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ATP TOUR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP


November 10, 1997


Jonas Bjorkman


HANNOVER, GERMANY

Q. Jonas, playing professional tennis, for you, what is the highlight of being a tennis professional?

JONAS BJORKMAN: The highlight?

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Q. Yes.

JONAS BJORKMAN: The highlight is that I can play tennis, which I have done since I was five, six. I had a lot of dreams being a professional tennis player. To get those dreams becoming true, it's my highlight. I love playing tennis. It can't be much better to get the chance to do what you really enjoy.

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Q. What's the worst part of being a tennis professional, other than traveling?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, you definitely lose a lot of -- not a lot of friends back home, but it's tough to stay in touch with a lot of people back home. Maybe you were having more contact before you started playing professional tennis. Maybe that's the toughest part.

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Q. When Becker cutting back on his schedule, what does that mean, do you think, to European tennis, and to tennis in general?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it definitely is tough for the tennis. But Becker is going back. Edberg retired last year. That's the way it is. It's always coming up new players and new guys that will help tennis. So hopefully that will -- it will be quickly enough that someone will come up and take his place.

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Q. Who do you see coming up on the German side?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, German side, you have Kiefer and Haas. That's maybe about it for the moment. It's a long way for them to get up to Becker's position. But they both are very young and talented. If they can handle the pressure from the German media, they probably will have a good chance to get up higher. I don't know how far they can get. That's hard to tell. But they definitely got the chance.

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Q. How are you using this as preparation for Davis Cup?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, this is not a preparation for Davis Cup. I'm just going to be focused of this event. That was the same like last week. Even if it was a week before the ATP finals here, I'm still was just focused for playing Stockholm. I'm going to do the same thing here, just be focused to play here, try to do my best, try to be one of the four on Saturday playing the semis.

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Q. (Inaudible)

JONAS BJORKMAN: If I heard about it, yes. I think if you're a tennis professional, you definitely heard about it. You know that this is the biggest tournament for a single's guy to be part of. I mean, I know a lot of things about it, but it's just I've never been close to be part of it before. It's definitely something that I'm looking forward to.

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Q. Besides the tournament, have you ever been here?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I think maybe I've been at the airport one or two times. That's the closest I've been to Hannover (laughter).

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Q. (Inaudible)

JONAS BJORKMAN: So far I haven't heard anything. I will try to see more from the city, how it is, during the week.

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Q. It's difficult to be original after many questions, but in the group of the best returners, how do you feel? Would you have preferred to play against a strong server or is better like that? Even if you lose a serve, doesn't matter.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, like you said, we probably look a little bit the same, all the four guys in our group. Perhaps I will be the one who will maybe play a lot of serve and volley. Other guys will stay probably more on the baseline. But I think maybe sometimes I really have a guy who is playing serve and volley. When we coming into this event, everyone is so good. We got the top eight guys here. I think it doesn't really matter who you play, you will need to play high quality tennis to win the matches. Then you just going to prepare to play these guys no matter how they playing.

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Q. Let's say Sampras is the strong favorite, Rafter and Rusedski may play for the second place maybe, and Moya probably is the weakest. Who would you say is the weakest in your group? Would you say Bruguera, or are you afraid to say that?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I don't think we got a weakness in our group. I think all four got the same chance of making the semis. It looks really even. So maybe me and Kafelnikov is been playing the better tennis for the last couple weeks. As we know, Chang has always been playing well here. Now we're having hard court here, which is different, and maybe will be better for him. I think he probably got to be the small favorite. Then I think all the other three guys will be the underdogs.

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Q. Would you have rather played on carpet after you played so well in Paris and Stockholm?

JONAS BJORKMAN: No. This is the same, like Stockholm almost, I heard. A little bit slower than Stockholm, Rafter told me. I think this is going to fit me very good. I've done all my best results this year on hard courts. That's why I think it will be good for me, as well.

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Q. Four years ago, you were playing in Holland. What do you remember of that?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I had a very good time there. I can't remember how many matches I played, but I played most of them. I was there for like a month. I really enjoyed it. I had a good time and it was very friendly people in the club. I still have contact with Paulus, I see him once in a while. It's just good memories.

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Q. Do you have any idea how many matches you played there?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I can't remember really. I think I lost one or two, then I won the rest. I think I lost in the final or in the semis maybe. I can't remember really.

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Q. Only four years ago and now you're here in Hannover. Does that surprise you?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, yeah, maybe a little bit. But my goals have been very high. I think I've been working very hard the last couple years to get up this high, been coming up. So of course I'm a little surprised it's been going so quick this year, but a lot of people around me have been telling me I've got the chance. It's maybe been up to myself. I think mentally I've been finally coming over that step, much stronger mentally now than I've ever been before.

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Q. How does that come?

JONAS BJORKMAN: If you're stronger mentally?

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Q. Yes.

JONAS BJORKMAN: It definitely helps you to win more matches. If you're weak mentally, then you have a hard time playing tennis.

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Q. I need some reactions concerning your opponents. First Michael Chang?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, Michael is I think still the favorite in our group, even if it looks very tough. He's always played good in the ATP finals. He's playing very good on hard court, having good results. He's got good returns and really high speed of his footwork. So he will definitely be tough to beat here.

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Q. Yevgeny Kafelnikov?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, he's an all-around player. He can play serve and volley. He can stay back. Maybe doesn't have any big weakness. He's a very solid competitor.

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Q. Sergi Bruguera?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, maybe more known like a claycourt player. He's been playing very good even indoors and on hard court. So he's a dangerous guy on hard court. I think the high bounce here will definitely help him to play good tennis.

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Q. You had a final in Paris. You won in Stockholm. You are the most consistent player on the tour actually. How do you feel now this week before it starts?

JONAS BJORKMAN: It feels wonderful. It's just a great feeling to be here and be part of everything. I'm coming from a big win in Stockholm, which was really huge for me mentally. I felt it was really nice to win back home in front of my home crowd and everything, so my confidence is on top. I hope to continue playing good tennis this week.

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Q. How do you explain your improvement this year in the ATP ranking?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it's been a lot of things that definitely helped me. I think I've been much stronger mentally than I've been before. I also am much better tennis player than I was before. I can stay back, winning matches. I can definitely play serve and volley, of course, as well. But I think I can do more on the court. My level is much higher than it's been before. I never have really up and downs like I had before.

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Q. One thing is to get on top, another to stay on top. How will you handle this fact in the future?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I haven't been coming so far in my thinking. I have my two weeks left of the year. This is a really big week for me. I'm trying to be focused for this one first, then after here I will try to go into the Davis Cup final and be focused for that one. Then, after that, I have to sit down and see how I can, you know, keep doing my practice, how maybe I will change a little bit to stay in the top.

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Q. And you play now with a longer racquet than you used before.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Yeah.

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Q. Has it helped for you in your improvement?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, at least it helped me with my serve. I get a little bit more speed. Well, that's maybe the biggest help I have with the advantage of a new racquet. That's something that's been working very good since I started.

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Q. Was it difficult for you to change?

JONAS BJORKMAN: No, it wasn't that hard. I played like a week and a half in Sweden, and then I was waiting for my racquets in Indianapolis. I actually started practicing the day before the tournament started. It's been going good since that.

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Q. Can you say something to Boris Becker for his birthday?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I just say congratulations.

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Q. (Inaudible)

JONAS BJORKMAN: It's tough to know. He's a very good serve and volleyer, but he needs to improve his baseline game. Boris, I want to congratulate you on your birthday. I've got to say I'm very proud of having two wins in my baggage, and one in singles and one in doubles. That's something that I'm feeling good about when I'm retiring: I can say that I beat you in singles and doubles. So hopefully you have the same feelings for that. Good luck.

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Q. Are you glad about your group? Which person do you like to play again in the final?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I haven't been thinking that far, up to the final. I'm having a tough group. All four of us is in good shape. We've been playing good tennis, all of us, this year. That's why we're here. So I think no matter who you play, it will be tough. I'm just hoping to be one of the two who's going to go up to the semis.

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Q. I saw your video at the beginning of the show. I asked myself whether it is the right job for you, a tennis player, or should it be the humorist.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I don't know. I've done that a few times. In Monte-Carlo, we have a players' party there. There's a lot of people who liked it. It's fun to do that sometimes. I don't know, it might be something I will do in the future a little bit more maybe.

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Q. The reaction of the players? Are they not happy about this, or they take it with humor?

JONAS BJORKMAN: You used to say that the people you love, you make fun of. It's no hard feelings. I think all of them been just laughing at it. Probably when they have time, they give it back in one or another way.

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Q. Players that have been on the tour for quite a few years, like you, Greg and Patrick, getting it all together. In your case, how would you rate that?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, some guys is just moving up quick. Maybe for our case, it's been more that we needed to find all the pieces together before picking up the big game. Sometimes you have to work really hard to find these pieces so you can put them together. That's maybe what happened, at least in my case. I've been much mentally stronger now than I've ever been before. So I think that was a big step for me that I've been making this turnaround. Then, of course, experience always helps you. You're getting older, and you've been around a little bit. You know what it's all about.

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Q. It's basically good for you that you've played a lot over the last couple of weeks to get some good results, the final in Paris, the win yesterday. Is that actually better for you than resting for a week or two and then coming to this?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, for the moment, I'm feeling good in my body. Basically it feels okay. It's going to be very tough matches here, so I can't really tell if I'm going to be tired or not. Hopefully I'm not going to be that. I was practicing before Stuttgart, and I was preparing to be part of this week. To play four weeks in a row, that's something that I hope -- that is going to be good for me.

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Q. Pete earlier said that he rates your return as the best in the world right now. In that respect, would you have preferred to play the guys in the other group?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I mean, everyone is good who's coming into the top eight here. At least, I'm satisfied to be in the other group away from Pete because I still think Pete is the No. 1. When he's playing on top, he's a little outstanding. Maybe it could be better for me playing serve and volley guys. Still, on the other end, you need more than that to win the matches. I've been improving my game, baseline game, a lot. Hopefully that will help me to still go on strong in this event.

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Q. When you started the year, what was your plan, what was your expectation?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it definitely wasn't to go up to the final at World Championships. I think I had A problem the end of last year with my right knee. I had a cortisone injection in it after the Davis Cup final. So my preparation for Australia wasn't good. I think I was happy to be healthy, and I was hoping to get back between 20 and 30. I had one goal, and that was that I was to win one title. That's something I always had. That was maybe the plans I had. But I will be coming that far like I'm doing now. That's maybe something that I didn't expect really, not now at least.

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Q. Could it be actually that now comes the harder part, to stay up there?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, it's always the hardest part. Like Pete said, it's maybe easy to get up to No. 1, not easy, but easier to get up No. 1 than to stay five years in a row like he has. Definitely I'm going to be in the same situation. A lot of guys will definitely try to hunt me and beat me because it's bonus points, all of this. It's definitely going to be the hardest part to stay up there, but that's something that I'm going to work with back home after Davis Cup when I've been resting up. I've got to sit down and look back for the year, look in the future to see what I can do to manage to stay up in this top level.

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Q. Regarding your own potential, what do you think you could do? At what level are you playing right now?

JONAS BJORKMAN: I can improve my serve and still maybe my baseline game could have more back down there. Maybe I'm just more solid for the moment. That's maybe the main things for me to work on. Still you can always be better on the good things as well, like returns and everything. That's maybe the first couple things I need to try to improve.

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Q. After this there's still one big event.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Yeah, it's lovely. It's just great. First, having this three weeks like I had, then coming into this week is probably the biggest you can be part of as a single's guy, tennis professional. After here, I will go back and start to get focused on the big battle for Davis Cup. I think, first of all, I'm just going to try to be focused here on this event, and then afterwards I try to look at the Davis Cup, try to take one thing at a time.

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Q. How is the mood in Sweden?

JONAS BJORKMAN: The mood in Sweden has definitely changed. It was just an incredible week for me last week in Stockholm. I never really expected going from 10 to 4, that that could be that different. Media-wise, it's been a huge turnaround. Everyone been following the tournament. I've been having a good position. The crowd has been behind me when I've been playing. I had some unbelievable support when I played Stockholm. That was the best time I had so far in my career. Winning at home, with the pressure that I was coming from Paris, as the No. 4, there was a lot of talk that there were only three Swedes before that have been better ranked ever, these kind of things. That made me feel very happy yesterday that I managed to stay focused, even with all the media things with TV and press. I still managed to play good tennis, and did it at home.

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Q. That tension is probably even going to be bigger.

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, yeah. But that's something that is just positive, I think. That means that you've done something good and people respect you for what you've done. I think it's only positive things about that attention you get. When it's just up to yourself to handle it as good as you can, handle it in a good way.

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Q. Do you think it's actually an advantage with the Davis Cup, that it's sort of a team event, that the pressure is a bit spread, not everything lies on your shoulders?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Definitely it helps. I mean, now we already have -- it's a sold-out event, with like 36,000 tickets selling already. That's really something big in Sweden. Hasn't happened since I think '87, the finals were played against India, and Germany Davis Cup finals. It seems to me that interest of tennis in Sweden has definitely been coming back. I think we are a lot of guys who can help each other to not only have the pressure on one guy, but it could be more split up.

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Q. Any explanation, as one of the top Swedes goes down or retires, the next one comes up, no break for the last 20 years?

JONAS BJORKMAN: It's true. I have no answers. I don't know. I think the Swedish mentality is very good. I think we never really give up. We always work hard. I think everyone is working hard, all the Swedes. To be accepted as a good player, you have to work extremely hard in Sweden. I mean, normally maybe if you're coming from some other countries as a junior coming up, everyone would just put you up in the focus, that you are the next this and that. In Sweden, you have to do so much more to finally get there, get that respect that you've done something. That's something that I think is very positive for us.

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Q. That also probably gave you some early mental strength?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, you had to work hard from the early age. In my case, I wasn't that good, so I had to go the long way instead. It's just something that I'm having a big advantage of right now.

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Q. Who was your idol among the former Swedes?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I mean, definitely Mats because he was coming from my town and my tennis club. I was ten when he won the French Open. Definitely that was big back home. In the later years, I got the opportunity to practice a lot with Stefan because his wife is from my town as well. Every time he came back from a tour, I got the opportunity to play with him. I think those maybe four to six years definitely helped me; I got a good practice back home. I learned a lot, I mean both on the court and outside the court. Since that, I always had a lot of respect for Stefan.

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Q. (Inaudible)

JONAS BJORKMAN: I think after we won against Italy and we heard we're playing the Americans, we definitely thought that this is going to be extremely hard. I think the closer we get, it has changed. I think now we definitely feel, the whole group, like we got a chance to beat these guys. Now when it's sold out, it definitely will pump us up. But, you know, we're going to have the crowd with us. We going to have just a great time together. Hopefully that could help us to get through this year:

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Q. Do you have some memories of World Cup matches?

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, I think all the Swedish people have good memories from '94's World Cup in America. That was the first time for a long time Sweden had done so good. That definitely brings a lot of memories up for the Swedes. I think I never saw so much partying going on in Sweden, which normally I think the people is a little bit more shy and quiet. Everything was just changing after that success we had.

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Q. (Inaudible).

JONAS BJORKMAN: It's going to be sad not to follow the World Cup when your own country is playing. Brazil is a favorite country to watch. They're playing some great football, got some great players. Maybe that's who I'm looking for in France.

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Q. You have Kafelnikov in the first match. Just match him against --

JONAS BJORKMAN: Well, Yevgeny has proved that he's a good player. He's played well when he's needed to. He's a solid, all-around player. Doesn't have any real big weakness. Definitely going to be a tough match. But we both have a lot of confidence coming in after last week. It will be a really good match. Hopefully I can win.

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End of FastScripts....

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