Challenger Tennis Back In Sweden After 20 Years
The year was 1996 and Swedish tennis was at a crossroads. Stalwarts and former World No. 1's Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander bade farewell to the game, as a quartet of future stars - Jonas Bjorkman, Thomas Johansson, Magnus Norman and Thomas Enqvist - began their ascent to the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.
The year was also significant in that it was the last time the Scandinavian nation hosted a tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour. Belgium's Johan van Herck would defeat home hope Jan Apell for the title in Bromma.
Twenty years later, the Challenger circuit has returned with the RC Hotel Open this week in Jonkoping and the surging Ymer brothers - Elias and Mikael - are on the rise. Bjorkman is happy to see it back, as a platform to continue to grow the game.
“To finally have Challengers in Sweden again this year is a huge step forward for Swedish tennis and this will help the process to produce future tennis stars,” the former singles World No. 4 and doubles No. 1 told ATPWorldTour.com. “The Challengers will help our current players since the gap between our Futures and ATP World Tour events is too big. So now they can cut the costs with tournaments at home and also learn a lot by playing at that level, which will be easier to learn and take advantage of.”
“I love having the crowd supporting you and playing so close to home,” added Elias Ymer, one of 11 teenagers in the Top 200 of the Emirates ATP Rankings at No. 151. “I am from Skara, which is 100 kilometres from Jönköping, and I believe many of my friends will come and watch me play. Sweden hasn’t had a Challenger in a very long time. It’s really nice that we get a chance to play at home. The arena is completely transformed since we played Davis Cup here two years ago.”
Sweden will also welcome a Challenger tournament in Bastad in early July, the week prior to the ATP World Tour 250 event in the coastal city. Former World No. 5 Anders Jarryd, a resident of Bastad, weighed in.
“It's so important to have that level of tournament in Sweden,” said Jarryd. “We have had the ATP World Tour events and the Futures for some years. But frankly, we haven't really had players for the tour level. That's why the Challengers are perfect in this phase for some of our players. Hopefully some of the Swedes can raise their game and produce upsets. It also means that Sweden is on the map again, both domestically and internationally. Tennis is still very popular and that generates publicity in the media in Sweden. What's hard for Swedish youngsters is that it was such a long time since we had many players in the Top 100. So they have no one really to look up to. I think if you have great players in your environment, you become better yourself.”
The €42,500 event in Jonkoping is being held at the RC Arena, which has recently undergone a major transformation with a newly-built four-star hotel in the heart off the action. 58 brand new hotel rooms accommodate all players during the tournament.
“It´s very exciting hosting Sweden´s first Challenger in 20 years,” said tournament director Martin Claesson. “Now Sweden has a group of young players on their way to the top. We all keep an extra eye on Elias Ymer, now at No. 152 on Emirates ATP Rankings. After playing ITF Futures, it´s now time to play the next level. We are very pleased having the Swedish Davis Cup team in the tournament, with doubles top seed Johan Brunström.”