SI Vault
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Stories of Nystrom's cool abound. Nystrom reading a book under a tree just before playing the final in North Conway, N.H. Nystrom falling asleep in the backseat of a car before another big match. Marriage to Susan, a hometown honey from Skelleftea, has opened him up. They lived together for a couple of years before being wed. In Sweden such a living arrangement is known as sambo, a far superior description, you will agree, to our ever popular "relationship." Daughter Caroline will be two in September, and another Nystrom baby is due this summer. The man of the house still looks light-years away from being legally served a light beer. The Swedes, laughing, call Nystrom Poppa.

Wilander is Nystrom's best friend and alter ego. Nystrom, 22, met Wilander long ago when the infant Viking wandered down from his north-country home, just this side of the polar ice cap, to startle the assemblage of coaches and players at Bastad. "He was from nowhere, and he looked no problem," says Wilander. But Joaky beat Matsy and made him cry. "He's probably forgotten crying," says Nystrom. "No, I haven't," says Wilander. Nystrom hasn't beaten Wilander since.


One day in Bastad when Sundstrom was a young boy, he served as gofer at a practice session for Borg and the elder Bergelin. Sundstrom fetched a fresh can of water. He stumbled. He spilled the water all over Borg's rackets. This might have been the last time anybody saw Sundstrom, the most elegant and poised of the bunch, play the clod.

Sundstrom, 21, travels, lives and practices apart from the other Swedes, having come to appreciate independence early in his teens when he went off alone to play tournaments in North Africa and Asia and on circuits not even Bud Collins could find. Born into the family of a respected dental surgeon in Lund, Sundstrom experienced a rich childhood. He learned to play the clarinet, took an interest in politics and enjoyed his parents' summer house near Bastad. He is of a class distinct from the other Swedes.

There are whispers that he sometimes shows it, and not just because he reads books, plays the ponies or dresses to kill. Sundstrom walking through a hotel lobby with his designer trenchcoat, collar turned up, suggests a GQ fashion layout. The man oozes style. So what if he flies transcontinental first class while Wilander and Nystrom sit in coach? He just wants to be alone. Indeed, look closely at the structure and highlights of Sundstrom's exquisite face and deny his visage is a haunting refrain of the young Garbo's. "I think we should all be seen as individuals, as persons," Sundstrom says. "The only thing that counts in life is knowledge. At the same time we read L'Equipe [the French sports daily] we should read the International Herald Tribune."

Sundstrom-Wilander is the Swedish rivalry. They never speak of it. Neither bad-mouths the other. But the tension is there; the two are "like non-fighting cocks," according to a mutual friend.

Sundstrom devoured McEnroe in the Davis Cup finals on clay. However, "Henka" remains basically a bullet-smacking baseliner with little lateral speed or facility on the volley. He will have to alter his game drastically on faster surfaces to catch Wilander, who defeated McEnroe in Paris after Mac had eliminated both Sundstrom and Nystrom. Recently Sundstrom hired Fred Stolle to train him for just that purpose. "I envy Mats that which is his nature," Sundstrom says, "the ability to be relaxed. Sometimes after working so hard at tennis, I sit down and actually make an effort to relax. I need to find that harmony."


Paris, 1983. Jose Higueras: "It is a pleasure to play against Mats. He is such a gentleman and a sportsman." Wimbledon, 1983. John Fitzgerald: "I hope he becomes number one. The game needs players like him."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6
Related Topics
N.H. Nystrom 1 0 0
Joakim Nystrom 1 0 0
Mats Wilander 25 0 0
Anders Jarryd 2 0 0
Tennis 2333 0 74