Interview with Grand Slam Champion Thomas Johansson

Anton Fredriksson and Thomas Johansson

Over the past few decades, Sweden has produced a number of talented tennis stars that have risen to the top of this truly global sport. At the recent Stockholm Open, Swedish Press’ Anton Fredriksson caught up with the Tournament Director and former Grand Slam champion, Thomas Johansson to hear his thoughts on the success of Swedish tennis.

Swedish Press: Who inspired you to play tennis?
Thomas Johansson: My idol has always been Mats Wilander. I have always enjoyed the way he plays. When I was nine or ten years old, the Davis Cup was very close to my hometown. My Dad and I went down to have a look when Sweden was playing Ecuador. I was sitting there day and night and I think it was the second day when my dad took me down to the court and said, “Ok, let’s try to get Mats’ autograph”. And he was such a nice guy. He was just, “Yeah sure I’ll give you my autograph” and he actually spoke to me. We must have talked for 5 or 10 minutes. I was on the clouds – I was in heaven. We then took a picture and that picture sat above my bed for my whole career because he was my idol. And when I started to play professionally and managed to get onto the Davis Cup team, he was also the Davis Cup captain so it was a big pleasure to play
in front of him.

SP: How has the sport changed since the reign of Mats Wilander?
TJ: Well, I think the tennis game right now is more physical. If you have a look at the top guys right now they are so fit and so strong that even when they don’t play their best they manage to win their matches anyways and that’s what makes them so good.

SP: How has Sweden as a country impacted the sport? We have seen some pretty big stars come from Sweden. How has that changed the sport?
TJ: Björn Borg started the whole thing. And after that they managed to get Wilander, Edberg, Nyström, Sundström... the history of tennis in this country is so big. I remember in 1994 I qualified for the Australian Open for the first time ever and [Sweden] had 17 or 18 guys in the main draw which meant we had 17 or 18 guys amongst the top 105 players in the world which is amazing. Right now we are struggling a little bit but the juniors are looking very good.

SP: But it’s not just in tennis where we see this success, we also see it in other sports such as golf, skiing, sailing and even hockey. In your opinion, is there any link between the successes in these different disciplines?
TJ: I think it is the Swedish people; they have a good mentality for sports and especially for individual sports such as tennis or golf. Sweden is a small country but in tennis we always had the tennis clubs that have always been producing great players. But as you said we also have great teams in ice hockey and also if you look at football we might not have the strongest individual players, if you leave out Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but we fight great as a team.

SP: And finally, what are some of your favourite moments from the Stockholm Open over the years?
TJ: As a player it was 2004, that was by far my biggest moment, when I beat Agassiz on the centre court here in the final. But as an organizer, it was when we managed to get Roger Federer here in 2010 and he managed to win the whole thing. It is our third year now running the tournament and we’ve heard from many people who think that this year has been the best year and that
makes us very happy.

Anton is an economics student at Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University. He has journalistic experience as a member of the Communications Management Team at the 2011 World Scout Jamboree in Sweden and previously interned for the magazine Monocle in London.