Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Swedish Tennis Federation recently placed an ad that read: "Seeking tennis great who'd be interested in winning a Grand Slam tournament."
Okay. Maybe that's not true, but maybe it should be.
The once-proud land of the tennis giants is currently in a deep funk when it comes to capturing a Slam -- a nine-year funk to be exact.
The Nordic nation has failed to produce a Grand Slam champion since the great Stefan Edberg hoisted the U.S. Open trophy in 1992 -- a string of 34 straight Slams without any hardware.
For the better part of 20 years -- from the mid-1970s to roughly the mid-1990s -- Swedes pounded their collective tennis chests with the likes of the legendary Bjorn Borg, the brilliant Mats Wilander and the serve-and-volley artist that was Edberg -- all former world No. 1 performers.
Heading into this 2001 season, Norman had produced more titles than any other player on the ATP circuit over the last two years (10) -- but none came in the form of a Slam.
(Photo by Empics)
From 1974-92 (19 years), Sweden's "Big Three" piled up 24 Grand Slam titles in a remarkable 38 Grand Slam finals. Borg, Wilander and Edberg were a combined 24-14 in Slam title matches, with the athletic Borg going 11-5; Wilander rolling to a 7-4 record; and Edberg posting a 6-5 mark in such encounters.
But in recent years, the Swedes have been represented by such Grand Slam frauds as Magnus Norman and Thomas Enqvist.
Heading into this 2001 season, Norman had produced more titles than any other player on the ATP circuit over the last two years (10) -- but none came in the form of a Slam. Meanwhile, Enqvist has just been, in a word, disappointing. The aggressive (when he's out there) Swede has battled more injuries than former motorcycle madman Evel Knievel.
Evel Enqvist? It's got a ring to it.
Norman gave way to Guga Kuerten in last year's French Open final and has basically struggled ever since, including a five-set first-round loss to unheralded Spaniard David Sanchez in the opening round of this year's French Open fortnight (or in Norman's case, a weeknight). At least Enqvist won a few matches at Roland Garros before falling to clay-court powerhouse "King" Juan Carlos Ferrero in the round of 16.
In the recent ATP World Team Championship, Sweden failed to produce a single victory in three matches in the round-robin portion of the event -- losing to Australia, Spain and Germany, with a team spearheaded by Norman and Enqvist.
Granted, the World Team tournament is only a French Open tune-up...but how 'bout showin' some pride, you Borg-Wilander-Edberg wannabes!!!
A line up of Wimbledon greats from recent times at the 2000 Parade of Champions on centre court: (l-r) Michael Stich, Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg.
(Photo by Empics)
Sweden's current "Big Two" are a combined 0-2 in Grand Slam finals, including an Enqvist loss to Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the 1999 Aussie Open.
In this year's Australian Slam, Norman bowed out against Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean in the fourth round, and the always-fragile Enqvist missed the event because of (you guessed it) injuries.
Norman is a pedestrian 19-18 this season, while Enqvist isn't much better at 14-10, with Wimbledon looming in two weeks.
Calling Dr. Borg, Dr. Wilander, Dr. Edberg...Dr. Borg, Dr. Wilander, Dr. Edberg.
Heck! Can Ingemar Stenmark or Borje Salming play tennis?
Since Edberg's appearance in the 1993 Australian Open final, the Swedes have managed only Enqvist's trip to the '99 Aussie Open title match and Norman's trek to the 2000 French Open final. And the future doesn't look bright for Sweden, as the world No. 17 Norman, for the time being, appears to have lost all confidence; the talented world No. 13 Enqvist in an injury waiting to happen; and the next-best reps for the Scandinavian country are No. 19 Thomas Johansson and No. 41 Andreas Vinciguerra -- neither of whom are going to secure a Slam anytime soon. Sweden's other Top-100 players are the washed-up Jonas Bjorkman and the equally-as-used-up Magnus Gustafsson.
In terms of a 2001 season barometer, Vinciguerra is actually Sweden's No. 1, with a 19th position in the ATP Champions Race. Norman is 23rd, Johansson is 32nd, and Enqvist is 39th.
Let's look at the aforementioned French Open for an example of Sweden's former dominance, as a Swede appeared in the final there 11 times in 12 years from 1978-89 and 13 times in a 16-year span from 1974-89. And by the way, Sweden captured nine of those championships, including six by Borg from 1974-81. Wilander secured the other three.
The Swedes also piled up five straight Aussie Open titles from 1983-88 (not held in 1986), with Wilander winning three and Edberg nailing down two; and Borg, of course, captured the five straight Wimbledon crowns from 1976-80.
Sweden desperately needs somebody to step up if it wants it's next Borg, Wilander or Edberg. The Swedes haven't produced a No. 1 star since the quintessential gentleman, Edberg.
Wilander has returned to the ATP, as a coach, but he's mentoring a Russian, not a Swede, in reigning U.S. Open champion/hot head Marat Safin, who's more in need of a babysitter at this stage of his flatlining career.
Until the sensational Kuerten turned the trick on Sunday, Wilander had been the last player to win three French Opens, with his last one coming in 1988.
Where have you gone Mikael Pernfors?