From Borg going forward


What lay behind Sweden´s exceptional success in tennis during the 1980- and 1990-ties? Why has Sweden so markedly lost its momentum in recent years? And – what can be done to this latter fact?

With the commercialization of tennis in the beginning of the 1970-ties the sport entered a new era. Associated with a glorious history, tennis soon became a sport for professionals – where money could be made.

At that point in time a young Swede showed up. Björn Borg became the symbol for Sweden´s most successful and most influential sports era ever. “The Swedish Wonder of Tennis” is a known expression, and Borg´s impact and relevance for the continued successes in the 1980- and 1990-ties cannot be overemphasized. He made the ancient upper class game a sport for everybody – Sweden was hit by tennis fever.

Towards the end of the 1970-ties and beginning of the 1990-ties Sweden faced a boom in new indoor courts, and toddlers invaded the tennis clubs. The state owned television responded by prioritizing tennis which, combined with the practically nonexistent media competition, boosted the enthusiasm for tennis. Sweden took tennis to its hart.

The ambiance remained intact till the beginning of the 1990-ties, when a setup of factors started to influence tennis negatively. Sweden was hit by a recession, and abroad the iron curtain had fallen, giving millions of people a chance to realize their dreams.

Competition dramatically increased, monopolies after monopolies scrapped, and the media supply growing at its highest speed – these were the new prerequisites. And within tennis a certain feeling of diminishing aptitude developed. Swedish television slowed down its coverage, with the result that tennis gradually moved into smaller more commercialized channels. Notably this went against the international trend, which I line with the globalization of the sport gave tennis larger attention.

Sweden had already had its peak, and the external factors mentioned were basically impossible to attack.

Another element of society refurbishment begun to affect sports in general, namely the information technology revolution. Regardless of the fact that this process contributed a lot to economic growth, its back yard was that many youngsters became physically unfit. This, of course, was not an entire Swedish phenomenon, but being early adopters of IT we were also early hit by this physical trend.

As onion to the salmon the Swedish Tennis Association contributed to the stagnation of Swedish tennis. During the 1990-ties and the early 2000-s, finance and marketing of the sport was inefficiently managed. And this occurred, despite the fact of Sweden still being a world nation of tennis, with several top 10 players, and recurring DC successes.

The lack of sponsors was in view of the quality of Swedish tennis unbelievable. Teambuilding or similar initiatives were rare, and a marketing concept didn´t exist. On the contrary money was waist on representation and bureaucracy.

Another sad chapter has been the low availability of smaller pro events I Sweden, so called futures. It goes without saying that it is important, both from a financial and a mental point of view, to have the opportunities to play at your home courts. This spring board is of great value to young and highly motivated players. Sweden could for a long period of time only offer a few futures, whereas an affluence of them were spread around the European continent. Last time a challenger event took place in Sweden was back in 1995.

But the pendulum has actually turned back. Despite having less top actors, we can with a certain satisfaction notice a more promising direction for Swedish tennis. There are several examples. STA has recently signed a number of prominent sponsors, more futures have been announced and most important of all – former pros of merit now engage wholeheartedly within STA and other elite ventures.

Looking into the future two issues of special importance appear. The first one is how to get the most motivated talents to choose tennis? I believe recruitment must start with young individuals in challenging environments, kids dreaming of success (like Zlatan). We must start at school and present the opportunities, in order to interfere with football. Young people in favored conditions can rarely motivate themselves into demanding projects – when blood, sweat and tears are what´s offered.

More courts have to be built. Here is the problem that we for a long time only have thought in terms of new buildings. An alternative should be to build hard court facilities outdoors. They´ll cost a fraction to build and are more developing and hardening – and above all they would broaden the possibilities to play tennis. Tennis is globally known as an outdoor game.

Eighty per cent of the ATP tour is played under the influence of weather and wind.