The Spanish Armada sank. The Soviet bloc crumbled. All the
nouveau powers that were supposed to erase the memory of the old
ones in men's tennis have come and made noise and gone again,
leaving the game in traditional hands. Who would have predicted
it? A year ago England and Australia were moaning that sad song:
What's wrong with our game? Where are the jolly old heirs to
Fred Perry, the beer-swigging sons of Rod Laver? Then Britain's
Greg Rusedski made the U.S. Open final and rocketed to No. 6,
while Aussie Pat Rafter won the Open and shot to No. 2.
Now another power considered past its prime has made its move.
In a sudden comeback that no one in tennis foresaw, Sweden swept
the Davis Cup from the U.S. 5-0 last weekend behind Jonas
Come again? Jonas who? Wasn't 1997 reserved for Alex Corretja,
Carlos Moya and the rest of the talented Spaniards? Wasn't
Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov supposed to challenge for No. 1?
Weren't Sweden's Davis Cuppers supposed to fold under the
barrage of the American super singles pair of Pete Sampras and
Michael Chang? The answers, in reverse order: Yes, yes, yes--and
In a perfect capper to what has been his best year, the
25-year-old Bjorkman beat Chang 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in last
Friday's opening match before Pete Sampras withdrew with a
slightly torn calf muscle in the third set against Magnus
Larsson. Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti then beat Todd Martin and
Jonathan Stark in straight sets in Saturday's doubles to give
Sweden its sixth Davis Cup. On Sunday, Bjorkman polished off
Stark in a dead rubber, 6-1, 6-1, and Larsson beat Chang in
December 8, 1997
"Everything I do is going my way," Bjorkman says. Clearly, he's
coming into his own--just when Swedish tennis had all but given
up hope of producing an heir to the championship line of Bjorn
Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg. Bjorkman, known before
this year for his explosive athleticism and decidedly
un-Borglike goofiness, outpaced Rusedski and Rafter with the
tour's most dramatic improvement in 1997. Riding a firmed-up
forehand and newfound confidence, he went from 69th to fourth in
the world rankings. "How do I feel?" he said. "Perfect."
Bjorkman does hilariously accurate impersonations of past stars
such as Edberg, John McEnroe and Boris Becker, but it's his game
that may make him one of the greats. Stronger strokes have
helped him replace Andre Agassi as the sport's most dangerous
returner. When Bjorkman and Chang played last Friday, it was
almost as if Chang were facing a better version of himself:
quick, focused, willing to run down every ball.
"He's very aggressive, and he's fast," Martin says. "All his
quickness is utilized in a forward motion, and that puts him in
the correct spot on the court almost every time. On top of that,
he sees the ball well, and he's got good hands. He realizes his
hands are good enough, and he just gets up there and starts
The 6-foot, 166-pound Bjorkman won three titles and reached five
finals in 1997, but he took most delight in beating Chang, first
in Hanover, Germany, in the ATP Championships two weeks ago, and
again last weekend. "To beat Chang two times in a row.... It's
definitely the biggest win for me," Bjorkman says.
It wasn't hard to tell. On the court Bjorkman veers dangerously
close to Connors territory--shouting, pumping his fist, even
trotting out a small dance step after a particularly big shot.
"It's actually three steps I do," Bjorkman says. He also
sidelines as a stripper: As he and Kulti approached the press
facility for their postmatch interview last Saturday, Bjorkman
yanked down Kulti's pants in front of several reporters.
Call it a payback of sorts. Early in Bjorkman's career, at a
tournament in Monte Carlo, Larsson telephoned him and pretended
to be Borg. Bjorkman worshiped Borg and was thrilled to hear the
great man asking him to dinner. He spent the day getting ready,
cleaning his best suit, calling the restaurant to double-check
the reservation and table. When he arrived, the entire Swedish
team was waiting, howling with laughter. Bjorkman was thoroughly
Dinner with Borg should be no problem now.