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Thomas Johansson Blogs From Rome

Taking a break during practice© Getty ImagesTaking a break during practice

Thursday, May 11, 2006   
I began today with a long breakfast with Jonas. Despite all the time we spend together off the court we never run out of conversation. Our wives are really good friends also. The ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers came up and we spoke about different tournaments and about what we could all do better to improve the game. All the players are pretty excited about the the future of the sport and a lot of things seem to be happening with the new leadership of the ATP. But I couldn't let our meeting pass without getting something personal off my chest. I was still a little disappointed that I was scheduled to play two matches under lights in my first tournament back from the eye injury. So I made my point known!

Later, we went to the club and had a little lunch with Roger [Federer] and Tony [Roche]. Roger told us about his meeting with the Pope. The aide who introduced him said that 'This is the World No. 1 in tennis." "Tennis is a powerful sport," the Pope said to Roger.

Then I had a hit with Jonas and Max Mirnyi. They're still in the doubles. We hit for an hour or 90 minutes. I was just glad to get in the extra practice. It was a quieter day in the locker room. The magazine was gone - I guess the locker room attendants confiscated it!

Jonas and I had a nice dinner tonight. By chance, Peter Lundgren and Marat Safin picked the same restaurant, so we chatted with them for a bit.

A lot of the players who have lost in Rome will be taking the same 1.45 pm flight tomorrow to Hamburg for next week's final clay court Masters Series event. I know Ljubicic, his coach and Grosjean will be on the same flight. I'm going to hit with Ljubicic in Hamburg tomorrow evening.

I've had fun doing the blog this week and I'd like to leave you with one funny story before I sign off.

One of the first people I bumped into here in Rome was Greg Rusedski. We're pretty good friends so I thought it was a little unusual that when I saw him here for the first time a few days ago he just walked past me. So I wondered if he had seen me. Then I started to think back to Monte-Carlo, where I impersonated him during the annual Players' Revue.

I impersonated Greg and ATP trainer Bill Norris. Jonas was Kenneth Carlsen, Nicolas Lapentti was Feliciano Lopez, Max Mirnyi was Fernando Verdasco and Mahesh Bhupathi was Anand Amritraj. We gave each other a hard time, mimicking what 'our guy' says or does a lot. I started wondering if I had pushed it too far.

"Did you hear I played you at the show," I said to Greg. "I heard you made fun of me," he replied. I had to own up, but said that I didn't go too far. He must have taken me at my word because we talked like normal after that. Greg's a lot bigger than me so I don't want to make an enemy of him.

Thanks for reading the blog. Take care, Thomas

Wednesday, May 10, 2006   
I had a little panic attack before I went out to play tonight. I was watching Marat Safin's match in the locker room with Roger Federer and Tim Henman and the television started to play up. The lines were going up and down and then they weren't even straight. I asked Roger and Tim if it was the TV or my eyesight and they said "The TV is perfectly okay." Of course, they were just having a little fun at my expense.

A lot of fans probably don't know just how loud and funny Roger can get. He has a really, really good sense of humor. People think of him as very quiet and calm but watching the Safin match he was screaming and yelling along with the rest of the players as the big Russian let a 6-1, 4-1 lead slip away against Ruben Ramriez-Hidalgo. I hope Roger controlled himself a little better when he met the Pope earlier in the day. Roger is also a genius with languages. He used to be coached by Peter Lundgren, so I can almost speak Swedish with him.

I actually spent quite a bit of time talking to Tim today while we were waiting for our match to go on. You don't often socialize with your opponent the day of a match but Tim and I are very good friends and we've been on the tour for so many years together that it didn't feel unusual or awkward. It was tough for both of us today trying to prepare for the match. It looked like Safin was cruising to a quick win but in the end the match lasted just over three hours. Guys were saying to us 'You've been warming up for two hours - what is going on?' Actually, I'm surprised some guys noticed. There was a hot magazine kicking around in the locker room today - 'Stuff,' with lots of girls in bikinis - and that proved popular with a lot of the guys.

I had a long breakfast with Jonas this morning because we both had late matches today and I didn't get on site till about 1 pm. I warmed up with Marat and then we had a bit of a chat afterwards about the knee injuries we've had in the past. We spoke about how frustrating it is to be off the circuit for a long period of time. I had a late lunch with Simon Aspelin and later dinner with Simon, his doubles partner Todd Perry and Leander Paes.

As expected I found it very, very tough out there under lights with my vision. Judging the distance was the biggest problem. I had requested in my first tournament back to play during the day so it was disappointing to get two matches that were played under lights. Still, I don't want to blame that for the loss. I played a good first set when Tim wasn't on top of his game and had a set point. In the second set Tim played very well and overall he was the better player on the night.

I'll still be around Thursday so check back for another blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006   
I received some nice encouragement today. Dmitry was one of the first guys to tell me he had read the blog and he said 'I think you're doing pretty good.' It's always nice to get a positive comment from the master himself. "The first one is always easy," he said with a smile. Not many people knew the full background of the injury so it was good for them to know the true story. When Mario came to Indian Wells there were a lot of different stories out there.

This morning I slept to 9 or 9.30 and then met Jonas Bjorkman for breakfast in the hotel. I love the coffee here in Rome so I had two cups. Normally I'll have three to five cups a day but on match day I try not to drink coffee with lunch.

Jonas and I are best friends and neither of us are traveling with a coach at the moment, so we try to help each other out. We spoke before the match and he was waiting for me in the locker room after the win. I knew he was in the stands watching the match but I didn't know he was text messaging my wife, Gisella. She's back home in Sweden and couldn't see the match on TV. He'd throw in a little commentary during each changeover. I started off well, breaking in the first game of the match but then I dropped serve in the next game after leading 40-15. So Jonas' message probably read something like this: "Great start but now can't put a ball in the court. :( " But I can assure you everything is above board between us and the wives. I'll also text message Petra during Jonas' matches.

I'm not sure if my opponent read the blog or not, so I don't know if he knew that I only have 60-70 percent vision in my left eye and that I don't see too good when the light is fading. We were third on from 1 pm, and when I woke up it was pouring with rain and lightning was flashing. I thought we may be in for a very late start and that the whole match may be played under lights. Fortunately matches started on schedule but Gaudio and Malisse and then Nalbandian and Vicente both played three-setters.

Waiting in the locker room I grew increasingly worried about starting the match under lights because as it gets dark I have problems judging distance, which is pretty important when trying to hit the ball. I was also really, really nervous playing my first match since Rotterdam in February. In practice I'd be very good one day and then very bad the next. You could see that I struggled for consistency in the first set but I was very satisfied with my game in the first set tie-break and then after that things felt a lot easier and I felt better the longer the match went on as my legs got going. It takes a while to wake up an old man. We played in natural light for the first set before the lights were turned on for the second. In the end I was happy with the way I saw the ball and I don't believe my vision impaired me today.

On Wednesday I play fourth match on from 1 pm, so that will be played 100 percent under lights. I'll do my best before now and then to find a SWAT team and get a pair of those night vision goggles. Then I'll be able to do some real damage.

Because I finished late tonight we had dinner at the club - me, Jonas, Fredrik Rosengren (Mario Ancic's coach) and Robbie Koenig, the former doubles player who now coaches Moodie and Bhupathi. I had some Italian appetizers and then I went for the lasagne - a good choice! And coffee, of course. We talked a bit about soccer and Fredrik also had his laptop out. There is wireless internet on site so 'Fidde' took full advantage. He could pass for a computer nerd or office worker. There he was with a web cam attached to his laptop, talking to the wife and kids back home.

I called my wife while we were having dinner and she was very excited. Neither of us expected a win in my first match back. My parents - who along with my sister and her boyfriend are probably my biggest supporters - were able to see the match. My parents get a special channel in Sweden that shows all the Slams and Masters Series events. I called dad after the match from the hotel room and spoke about the match, which was nice.

Talk to you tomorrow, Thomas

Monday, May 8, 2006  
There's a lot of pressure on me this week to follow Tursunov's blog. I can't promise to be that entertaining but I'll do my best. I was practicing last week with Ivan Ljubicic in Monaco and he asked me if I had read Tursunov's blog on the ATP web site. I said 'no' and he told me I should take the time to read it because it is amazing.

It feels great to be back on the tour and to be around my friends again. This will be my first tournament since my freak eye injury in Rotterdam. I was practicing with my doubles partner Mario Ancic and we were hitting serves from opposite sides of the court. He must have miss hit one; the ball bounced and then rocketed into my left eye. It was very scary and I didn't see anything out of my left eye for the first 10 minutes - it was like someone had pulled a curtain across my eye. It was totally black and I was in a lot of pain.

I went to the tournament doctor and she said that it probably wasn't anything too serious but if I wasn't 100 percent by the next day that I should see an eye specialist. We had beaten Aussie Open finalists Damm and Paes in the first round and were scheduled to play our second round Friday, the day after my injury. We hit in the morning and I couldn't judge the distance of the ball - my forehand was really late. I knew then that I couldn't play the match. I went to an eye specialist in Rotterdam and he said they would have to operate – that day! Everything happened so quickly.

Mario and his Swedish coach Fredrik Rosengren were both really concerned. They came to see me after the surgery and Mario must have called me twice a day for the next four weeks. No-one is happier to see me back playing than Mario. We are very good friends and I felt sorry for him that it happened. It's probably the first time on the ATP circuit that a player has been injured like that.

To try to explain the injury in the simplest terms, the blow to the eye caused a hole in my retina. A lot of fluid, including blood, came into the eyeball and they had to put what I describe as a type of miniature pillow on the hole so that it blocked the flow of liquid into the eyeball. They also put gas into my eye to keep pressure on the spot where the pillow was.

I wasn't allowed to fly for four weeks, so that meant a long trip back to Sweden. By coincidence, the day I got injured was the day my wife arrived - we had planned to travel to Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami together. So between us we had two big Samsonite bags, two Dunlop sports bags and my racquet bag - and I was under doctor's orders not to carry anything!

Richard Krajicek, the Rotterdam tournament director, said we could have a tournament car to drive back to Sweden, a trip which I guess would take about 15 hours. But instead we decided to be driven to Germany, and from there we took a midnight train to Copenhagen, where the plan was for my sister's boyfriend to pick us up and drive us to our hometown of Linkoping.

It was freezing cold, I couldn't see squat and I couldn't carry any of our luggage. So my wife, who is pretty small, and the driver had to carry all the bags onto the train. Then we were in this tiny sleeper carriage. Only one of us could stand up at one time. We arrived into Copenhagen around 9 am and then drove home.

I wasn't allowed to do anything for the first two weeks and during that time I had to have six sessions each day where I would lay down on my right side for 45 minutes to an hour and remain completely still. I'd wake at 8, have breakfast and then would have to go back to bed for an hour! Get up, watch a movie, then back to bed.

I looked liked Hannibal Lecter when I went to bed, so I'm not sure my wife was happy to see me. But fortunately I only had to wear the patch when I went to sleep.

I had this bubble in my eye, which made me feel like one of those levels that a builder uses. It was black and would go around my eye. The first few times that I started walking I felt seasick because the bubble moves with your head. I thought I could make a little extra money during my rehab by moonlighting as a builder.

I was in Sweden for 3-4 weeks and was seeing an eye specialist in Stockholm. After four weeks when the bubble disappeared and I could fly, I went to my apartment in Monaco. I had my first hit with Jonas Bjorkman the week before Masters Series Monte-Carlo. My eye specialist in Nice said that I wasn't allowed to move too much on the court, so for that first week I was a pro hitting partner. I could stand in one corner but I couldn't play any games. But it was still a lot of fun and it gave me a lot of time on the court with guys like Kiefer, Oli Rochus, Zimonjic and Robredo.

I'm sure I'll be more nervous than normal tomorrow when I walk out to play Italian qualifier Fabio Fognini. I haven't played a match since Rotterdam, although I've always enjoyed the Rome tournament - the clay is quicker and I like the city.

I still don't have 100 percent vision in the eye - it's probably at 60-70 percent. When I got hit my lense went backwards and every week it's been moving forward a little bit. They say that it won't be until six months has passed that I’ll know if I have sustained permanent damage, but everything has been going well to this point, so there is nothing to suggest that I won't make a full recovery.

The reduced vision has not affected my play - it's not like I'm spraying forehands when I'm tracking the ball with my left eye. The only problem I have is that I haven't got my night vision back. I don't drive when it's dark and I've put in a request that my match tomorrow be played during the day. Fingers crossed.

Sorry my first entry is so long. Dmitry set the tone last week when he wrote a novel each day!

More tomorrow, Thomas

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