Into the spotlight
Johansson explodes onto world scene despite himselfPosted: Sunday January 27, 2002 5:03 AM
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Thomas Johansson was supposed to be one of the bit players in an Australian Open drama dominated by almost anyone else. But he didn't pay attention to the script.
Johansson became the first Swede in a decade to win a Grand Slam singles title when he beat 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4) in Sunday's final at Melbourne Park.
"I never thought I was going to be a Grand Slam champion," Johansson, seeded No. 16, said after his 2 hour-53 minute win, his first in a major.
"These two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life. Today was just a dream come true. It was unbelievable. I don't have the words to say how happy I am," he added.
The 26-year-old Swede had twice reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open but made little other impact in 24 previous Grand Slam appearances dating back to his debut here in 1994.
After his quarterfinal win over compatriot Jonas Bjorkman, Johansson described himself as "not very interesting."
The modesty continued the further he advanced. After his win over Safin, he admitted not for the first time this tournament that his "legs were shaking" as he got closer to victory.
When a backhand lob from the ninth-seeded Russian sailed just over the baseline on his fourth match point, Johansson's celebrations mirrored his unassuming character.
He saluted his coach, fiancee and friends, then walked back to his chair and sat down before raising clenched fists.
"You cannot compare anything to this," Johansson, who started playing tennis at age five in his home town of Linkoping, two hours south of Stockholm, said afterwards.
"This is just ... you dreamt about this. You've seen it on TV but I never knew I was going to stand there at the court today."
Johansson became the first Swede to win here since Mats Wilander in 1988 and the first to take out a Grand Slam singles title since Stefan Edberg at the 1992 U.S. Open.
Such has been the paucity of Swedish success since the days of Wilander and Edberg, that only one Swedish media representative traveled to Australia for the year's opening Grand Slam.
Johansson is not surprised. "I'm playing tennis pretty good, but as a person I'm not really fancy," Johansson said.
He was not concerned about the absence of big names in the second week of an Australian Open that will be remembered as much for the upsets and injuries that left the men's field devoid of stars.
"If you have new players coming up that's a great thing, otherwise the tennis would be almost dead because you all the time have the same guys in the semis," he said.
"I'm not a new guy but I've been playing along time and this is a dream for me."
Johansson finished 2001 ranked No. 18 after winning two tournaments -- both on grass -- and was the top-ranked player in his country.
He credited his improved showing to extra physical training he and coach Magnus Tideman undertook last year.
"My weakness has always been my physical strength. We worked really hard last year, during November, December -- running a lot, lifting weights, we were playing squash," he said.
"Today, when I was out there, I felt really good the whole time."
Johansson was supported throughout Sunday's final by dozens of Swedish fans who travel to Melbourne every year for the tournament.
Swedish players since the days of Edberg and Wilander have given them tickets to attend
Afterward Johansson acknowledged their contribution, saying during the presentation ceremony "we're gonna have some fun tonight, I promise you guys."