Cal Tennis: Sweden's Julia Rosenqvist Talks ABBA, Bjorn Borg and Greta Thunberg

Photo by Nathan Phillios, KLC fotos

Jeff Faraudo

* Latest in a series of periodic stories on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Cal athletes in different sports. The bulk of the Cal women's spring tennis schedule was canceled and the fall portion of the 2020-21 season has been put on hold.

Julia Rosenqvist doesn’t expect you to feel sorry for her.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down collegiate sports last March, the Cal junior tennis player returned to her hometown of Onsala, Sweden.

“Onsala is a town of about 20,000 people on the very west coast of Sweden. It has a little bay to it and I live on the tip of that bay,” Rosenqvist said. “We’re surrounded by farms. Two kilometers to the coast bus stop. It’s peaceful. The only sound you can hear is the songs of birds. It’s a huge contrast to Berkeley and I love coming home to it.”

Rosenqvist, a 22-year-old who has played No. 1 or 2 singles for the Bears most of her career, joined us for an interview on Zoom. Our conversation took us from how the pandemic impacted her summer tennis schedule to the state of women’s tennis in her country to her thoughts on three very different Swedish icons.

A 6-foot-1 senior, Rosenqvist talks in this video about the decision to leave Berkeley for home last March and the challenges of taking online classes nine time zones from California.

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The pandemic also altered her summer tennis routine. Typically, she is able to travel throughout Europe for tournaments but that option was eliminated this year.

“Wow. I’ve been all over Europe. The only country I haven’t been to us France,” she said. “So I would say this pandemic and being at home, is a feeling of being trapped at moments. The freedom of travel within Europe is so easy normally.”

Society was far more open in Sweden during the pandemic than in most countries, and Rosenqvist says that allowed her to continue playing her sport. In July, she won the SEC Karlskrona Open, the highlight of her summer season.

Here's more on her altered summer tennis experience:

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Sweden’s tennis legacy includes the legendary Bjorn Borg, along with former greats such as Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander. But the women’s game has not produced players at that level.

The top Swedish woman in the current WTA rankings is the relatively unknown Rebecca Peterson, who ranks 49th in the world. There is a reason women in her country haven’t been more visible in the sport, Rosenqvist explains in the video below.

She had two options for pursuing her tennis after high school: Remain at home and try to work toward a professional career or come to the U.S. and play collegiately to develop her game.

Unable to secure substantial sponsorship commitments, Rosenqvist chose Cal, and she has been pleased with every aspect of her decision.

“At the end of the day, having a Berkeley education — which is so important to me having an academic background — (and) having the standard of tennis . . . like the competitiveness that Berkeley has within the Pac-12 and the NCAA.

“When I came to college, I was shocked about the competition among the girls. It was much better than I expected.”

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Of course, I had to ask Rosenqvist about three Swedish icons: ABBA, Bjorn Borg and teen-aged environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

“ABBA . . . been a very big influence on my life,” she said. “My Mom, when she was young . . . yeah, ABBA has been in our speakers in my house all my life.”

Rosenqvist talks about her admiration for Borg and Thunberg in the video below.

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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