Ymer On The Rise With Soderling
It started with a backhand down the line. Elias Ymer’s eyes grew wide as his opponent left a forehand short. Stepping inside the baseline, he launched his six-foot frame into the ball, sending it careening to the back wall.
Ymer let out a deafening roar, echoed by his coach Robin Soderling, who raised his fists in approval. One minute later, the sell-out crowd at the Vendespace Arena joined the Swedish duo in celebrating the 21-year-old’s fourth ATP Challenger Tour title. Tournament organisers in Mouilleron-le-Captif stormed the court to set up the trophy presentation as Ymer and Soderling savoured the moment, reveling in their latest triumph.
For the elder Swede, the satisfaction in witnessing his young charge’s victory was made even sweeter by his disciplined execution throughout the week. Every point, regardless of the score and situation in the match, required the same level of aggression and energy. From falling down an early break to open Sunday’s final to launching a backhand down the line to set up championship point. That’s the approach the former World No. 4 took to the court throughout his 10-year career and that’s exactly what he expects from his pupil.
“A coach is very important, but I cannot just take anyone. He has to fit your personality and there has to be chemistry between you guys. I didn't find one like that until I contacted Robin,” Ymer told ATPWorldTour.com. “He's telling me all the time to be steady, but be aggressive. We’ve had a very good start.”
That start has been more than fruitful for the duo, since they first teamed up in July. The #NextGenATP has since posted an 18-7 record on the ATP Challenger Tour, including titles on the clay of Cordenons, Italy, and the indoor hard courts of Mouilleron-le-Captif, France, on Sunday. His successful streak has seen him vault nearly 150 spots in the Emirates ATP Rankings to No. 146.
“He has a good chance to go all the way,” Soderling said about his countryman. “He's won Challengers before, but when he plays at his top level, he can not only win these events, but big matches on the ATP World Tour.”
With a more attacking and offensive mentality, Ymer blasted to the title in Mouilleron-le-Captif, defeating Germany’s Yannick Maden 7-5, 6-4 in the final. It was a personal milestone for the Swede, marking his first pro victory on hard courts. His previous success at the Challenger level had been exclusive to Italian clay, claiming a trio of crowns on the surface before breaking through at the Internationaux de Vendée.
Having also notched his first ATP World Tour match win of the year a month ago in Stockholm, he believes this newfound success on faster surfaces can be attributed to Soderling’s influence. While not a seismic shift in his game, it is nonetheless paying dividends.
"I’m so happy to win my first pro tournament on hard,” Ymer added. “It's big for me and my career, that I can win on another surface. You have to be more aggressive on hard courts, but it just brings a lot of confidence. It's important to be able to play on all surfaces. And to finish the year strong, you get a good boost for the coming season.
"It's very tough to win Challengers. You have to be playing your best to win them and you don't do it every week. Even if you're a top player, they just don't step into a Challenger and do well. Everything has to go well. It's not easy. When it happens, you just have to be happy and continue to work hard.”
Boasting a determined and dogged attitude, Ymer was soaring towards the Top 100 last year, ascending to a career-high No. 118. But a 20-20 stretch would see the Swede slip in the Emirates ATP Rankings, falling close to the Top 300 prior to Soderling’s arrival. Such a hiccup would test the mettle of even the most unflappable of competitors, but Ymer admits that he never lost faith in his abilities.
"I didn't stop believing. I just kept going. I always woke up and trained hard. I never saw it as struggling. Robin always tells me, 'Eli, you only have the points for one year, it doesn't matter and if you have the game it will go fast when you start winning'. Of course, you're not happy to lose and you always want to go up, but I didn't see it that way. I love tennis and I love competing.
"I always liked Robin’s game and he had that good mentality on court. He was always fighting. He's also a very smart guy. We just really enjoy each other’s company.”
Soderling was forced to hang up his racquet at the age of 31 due to complications from mononucleosis, four years after playing his last professional match. But the 10-time ATP World Tour champion has stayed involved with the game since his retirement, launching his own brand of equipment. What started with tennis balls has evolved to include strings, grips and other accessories.
The former Top 10 stalwart is finding the right balance between managing his business and traveling to tournaments with Ymer. Also a two-time finalist at Roland Garros and champion at the 2010 Rolex Paris Masters, Soderling says that while his career was cut short, his passion has never waned and staying involved is his top priority. With Magnus Norman, Stefan Edberg, Jonas Bjorkman, Mikael Tillstrom and Thomas Johansson having enjoyed successful coaching stints on the ATP World Tour, he is the latest Swede to test the waters.
“It's been six years since I last played,” Soderling added. “In the beginning, it was much more difficult, but now it's getting easier. Sometimes when I see that players I used to play against are still playing, it can get frustrating, but I'm lucky I had a few good years on tour. It's a shame I couldn't play longer, but I traveled the world and made many friends everywhere.”