a row from 1983 to 1989. Six of their seven wins have been since the introduction of the World Group and tiered system which makes Sweden the most successful country in modern times.
Stefan Edberg won the Gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The ATP 250 Stockholm indoors is played at the end of the season.
The ATP Swedish Open is played on Clay in July in Bastad.
The WTA Nordic light open was played from 2002-2008.
From 1972 to 1973, Sweden hosted one of only four non US pro tournaments, the indoor Swedish Pro Tennis Championships, in Gothenburg.
Swedish tennis’ training system seems to be built on a combination of:
The Swedish federation has a policy of one coach to four players. There is also a preference for indoor facilities due to the climate.
Thomas Johansson is now a coach and has worked with Maria Sakkari, Filip Krajinovic and David Goffin.
Magnus Norman is perhaps Sweden’s most high profile coach. He coached Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka to three slam titles during the era of the Big Three, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Wawrinka has been one of only eight players besides the Big 3 to have won slams since Roger Federer won his first Grand slam at Wimbledon 2003. Of those eight players, only Andy Murray and Wawrinka have won multiple slams.
Norman runs an academy, the Good to Great Tennis Academy, based at the Catella Arena in Danderyd, north of Stockholm. The academy has among its coaches Nicklas Kulti and Mikhail Tillström, both of whom are former Grand Slam quarter finalists.