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Putting a Charge in It
Bjorkman is one of the few dedicated serve-volleyers left on tour
Some advice for tennis fans at Indian Wells for the start of the men's tournament in the Pacific Life Open today: Get a draw sheet, find the name Jonas Bjorkman and head out to the back courts.
That's where the Swedish journeyman will be, where he has been for most of his 16-year career, other than in 1997, when he stunned everybody by going 71-26 and finished the season ranked fourth in the world.
ADVERTISEMENTHe is no longer young, no longer a frequent sighting on the big courts with the luxury suites and the people sipping chardonnay in their designer Filas.
He is also no less entertaining and no less worth watching. At 33 — he will turn 34 on March 23 — he is the third-oldest regular participant on the men's tour, after Andre Agassi, one month from his 36th birthday, and Wayne Arthurs, a week from his 35th.
As much as his age, Bjorkman's style of play makes him a tennis dinosaur.
Bjorkman follows his serve to the net, a technique last seen commonly in the era of Jack Kramer, wooden rackets and long pants. Now, in men's tennis, players go to the net only when struck by diving birds that leave them dazed and disoriented.
It isn't totally their fault. They are now asked to play with balls that weigh as much as baseballs, fluffed up like a Don King hairdo and squished into slow courts of sandy, gooey compositions. A game not long ago played mostly on slick grass has become the Pro Swamplands Tour.
Among the men who play regularly, a few renegades still try to attack behind the serve — Taylor Dent, Tim Henman, Ivo Karlovic, Mario Ancic and Arthurs, as well as Bjorkman's current doubles partner, Max Mirnyi.
Bjorkman has never quit trying to serve and volley. He has reasons, and a sense of humor about it.
"I'd look pretty stupid if I stayed back at the baseline after hitting the kind of serve I do," he says.
He is also serious about what the game has become.
"It is sad to see the game go this way," he said. "When I'm done, I won't watch two guys stay back at the baseline and slug it out."
The true artists of the last serve-and-volley era, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Patrick Rafter and Boris Becker, are gone.
Bjorkman has persevered at what he does because it is what he knows and what he likes. It has also meant that he has had most of his success in doubles, where you'd better know how to play at the net or you'll lose.
Last month, the Swedish dinosaur shared one side of the net with an American dinosaur, McEnroe. The result was a stunning tournament doubles title at San Jose.
The tournament director, Bill Rapp, had been working on getting the still-proficient McEnroe, now 47, back into an ATP main draw. He identified Bjorkman, with his 44 doubles titles and eight Grand Slam doubles titles, as a worthy partner.
McEnroe said yes, the two quickly clicked, and the San Jose championship was theirs.
"He is a true legend," Bjorkman said. "We see doubles the same way. It worked right away."
Like all so-called doubles specialists, Bjorkman bristles a bit at the label. He has been No. 4 in the world, seen the bright lights of the big-stadium center courts, been to a U.S. Open semifinal and a Wimbledon quarterfinal.
"It is still fun," he says. "It still feels the same when you get out on a center court. I still get the same chills as I did when I was 20. And in some ways, it is even better because now, if you are successful, it is so much bigger because the fields are so much better.
"I've been lucky. I haven't had a serious injury since 1990 [a year before he had a world ranking], and here I am, still trying. I never thought I'd be playing at 34."
He hasn't finished a year out of the top 75 since 1993, has played in 48 of the last 49 Grand Slam tournaments, has made more than $12 million in prize money, entered last week's Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas at No. 64 — he's No. 68 now — and has never stopped moving forward, in his goals and on his serve.
He lists among his highlights his 1-0 record against his friend and retired countryman, Edberg, winner of six Grand Slam singles titles, whom he beat in a third-round match at the U.S. Open.
"When I see him, I always remind him that I dominated him in singles," Bjorkman says. "He, of course, reminds me of the 40 or so practice matches we played, where he won them all."
I lost to the Australian Open finalist Marcos Bagdatis in the second round in Indian Wells, 4-6, 3-6, on Sunday. I´ve played really good tennis the last few days, have hit the ball perfectly, but I lost that feeling today, and just played bad: to many easy mistakes; to many ups and downs when I was serving. Very disappointing. Max Mirnyi and I are playing against Jose Acasuso and Sebastian Prieto, Argentina, on Tuesday.
Strangely bad weather here in Indian Wells lately. Normally it´s warm and pleasant, but now we have had the worst storm in 50 years with a lot of rain and temperatures down to 7 degrees celsius, which has distracted and delayed the schedule. The surrounding mountains usually keeps this kind of weather away, but once the storm found its way over the mountains, it seems that it can´t find the way out again. The mountains are covered with snow!
I beat Christophe Rochus, finallist in Rotterdam, with 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, in the first round in Indian Wells. I´ve practised 10 hours Monday to Wednesday the past week, and I´ve started to hit the ball really well again, found that feeling.
Semi final in Indian Wells
Max Mirnyi and I have advanced to the semi final in Indian Wells. We beat Zimonjic and Santoro in a quarter final that became as close as I had anticipated: 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 10-5. Again we proved an ability to win the really decisive points. There will be two top semi finals. Simon Aspelin and the Bryan brothers in one of them, and Max and I against Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor in the other.
It starts to look good. Max Mirnyi and I played really well when beating Justin Gimelstob and Stephen Huss in the second round in Indian Wells, 7-5, 6-1. We will now face Fabrice Santoro and Nenad Zimonjic in the quarter final. They are both ranked within top 12 in the world.
Max Mirnyi and I beat Sebastian Prieto and Jose Acasuso in the first round of the doubles in Indian Wells, 6-7, 7-6, 10-3. A tough match, but we played our best tennis when we needed it the most: in the second set tiebreak that we won 7-0, and in the decisive super tiebreak. I hope that this victory can inspire us to reach our true capacity. We will play against Justin Gimelstob and Stephen Huss on Wednesday.
Max Mirnyi and I lost the semi final in Indian Wells against Knowles and Nestor, just like last year, 7-6, 6-1. Hopefully that will mean, just like last year, that Max and I move on to win the title in Miami.
This was a well played match, and much closer than it might seem. We just didn´t manage to get the decisive points on our side. They have won here three times before, and it seems that they have that little extra luck that is necessary to win here, besides that they are one of the best and most consistent teams in the world, of course.
No breaks in the first set - although we had four chances. The tiebreak was also close. Our only mistake came on the set point, when we made the wrong tactical move. We got ourselves five chances to break their serve in the second set, but it just couldn´t be done today. But we have played much better than in a long time this week, really working to improve a few details in our game. I think we will be even better next week, and that our déjà vu lost here will be followed by a déjà vu win in Miami!