The Tennis Week interview: Mikael Pernfors

04-21-2009, 09:54 PM
The Tennis Week Interview: Mikael Pernfors

By Richard Pagliaro

Monday, April 20, 2009,1.0&hei=268&wid=179

Mikael Pernfors has overcome two Achilles injuries in recent years to return to competition on the Outback Champions Series. So the prospect of preparing for this week's Grand Cayman Legends Championships by spending some quality time in the hospital may sound as appealing as a bout with a tennis-ball sized kidney stone, but for Pernfors there was no place else he wanted to be.

On April 6th, Pernfors and his wife welcomed their second child into the world, daughter Bella, who joins the couple's son, Figge. Father and son may well travel alone to Grand Cayman this week as Bella, who was born prematurely, is too young to travel.

Pernfors, known as one of the most entertaining shot makers in tennis, won three titles during his ATP career, including the Canadian Open in 1993. He is best known for his run to the final of the French Open in 1986, where he defeated Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker before losing to Ivan Lendl in the final. The Swede’s best showing on the Outback Champions Series was a fourth-place finish in Naples in 2006.

Pernfors played the OCS season-opening event in Boston in February, falling in the quarterfinals to Todd Martin. He returns to tournament tennis later next week when he joins Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Pat Cash, Mark Philippoussis, Karel Novacek, Jimmy Arias and Wayne Ferreira in the eight-player field at The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships to be held April 23-26 in Grand Cayman. The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships is the fourth of eight events on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over.

The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Legends Championships will feature a field of eight champion players competing in a single knock-out format event, vying for $150,000 in prize money and ranking points that determine the year-end No. 1 on the Outback Champions Series. In 2008, Courier won the inaugural event defeating Ferriera 7-6 (3), 7-6 (1) in the championship match after edging Arias in the semifinals.

After the first round of matches on Thursday, April 23, The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman will kick off the weekend’s events with a "Thursday Night Whites," an elegant beach party boasting gourmet foods and gracious company with the luxury and relaxation of The Ritz-Carlton’s Caymanian atmosphere. Tickets, travel and tournament information for the tournament are available online at or by calling 877-322-TIXX (8499) or 954-241-7936.

A former all American at Georgia, Pernfors lived in Atlanta for years, but moved to Vero Beach, Florida recently. Tennis Week caught up with him there for this interview.

Tennis Week: Mikael, this is the first Outback Champions Series event on clay this year. How do you feel about going back to play on clay?

Mikael Pernfors: The Cayman Islands is gonna be a little bit easier for me, I think, because I do most of my practice on clay and it's a surface that suits me and my game much better than a faster indoor court. So I feel comfortable on clay and looking forward to playing in the Caymans.

Tennis Week: I've been impressed with the fact the OCS has expanded its player base and you see guys like Sampras, Rafter, Goran, Philippoussis and Agassi scheduled to play this year. As a competitor on the tour, what do you think about the level of competition on the senior circuit now?

Mikael Pernfors: It's amazing to me the level we're seeing and that these guys, so many former World No. 1 players, are coming out to play shows they feel there's really a strong product on the Outback Champions Series and that the crowds are coming out to watch.

Tennis Week: I'm told you recently became a dad again last week. Congratulations. Boy or a girl?

Mikael Pernfors: It's a girl. She was born on the 6th of April. She was a pre-me (born prematurely). So she's been in the hospital since birth. Her name is Bella and we hope she is big enough to take home before I go to play the Caymans.

Tennis Week: Any reason for naming her Bella? Is she named for anyone in particular?

Mikael Pernfors: No, I just like the name. She's got a couple of names so her full name is longer.

Tennis Week: During your days on the ATP Tour you were known as a shotmaker and a tactician. Would you ever consider coaching?

Mikael Pernfors: For many years I said I didn't want to coach. One of my issues — and I'm always told by people in tennis that I'm not allowed to say this — is that honestly I don't like to watch tennis. Even when I was 7 or 8 and Bjorn played and was such a great influence on us in Sweden, I'd rather just play tennis than watch tennis. So I've always been that way and that was the main reason. But after moving down to Vero Beach from Atlanta, I've changed. I've been doing some teaching on the Tour and starting to get involved working with playres and I'm enjoying it very much. So I'm starting to put my name out there and if there would be an opportunity I would like to try it.

Tennis Week: Would you be willing to work with a woman player or men only?

Mikael Pernfors: I feel to a certain extent like the way I played tennis a woman player would probably benefit more from what I did on the Tour. Because while I think they have become more powerful, I think the variety is important as well. I think I could help in that respect too.

Tennis Week: Players often point to Lendl as the first guy who kind of ushered in the agressive forehand-orientated baseline style that is so prevalent today. You played a forehand-orientated game as well trying to run around your backhand to fire the forehand. Looking back, you could make a case that '86 French Open final between you and Lendl was a stylistic preview of men's tennis tactics in the future. Do you feel that way and how has your style changed from the ATP days to your play on the OCS now?

Mikael Pernfors: I think with my forehand it was a power shot because I didn't have much else to produce power with so it was more out of necessity. I didn't have a very good rally shot off my backhand though I could slice it and I had to rely so much on my forehand. So I would mix it up with drop shots and lobs, but yes my game was based on my forehand. I pretty much play the same way now. Maybe I use fewer drop shots and I probably play a little more conservatively than I did then. I'm in my mid 40s now playing against guys in their mid 30s. They can run down most of the balls out there so I have to rely on placement, moving the ball around and when I get the forehand I try to hit it well.

Tennis Week: There is so much history and rivalry on the senior tour. Who do you enjoy playing the most these days?

Mikael Pernfors: I kind of enjoy playing most of the guys. I always have a great time playing against Mats because we know each other so well and we've played each other so many times. But I would say they're fun in different ways. Playing someone like John McEnroe, you never quite know what he's gonna do. The toughest thing in tennis is to create pace off no pace and John is able to play with different spins and also take pace off the ball which is very difficult to do.

Tennis Week: What is your favorite court in the world to play on?

Mikael Pernfors: I think I got to play on all the center courts during my days playing on the ATP Tour. When you come out and play on centre court at Wimbledon it's very special. I remember the first time I played on centre court because I was scheduled to play Mike DePalmer on a different court and got moved to centre court. It is unbelievably special to play centre court at Wimbledon. All of the center courts at any Grand Slam are special to play on because of the tradition, the history and just the feeling of being out there so any of them, but Wimbledon was very special. One court I played on the senior tour that I never got to play on the ATP Tour was Royal Albert Hall. that court was incredible. The crowd is into it and it's just a special place. The great thing about the Outback Champions Series is they pick the best places, beautiful scenic places to play.

Tennis Week: If you could play any man in tennis history — you at your best and he at his best — who would you pick to play?

Mikael Pernfors: I'd probably pick someone I should beat (laughs) because I'd want to win. Actually, there are a lot of players you'd like to face just to see how they played. I think it would be unbelievable to play Bjorn. He was such a great influence on all of us in Sweden. Just to come out and see how he would play would be a thrill. It would probably be Borg.

Tennis Week: Last time I talked you I remember you were rehabbing an Achilles injury. How is your health?

Mikael Pernfors: I tore my Achilles in 2006. Then I tore the other one in September of last year. I was out for a while. I'm pretty much now starting to feel 100 percent. I didn't tear it fully, which was fortunate. I've already had three operations on that foot back in the '90s so I feel fortunate to be back out there playing

Tennis Week: Have you followed the Nadal-Federer dynamic as it's unfolded? If so, what are your thoughts on those two?

Mikael Pernfors: I haven't followed closely. I'm a huge fan of Federer. I met him through Peter Lundgren and really enjoy his game and him as a person. He's a gentleman. I don't really follow it closely, but I was really happy when he was dominating. I'm not gonna I say I lost interest for a while. But I do think it's kind of fun to see three or four guys at the top who are so competitive.

Tennis Week: Perhaps in part because he's not around the game so much, Lendl sometimes seems to be a forgotten man in tennis. Who was the toughest opponent you faced? Was it Lendl?

Mikael Pernfors: I didn't play Lendl that many times and I lost to him every time. He was a much better player. I think the guy who really gave me — and a lot of Swedes — trouble was Miloslav Mecir. When you played Lendl, you knew what would happen and even if I played well I know I would struggle. Against Mecir, you had no idea of what was going to happen. The way he moved, the way he hit the ball, his shot selection. Mecir was very tough because you never knew what he was going to do.