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Sweden's Greatest Tennis Star Bjorn Borg. Swedish Tennis After Borg. Jonas Bjorkman Gives Doubles Tips.

Aired July 14, 2011 - 05:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, HOST: Welcome to another edition of OPEN COURT. This month, we're at the Swedish Open in the lovely seaside town, Bastad.

Despite having a population of just nine million and a climate more suited to winter sports, the Swedes have won a staggering 48 Grand Slam titles over 35 years. Now, that's a phenomenal record for any nation.

On this month's show, we speak to Sweden's greatest player of all time, the incomparable Bjorn Borg.

We meet the man who is single-handedly carrying Swedish hopes in the modern game.

And I take the court with the doubles expert, Sweden's Mr. Consistent, Jonas Bjorkman.

But there's only place to start a show about Swedish tennis. Need I say anymore?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How big he was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would be the king in Sweden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe in God?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something like that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He totally was an icon, and all the youngsters admired him, and everybody wanted to turn into tennis players. That's all I know.

CASH (voice-over): Well, these Swedes can only be talking about one man, the coolest man ever to pick up a racquet, Bjorn Borg.

CASH (on camera): So, Bjorn, growing up in Sweden, I -- tell me a story about the garage door.

BJORN BORG, 11 GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: The famous garage door. It's a good story. My father was a good table tennis player. He was really good, so he took me to one of the local tournaments he was playing, and he won the tournament.

He had to pick through prizes, and there was like a kind of racquet, a tennis racquet, and I was sitting there and I said, "Papa, Father, please. Take that racquet."

So, he took the racquet. Next day, I was outside this garage door. It was behind the apartment where we were living. So, every day, I was hitting against this garage door, and that's how the whole thing started, and I was pretending I was playing David Cup and Wimbledon.

PERCY ROSBERG, COACH: Take the racquet back a little bit earlier.

CASH: And Percy Rosberg was your first coach. He taught you the basics of tennis.

BORG: Percy, I think, still today in Swedish tennis, he has the most knowledge when it comes to technique. When you -- hard to hit the backhand, hard to hit the forehand. So, all these things. He can see immediately what kind of problem or what you're supposed to do.

ROSBERG: Oh, one hand slice on the back count. Fantastic.

BORG: He was like the national trainer in Sweden. So, one day, he came to my hometown. I was playing with a person, he was saying, "You have potential. You have some potential. Maybe one day."

ROSBERG: I saw this guy. I find really quite good for myself, and I put the ball over to him, and then, he never missed any ball. And his footwork, as an elegant, 20-years-old guy, was marvelous. And I thought, if you could do something with this guy's technique, he will be very difficult for people in the future to beat.

CASH: Your double-hand backhand's world famous. I mean, it's so famous, it's -- how did you come upon that style? Because that was unusual then. We -- it was always single-handed backhands.

BORG: Nothing. During that time, it was very unusual, because when I picked up the racquet, when beginning I was playing with two hands on my backhand and the forehand.


BORG: Both sides.

CASH: Yes.

BORG: Because I got a very heavy racquet.

CASH: It's like the old wooden racquet, they're too heavy to lift.

BORG: Like the old wood -- too heavy. And I think a lot of players during that time started with a very heavy racquet. So, I think during that time, a lot of players played with both hands.

ROSBERG: Swedish journalists, they told me, "Percy, change this guy's technique because it looks awful."

BORG: And I'm a little bit stubborn, you know, I'm a little stubborn. So, I did this to -- so, I was continuing my backhand top spin, and that's how the whole thing started.

CASH: And you were so young that year you won the French Open, 18.

BORG: I beat Manuel Orantes in the final five sets. When you win your first major, it's like, that's what you've been working for. That's the most satisfying, that's the most beautiful moment in your life.

CASH (voice-over): Borg won a record six French Open crowns, but perhaps his greatest talent was his ability to seamlessly adapt from the slow clay courts of Roland Garros to the lightning-fast courts of Wimbledon where, starting in 1976, Bjorn won five consecutive titles.

BORG: Back in Sweden, I grew up on the clay courts. I grew up on indoors, very fast floors.

CASH (on camera): Oh, OK.

BORG: We're playing because of our climate.

CASH: Yes.

BORG: So that's my surface. Grass I always enjoyed. I remember coming to Wimbledon, first time playing junior Wimbledon, and I was not doing really well because it's a completely different experience, different surface. But slowly, that becomes my favorite surface, to play on grass.

CASH: Fantastic rivalries with John McEnroe. It's one of the great rivalries.

BORG: John was something special. The rivalry that we had, me and John, was a special thing. Not only on the court, but we respected each other off the court, too.

JOHN MCENROE, SEVEN GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: Right away I felt like, wow, this is -- I know one thing, it's going to make me a better player. And I hope that at some point it made him a better player.

And then, all of a sudden, there was this incredible interest, which was like, OK, this is amazing. This is -- and then it got to be really fun. So I obviously wish it had kept going longer.

CASH (voice-over): The fact that it didn't was because Borg walked away from the game in 1983 at the age of just 26, a decision that had a huge impact on tennis and McEnroe in particular.

MCENROE: It affected me quite a bit. For the better part of a year or two, I just wasn't the same player. I just kept waiting for him to come back. Kept -- every time I saw him, I said, "When are you coming back?"

I sort of was like semi lost for a bit and felt like people weren't even wondering why he left or trying to do something about it, and it was extremely -- frustrating to know what to do or say. So, it was a weird time.

BORG: He felt like, "This guy is going to give me motivation, is going to give me something extra to bring out my best."

CASH (on camera): So, he really didn't want you to quit.

BORG: No, no. I was telling him, "John, listen, don't call me anymore. I'm going to retire. Don't you understand? Don't call."

CASH: And you'd just had enough?

BORG: I just had enough. I didn't touch a racquet, actually, for six years. I came back, played in Monte Carlo with my wooden racquet. It was fun to play. I played with a completely new generation.

CASH: Yes. It was me. I was practicing with you a lot.

BORG: I know. We were practicing --

CASH: You were playing well.

BORG: No -- yes, I -- yes, we played many hours, you and me.

CASH: Yes.

BORG: So, lucky enough, Jimmy Connors started a senior circuit, 92, 93 in the States. And that was the perfect thing for me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a great name in fashion more than sports. That's all I know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I only know him from the brand, the clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With that headband he had, you can't be nothing but an icon.

CASH: I know you as the champion, with the headband, I copied the headband. Young people know, they know you for your underwear. Where did that come from?

BORG: Underwear? It started many years ago. Fashion, I've always been interested in fashion. I think a lot of people in the world, they need underwear, so --


CASH: Everybody needs underwear.

BORG: No, not everybody, but a lot of people. A lot of people.

CASH: Well, Borgie, I wanted to be you when I was 14. I want to be you now. Thank you very much for your time. You inspired so many people.

BORG: Thank you, Pat.

CASH: Lovely to talk to you.

BORG: Love you, man.

CASH: Thanks.

BORG: Thank you. Thanks.


CASH: Yes, there's no doubt he's a legend. The first true rock and roll star of tennis.

After the break, we look at the legacy of the man and how he kickstarted a golden era of Swedish tennis.


CASH: Welcome back to this special Swedish edition of OPEN COURT. Now, seeing how much Bjorn Borg changed the game of tennis in the 70s and 80s, his legacy also inspired a whole new generation of tennis players.


CASH (voice-over): It's been a bumper week of tennis on the west coast of Sweden. While Bastad was hosting the Swedish Open, its neighbor Halmstad was enjoying their own tennis party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.

CASH: Yes, the Davis Cup came to town, and with it, the current world number one and recently crowned Wimbledon champion. Unfortunately for the locals, he was on the wrong side.

While Novak Djokovic heads up the Serbian team, boasting three players in the top 30, the Swedish team has none.

Not so long ago, it was a very different story.

BJORN HELBERG, TENNIS JOURNALIST: If the tie had been played 20 years ago, I'm almost convinced Sweden would have won 4-1. Or maybe 5-love.

CASH: What Bjorn Borg started in the 70s, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg continued in the 80s and 90s. Between them, they won 17 Grand Slam titles.

MATS WILANDER, SEVEN GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: The reason why we had so many players in the 80s is because of Bjorn Borg, and it was kind of, well, we're going to play similar to him, and no one had started playing like that.

Everybody was stuck in the 60s and the 70s with the old-fashioned way of playing, and we played the modern way. We were just lucky that we were at the right place at the right time.

STEFAN EDBERG, SIX GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIPS: It was fantastic era of Swedish tennis, and I think it was due to Bjorn Borg, which really made a difference being a superstar and creating a lot of interest of young people, like myself, in Sweden.

And a lot of new tennis holes and courts popping up everywhere. A lot of interest and, obviously, we were a golden generation. We had a lot of success and it's quite amazing, the success that we had from such a small country.

CASH: With half a dozen top-ranked players, Sweden also enjoyed considerable team success.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a night of celebration for Swedish youth this is.

CARL-AXEL HAGESGOG, SWEDISH DAVIS CUP CAPTAION, 1983-2002: I was on the team between 1983 and 2002, and this time, we won six times. We were in the finals another five, and semifinals five. So that makes 16 out of 20 we were in the top three league, so that's amazing.

When I'm reflecting over the time, I think that one big reason is because of very good work they were doing in the clubs and Sweden. It was not because of me or the coaches and the team. It was the players who won the Davis Cup for us, and that comes from the good work out in the clubs.

And at that time, or earlier, in the 70s, 80s, we had over a thousand clubs in Swedish tennis. And today it's down to 482. So, I think that's very important, that you give the clubs the feeling that they can build the team up there.

CASH: The golden generation was born out of small clubs, like this one in Vaxjo, southern Sweden. This is the club that produced Mats Wilander and Jonas Bjorkman and now hopes to find the next Swedish champion.


TOBBE THESTRUP, COACH, VAXJO TENNIS CLUB: I think we lost a little bit of the fighting spirit. It's harder to get the players to give everything.


THESTRUP: Every day, we try to learn how to fight, how to push. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Keep working on it. Very hard.

WILANDER: The reason I was successful coming out of Vaxjo was because we only had two courts to practice on. We only got about three hours a week. We had to organize everything else ourselves on other courts, and I think we just learned how to take care of every second on the tennis court.

We used to play with the best players in the club, and we played to have fun, but we played to get better, and we used every minute of the practice, and I think very often, you see kids that are actually playing too much. It's much better to play too little than too much, and we played way too little.

The Spanish federation came up in the 80s and looked at what was going on in Sweden. Now, obviously, the Swedish federation is going to Spain and see what's happening in Spain.

CASH: It's been years since Sweden last won a singles Grand Slam, but things are looking up, thanks to one man. World number five, Robin Soderling.

ROBIN SODERLING, WORLD NUMBER FIVE: I tried to see if there's something positive, I tried if I could inspire kids like what all the other players did when I grew up. They inspired me so much, and that's why I play tennis.

Tennis was really big back then in Sweden, and a lot of kids played. Everyone played, not only on the courts, they played on the streets, everywhere. Everybody played tennis.

CASH: In the week Soderling was born back in 1984, Sweden boasted six players in the top 50. Now, he's they're only player in the top 100.

FREDERIK ROSENGREN, ROBIN SODERLING'S COACH: I think he's lucky because he's the only guy right now, so he gets all the attention from media or from the Swedish tennis people. They're following him.

In the 80s or in the 90s, they had so many players, so if some player did the quarters in a Grand Slam tournament, nobody cared because they were so spoiled.

People could say to a number -- a Swedish guy who was number 50, 60 in the world, that he should quit and do something else, because that was too bad. Today, we would have been so lucky to have another player around 50.


CASH: But the real question is, can Robin follow in the footsteps of some of his illustrious predecessors and kickstart another golden era?

SODERLING: There's a lot of kids starting to play tennis again, and I think that's -- that's what Swedish tennis needs to become better. We need to have the kids to choose tennis over football or ice hockey or any sport, and that's what happened 20 years ago, and that's maybe what not happened five or ten years ago.

But I think Swedish tennis is in a much better state now than compared to before, and I think we have a pretty bright future.


CASH: Well, we wish Robin Soderling all the best for the future. He certainly has some big shoes to fill. Now time to take a little break.


CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT from Bastad. We've been looking at the golden era of Swedish tennis and how they ruled the world in singles, but we've barely touched on the doubles game.

In fact, over the last 35 years, Swedes have won an amazing 23 doubles titles. And one man who's won nine of those doubles titles is Jonas Bjorkman.


CASH: Jonas.


CASH: Thanks for meeting up with me, mate.

BJORKMAN: Good to see you.

CASH: Thanks for inviting me here.

BJORKMAN: No problem. Happy to have you.

CASH: I know you're still involved in the tournaments here.

BJORKMAN: Yes, I am. I'm working behind the scenes these days, and I'm also working with the Stockholm Open, which is great. So, it's nice to be here, tennis mecca of Sweden, Bastad.

CASH: All things Swedish. And of course, we know Sweden as -- Swedish players as great singles players, but very accomplished doubles players, as well. Not many people know that.

BJORKMAN: Well, I think maybe --

CASH: You were number one. You were number one.

BJORKMAN: I was number one, Jared was number one.

CASH: And there's Jared.

BJORKMAN: Edberg was.

CASH: It's a very important part of Swedish tennis.

BJORKMAN: It has been, yes. I think everything comes from a tradition of Davis Cup. We are, I think, like the Aussies, very proud to represent our country, and the doubles were always the big key to win the matches.

CASH: Now, you were 74 weeks at number one. And you're a lot more accomplished doubles player than me. So, go over there and give me a little brush up in doubles techniques, because things have changed a little bit since I was playing.

BJORKMAN: It has changed. I'd be happy to show you a little bit what --

CASH: All right.

BJORKMAN: -- the guys are doing on the tour now.

CASH: First of all, when they go back and they start talking, what are they talking about?

BJORKMAN: Well, it looks like they're going to eat a ball.

CASH: Yes, yes.

BJORKMAN: But it's obviously because it's coaches sitting watching and they can sort of read the lips a little bit. So it's making sure where you put your first serve, second serve, and maybe what the net guy's going to do.

CASH: Right.

BJORKMAN: So, it's very important to do a lot of work without the ball.

I think you know the position.

CASH: Yes.

BJORKMAN: In standard.

CASH: Pretty much in the middle of the box, here.

BJORKMAN: Yes. You will obviously know where I will serve.

CASH: So, we will talk you -- we'll have a little talk.

BJORKMAN: We will have a little talk. I would say I would serve body, let's say I serve.

CASH: Seven to his body.


CASH: OK. And then, what should I do?

BJORKMAN: I would say you give him a body fake on the first one. Hopefully he will sort of see your reaction --

CASH: So, pretend to go, but don't.

BJORKMAN: and then hopefully, the ball will come to you, you put away a nice little volley.

CASH: OK. That's a theory. We'll see if it works.

BJORKMAN: Here we go.


CASH: Thank you! Yes! Come on! Ooh! All that stuff.

For the next one, what should we do?

BJORKMAN: I think we should go straight in one.

CASH: Yes?

BJORKMAN: Then, it's obviously to take away the net guy.

CASH: Yes.

BJORKMAN: And also to take away, maybe, the great returns cross court from the returns.

CASH: So, if somebody's good at going across court, you want to stop that.


CASH: Force them to go --

BJORKMAN: Down the line.

CASH: -- just straight back to you.


CASH: Perfect. Let's try that.


CASH: All right. So, I'm going to stay here.


CASH: We're both on the same side, but you're going to take all of that side, right? That's your side, Jonas. I'm going to stay here and relax.


CASH: Ah, nice!


CASH: Well done!

BJORKMAN: Good. Works.

CASH: We're two out of two.


CASH: In the I-Formation, I don't know a lot about that. We didn't really play it in my day.

BJORKMAN: No, it's -- obviously a lot of signals from the net guy. So, if I turn around like this, there will be down the T.

CASH: Oh, that's T, is it?


CASH: Down the middle?

BJORKMAN: Exactly. Down the middle. Body.

CASH: Body.

BJORKMAN: Or wide.

CASH: Oh, OK. So, this, your hand is like the service square.

BJORKMAN: Yes, exactly.

CASH: Then I'll give you a signal.

BJORKMAN: Yes. When to serve. And then I -- and then you will show me left or right where you go.

CASH: So, there's two sets of signals.


CASH: Oh, I'm getting confused now. No wonder I couldn't do it. All right, let's give it a try anyway.


CASH: So, first signal is -- this one.


CASH: No? This one.


CASH: And the second signal.


CASH: That's the way I'm going to go.

BJORKMAN: Perfect.



CASH: All yours!


CASH: Yours!


CASH: Yours!

Well, I wasn't so successful, but not your fault.


CASH: So, that's the I-Formation. You serve, really, over the top of me, and it's a matter of trying to confuse the opponent, really.

BJORKMAN: Yes. Because a lot of the guys could be very good to just do one thing.

CASH: Right.

BJORKMAN: And do it cross court. Here, they've got to think a little bit where the net guy's going to go.

CASH: I see.

BJORKMAN: Is he going to go left, is he going to go right? And that maybe can put him off a little bit and he'll be a little bit late in his return.

CASH: Jonas, thank you very much.

BJORKMAN: Thank you.

CASH: And good luck with the tournament. I gather you don't need much luck, because you won the player's favorite tournament for nine years in a row. But take some good luck anyway.

BJORKMAN: Absolutely, we need it.

CASH: Thanks, mate.


CASH: Well, that's it for this edition of Open Court from Sweden. We hope you enjoyed it. Next month, we go across the pond to catch up with another legend of the game, Andre Agassi, as he gets inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame.

As for me, I've had a busy few weeks, so time for a bit of a vacation. You guys aren't going to the US by any chance?


CASH: Yes? All right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come aboard! Nice to see you, man.

CASH: Thanks, thanks.


CASH: Well. See you later.