In 1985, when a bunch of Swedes rolled into town to play a Davis Cup match at the Cubbon Park, they came in, as one writer put it, “like rockstars.” But being Swedish, the group, which included legends Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, was said to be modest.
More than three decades later, Elias Ymer is in Bengaluru for the $100,000 Challenger sporting that same sense of Swedish modesty. The World No. 147 isn’t a rockstar yet, but the signs are that he will soon be as the Scandinavian nation desperately looks to unearth its next big star since Robin Soderling, a former world no. 4 and a two-time Grand Slam finalist.
“Well it’s been tough,” the 21-year-old said on Tuesday. “I was 17 when I became No.1 in Sweden and I have been No.1 since then. I never had someone to look up to or practice with. In the Davis Cup, I was asked to play the first singles straight away. Usually you have to start as fifth player. But it is what it is and I can only focus on myself.”
Born to Ethiopian parents, Ymer – if his father had had his wish – would have been a runner. But it helped that his father had tennis as his other interest and wanted his two sons to “run for every ball like Michael Chang.” In the years since, Ymer imbibed this quality and more as he became one of tennis’ most promising juniors and even earned a wild card for the 2015 ATP Chennai Open.
“Chang was my father's favourite, but I take a lot from many players,” Ymer said. “In tennis, it has to be [Rafael] Nadal for his unbelievable fighting spirit. I read Mike Tyson’s book. People talk about his bad stuff but he had the mentality I needed on the court.”
A big source of help in all this has been Soderling, his coach since July. Following a breakthrough year in 2015, when he became only the second player in history to come through the qualifying at all four Majors, Ymer seemed affected by the burden of expectations. This year he has turned it around, bringing down his ranking from 293 and winning two Challengers.
“It comforts for my mind that I have somebody who believes in me,” Ymer said about Soderling. “I can ask him how he felt when he was 21, about the challenges, the feeling before such and such match etc. So to have him is special.” Sweden would want this to be very special.
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