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Curry Kirkpatrick
June 24, 1985
Inspired by the career of the great Bjorn Borg and shrewdly trained in junior development programs, slews of Swedes are setting the pace in men's tennis
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June 24, 1985

New Breed From The North

Inspired by the career of the great Bjorn Borg and shrewdly trained in junior development programs, slews of Swedes are setting the pace in men's tennis

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In 1969 the Swedish Tennis Association decided to take advantage of the wonderful facilities in Bastad and opened the first of a series of "Davis Cupskoolas," which are tennis camps staffed by the nation's best trainers for its best junior players. Today these camps are divided into age groups and spread throughout the summer, following a one-week session in May expressly for the elite of the elite.

The 14-to-18 age group session is called Elit Lager, meaning Elite Camp. Down the road are the younger tykes—if one can imagine Johan Alven, who won both the Orange Bowl and Rolex 12-and-under championships in the U.S. last December and is strong enough to drive a forehand through the windshield of a Saab, being a tyke. The younger kids are housed in a separate facility, a camp known by the name of its sponsor, Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) comic books. In addition, come September the association plans to open a full-time school in Bastad for about 20 selected junior players. "We would like our kids to exercise their minds as well as their bodies," says Leif Dahlgren, director of education for the association, mindful that Sweden's most famous tennis kid unfortunately grew up versed exclusively in the collected works of Kalle Anka.

The Bastad camps are the culmination of Sweden's comprehensive junior program. "We're here to train, but we stress the social aspects," says Michael Bolander, who runs the program. "Many of these kids have the goal of the Top 10, but right now we want them just to be kids and have fun. We hope they will like and support everybody else. The camaraderie of our top guys on the tour is no accident. That started here."

So did the Swedish court behavior, as 16-year-old Ulf Persson discovered. "Our kids see how European crowds react to them in the different junior tournaments," says Bolander. "Last year Italian fans cheered the Swede kids, if you can believe it. So Persson was always talking mad to himself, screaming, being a nuisance. I told him I wasn't going to be responsible for his wrecking our reputation outside the country." Nevertheless, Persson "acted up" in a recent tournament in Stockholm, which cost him a chance to attend the Elite Camp and play internationally.

Carina Karlsson, 21, and Catarina Lindqvist, 22, Sweden's best women players, showed up at Bastad direct from the Virginia Slims tour. They were seeking stiff workouts, as well as retracing the steps that took Lindqvist to her current ranking of No. 12 in the world and enabled Karlsson to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last summer. They are the first world-class female players Sweden has produced in a long time. "Only one girl to every five boys plays tennis in Sweden," says Dahlgren. "It is a mystery unless it's because Borg is the only role model—no women. There is also a belief that our girls haven't worked hard enough. After a loss they retire to pool-side or go shopping."

Nobody makes much money off tennis in Sweden. Not only does the cost of a family membership in a tennis club average only $20 per year, but also 50% of all membership revenue received by the national body goes back to the 23 regional associations, which in turn shovel most of that back into the junior programs. Some 52,000 juniors are enrolled in the nation's 975 tennis clubs. At the Oregro club outside Stockholm, for example, juniors make up 373 of the 491 members.

And the kids aren't exactly being brainwashed with provincial doctrine. Back in Bastad, the spindly Alven roared, around the gymnasium, weaving through legs and sticks in an indoor version of the hockeylike game of bandy. When he finally sat down and caught his breath, the youngster was asked in a wide-ranging interview that lasted all of eight seconds who his favorite tennis player was. Alven wears his hair like Jarryd, emits the cool of Nystrom and measures his responses carefully, like Sundstrom. He has Edberg's paradoxical look of dangerous innocence. Remember, he is the predicted successor to Wilander and, yes, even to Borg. Alven smiled. "Ivan Lendl," he said.

Meanwhile, out on the tour...


As in Dennis. With a shock of sandy bangs and an engaging grin, Edberg, 19, is the fraternity boy you would be glad to let your daughter entertain in the parlor. As long as he doesn't burn down the house. Edberg seems all soft. He's the shyest of the Swedes, the most genteel in conversation. His gangly 6'2" body has yet to fill out. But something's lurking deep within. Don't mess with me. As soon as Edberg winds up his stinging serve-and-volley repertoire, it isn't difficult to realize how he has made so much history at such a young age.

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