by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEW YORK — I’m sorry, but it’s a question whose time has come.

Why are Swedish tennis players so dull?

This has become a major issue here at the U.S. Open, after three Swedes made the men’s quarterfinals and they had to pass out No-Doz. Personally, the idea has intrigued me since the day a sports writer fell asleep on my shoulder during a Mats Wilander press conference. And he hadn’t even been drinking.

The sports writer, I mean, not Mats. I don’t think Mats drinks. Or smokes, or gambles, or says dirty words, or stays up late. And that’s just it. Who’d want to hang out with a guy like that?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking here about Swedish people in general, or even Swedish women tennis players.

I am speaking only of the half-dozen or so young, handsome, sun-washed Swedish men who have taken the tennis world by storm.

On the court, they are mmm, mmm, mmm. Off the court, it’s zzz, zzz, zzz.

Ask Brent Musburger. After Joakim Nystrom beat Boris Becker the other night — a major upset — Brent tried desperately to elicit some enthusiasm from the winner. No luck.

Finally, he said: “Joakim, I know you Swedes are cool, calm and collected on the outside, but inside, I gotta think you’re just absolutely thrilled with your victory here, right?”

And Nystrom looked straight ahead like he was waiting for his laundry to finish drying, and said, “Yes. I am very happy.”

I tell you, my fern has more personality.Borg’s Charm School

I think the problem is that many Swedish players — like Wilander, Nystrom, Anders Jarryd, Henrik Sundstrom and Stefan Edberg — are graduates of the Bjorn Borg School of Social Charm, which teaches them how to be cool, composed, unruffled, slack-faced and tranquil, while slowly putting the audience to sleep.

This, by the way, is why their dinner conversation can lag in spots:

“Some soup, Mats?”

“Yes. His serve was strong.”

“For sure.”


“The wind, she is blowing.”

“I am very happy.”

“No, I do not have juice.”

“Also, his backhand. Stefan is here.”

“Yes. For sure.”


Then again, there are few colorful role models for Swedish players. Borg never did anything very wild, except maybe not shave for a few days. And even Pat Boone can do that.

Actually, acording to a book entitled “Swedish Tennis,” their most colorful player ever was Kalle Schroder, who played in the 1930s. By Swedish standards, this guy was a wild man. But then, their standards aren’t real demanding. Consider this book excerpt:

“One day, Kalle and his friend, Nils Rohlson, were on a visit to Oslo. They made up a game. Whoever saw a man with a beard would yell ‘walrus!’ first and get one point. If the bearded man was also bald, he was a ‘double walrus,’ which meant two points.

“They strolled along. Suddenly Kalle spotted a bearded man wearing a hat.
‘Walrus!’ he shouted. Then he lifted the man’s hat and saw he was bald.

” ‘Look, Nisse! A double walrus!’ he said.

“Yes Kalle Schroder was a colorful figure.” Uh, well, yeah. You see the problem.Would orange socks help?

OK. Since the Swedish players are already talented, good- looking and rich, I propose the following five-point plan to help goose their image. I mean, you can only go around lifting people’s hats for so long.

1. Wear orange day-glo tennis shorts.

2. Buy a phony arrow-through-the-head.

3. Guest-host “Saturday Night Live.”

4. Take referee-screaming lessons from John McEnroe. Naturally, they can’t expect to equal Mac’s classic “You are the pits of the world!” But hey, these things take time.

5. Wear orange day-glo socks.

Granted, this won’t work miracles, but it’ll help. Mats, Anders, Stefan. Hey. You don’t want people falling asleep in your press conferences. I mean, what if they’re in the middle of a question?

All of which suddenly reminds me of a girl in high school who dumped me for a tall, handsome, football player. “Well yeah,” I responded, tears choking my voice, “he’s handsome and all, but I bet he’s boring as hell.”

Naturally, he turned out to be a violin prodigy and president of the debate club. Ah. Where are all the Swedish tennis players when you need them?

Probably out looking for walruses.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!