Interview with Jonas Björkman

He has nine Grand Slam titles, has played a total of 108 finals and boasts a combined ranking that very few of history's biggest stars can match.

But Jonas Bjorkman keeps a low profile before his debut in Kings of Tennis and answers the question as follows how it feels to fill the gap after John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and the other previous poster names:

- They are the kings and legends and its impossible to fill the gap after them. However, I think its very positive that there is a new generation coming to Kings of Tennis, and that I get to be a part which feels fantastic, says Björkman who turns 45 in March.

He can look back on a great career. Yes, we look to the expectations that were on Bjorkman during his junior years, the question is whether any other Swedish player made such as an equally breathtaking trip. The truth is that it was only during his last junior year that Jonas began to take himself seriously. 

But that it would then go as well as it did, no one expected him to but Jonas Björkman's history is an incentive for all young athletes who do not get an early major breakthrough. Moreover, Jonas has showed us that a talented doubles game can be the key that unlocks the door to bigger scenes and bigger matches.

A few months before his 25th birthday Jonas won his first singles title on the ATP Tour (Auckland).  Jonas already had twelve double titles on his merit list, which was topped by the triumph when playing doubles with Jan Apell in the ATP finals of 1994.

In total Jonas Bjorkman won 54 double titles (another 43 on the finals podium) and six singles titles in eleven finals. He was ranked number one in doubles and four in singles.

What are you most proud of: world number one in doubles, four in singles or the combined ranking 5?

- In retrospect, I am even more proud although of the combined ranking of five. It proves that I was a pretty competent player who could play both singles and doubles, and together with several doubles partners. I also think that I handled the various surfaces pretty well, although I was weaker on gravel I still got to two fourth rounds in Paris, he says. 

He played two singles semi-finals in Grand Slams tournaments and with a nine-year hiatus (the US Open in 1997 and Wimbledon in 2006) which underlines that Jonas Bjorkman was for a long time, a force to be reckoned with in the toughest tournaments.

He has not settled down after his pro career but has different projects going on, including coaching for world nr 7 the Croatian, Marin Cilic.

- We started last year but then I had already taken on a few other projects and could only be an active coach for just four weeks. Now its about be 22-23 weeks a year. We are going to polish his volley so that he will feel safe to arrive at the net, to get the feeling that he can to come up after a good ground stroke. The concept is to save energy by shortening the rallies. Then we also must work on his consistency. He has a fantastic high level but still a bit too low of a low level, which we among others saw at the Australian Open (loss in the second round against Englishman Daniel Evans, my remark).

Jonas is one of several Swedish former pros that in their coaching roles have ensured that Sweden still has a place on the ATP tour. He would like to help Swedish players to fight their way there.

I have offered to help a few of the guys if they come to Stockholm, where I nowadays live. But no one responded to me. I want to explain it so people do not think we whom previously were pro would say no, but that’s not the case at all.  Everyone hopes that the trend will reverse and that Sweden will be a strong tennis nation again.

Daily life does not just revolve around tennis anymore for Jonas. Along with Måns Zelmerlöw he has built paddle centers in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Hudiksvall and they are about to open one in Zelmerlöws hometown Lund.

-Also, we have franchises in Östersund and Västervik and plans to expand even more.

 Do you think you paddle tennis in the future may become a threat to tennis in Sweden?

- No, the sport has come by storm to Sweden and now it is our approach to paddle tennis that decides its influence. It is easy to learn and you can have fun even if the level of playing is different. I think it's important for tennis clubs to offer paddle, then paddle players come into the tennis environment instead of searching for a paddle center. Already a big name in sports circles Jonas Bjorkman became a well-known name for every Swede when he two years ago danced onto television screens as a contestant in the popular program” Let’s Dance” which was is part of many families’ Friday night ritual.

Jonas and Veera Kinnuen made it to the semi-finals.

When were you most nervous, during your single Grand Slam semi or the semi in Let's Dance? Tell me about the difference types of ”nerves”?

The semi-final in the Grand Slam. The adrenalin rush is difficult to obtain in any other context. The part that was awesome about Let’s Dance was that I was never nervous on Fridays. I had trained so much during the week and just enjoyed the performances on Fridays. It was like my center court, to step in and deliver. I definitely had benefits from my tennis to be able to switch on and off focus. There were long days and many were charged up all day.I saved myself for the evening, until it meant something. It was like going to wait for a tennis match and I took advantage of that experience. Though I had major problems Saturday, Sunday and early Monday. That’s when Veera had all the choreography in her head, I had to try different dance steps to see what I could do on stage. I did not see in front of me what I would do for the show on Friday and it was nervous and a little scary.

Now he faces the next challenge: to treat the spectators at the Stockholm Waterfront with great tennis at the sixth edition of Kings of Tennis.

What do you think it is that makes the tournament so popular and who is your favorite?

- There’s certainly a lot of nostalgia for all those who follow tennis, spectators will again see players whose professional careers they followed. For us players, it’s incredibly fun to catch up with each other again. Although we were competitors, we hung out a lot together. Ferrero is dangerous, he and Philippoussis, they are the ones who play the most. I'll do my very best, I promise - Jonas Bjorkman.

 

Jonas Arnesen, tennis reporter

Kings of tennis

8-10 Mars 2017