Interview with Elias Ymer

Ymer: “When things go well, everyone wants to be your friend…”

2014 interview by Linnus Sunnervik, published in the Swedish Expressen.

He’s been singled out as the one who’ll beat the path for the future of Swedish tennis.  Elias Ymer, 17, would have happily walked in Robin Söderling’s footsteps for a while longer.  In an exclusive interview with SPORT-Expressen, the promising tennis player talks about controlling his temper, sacrifices, and the expectations for him.

“I can’t think that I’ll be successful just so Swedish tennis can be good again,” he says.

Elias Ymer methodically chews his lunch of pasta after a practice session in the Salk Hall.  On the TV in the dining room hears his name in SVT Sport’s Year in Review.  Elias shakes his head in amazement.

“What? Was I really in that?” he wonders.

It all happened on a Sunday afternoon in October.  In a few hours, Elias Ymer became a Davis Cup hero and the future tennis hope of the nation.

“Obviously, I noticed the attention.  At the press conference, the journalists talked a lot with me.  And I got a lot of text messages,” he adds.

Getting used to the media.

His coach Peter Carlsson is reclining next to Elias Ymer at the table.

“He’s starting to get used to doing interviews.  But he’s not exactly someone who craves the attention,” he says.

Elias Ymer has made an exception for SPORT-Expressen.  We follow the 17-year-old on a sweaty gym session and tennis practice in the prestigious Salk Hall in Alvik, Stockholm.

Here, Elias Ymer is drilled by Peter Carlsson, who turned a 16-year-old Robin Söderling into a world-class player.

He’s been advising the 17-year-old since December.  The junior is to grow into a senior player during 2014.  The journey begins with three weeks of match play in Israel in January.

“I am so looking forward to getting out there and playing.  When you’re on the road you just want to go home.  But now I’m nearly bored here at home,” says Ymer.

Six months have gone by since Ymer’s first lessons on the big tennis stage: a meeting with Grigor Dimitrov at the Swedish Open.  At 4-4 in the deciding set against the 29th best player, Ymer got angry over a line call—and lost 6-4.

“All are so calm at the senior level.  Even when they’re down, they just think of the next ball.  You never see anyone scream or lose it.  I’ve learned that you can’t flip out mentally,” he says.

Can you just decide to stop getting angry?

“You have to do it. If you let it happen, it’ll eat you up.  And then you throw matches away.  When I think, it gets easier.

Ten three-setters in a row

He calls the match against Dimitrov a turning point.  Three months later, he made his Davis Cup debut as Sweden’s youngest player since 1981.  In the fifth and deciding match he kept the country in the second division.

“That win was also a spark. I started playing even better,” he says.

In what way?

“I got more self-confidence.  I lost so many close matches in the deciding sets in 2013.  After the Davis Cup, I played ten three-setters in a row and won eight of them.  Finally, I started winning when it was close.  It was a shame in a way that the season ended.”

Elias Ymer pulls on the zipper of his training jacket, touches his mobile regularly. And like any other teenager interested in sports, he lights up when the talk turns to the Champions League draw or the Junior World Hockey Championships. When the subject turns to the future of Swedish tennis, the tone changes.

“I’ve always said I want to be in the top 100 first.  There aren’t many who get there.  Then we’ll take it from there,” he says.

“It’s possible for me too”

He’s followed Robin Söderling’s way to the top of tennis.  But as the Tibro native hasn’t played since the summer of 2011 because of mono, there’s no one for Ymer to aim for.

“Robin’s from my area, and he also went to Lidköping’s tennis high school.  If he could, then I can too.  It’s too bad that he isn’t playing.  I’d like to have had someone in the top 100 I could chase.

What do you need to improve to get there?

“My returns.  My serve.  And be able to hold focus for longer periods.  I can play really well for a set, but lose it in the second set.  I need to keep the same level an entire match.”

Sweden has a strong tennis tradition. What do Borg, Edberg and Wilander mean to you?

“I wasn’t born when Borg played.  But you get a lot of respect for being Swedish when you’re out competing.  Someone told me that Borg is like Rafael Nadal, but with two fewer Slams.  I know how big Rafael Nadal is.  So, I get it.”

“Will you do as well as they did?”

How do you relate to the hopes people have in you as the future of Swedish tennis?

“I need to remind myself that I play for myself, too.  I only have one chance at life. If I succeed at tennis, then I’ll have a good life.  And if you become a top 100 in the world, as a player you have something to be proud of.”

He pauses his lunch.

“I can’t think about succeeding just so Swedish tennis gets good again.  But I think if someone manages to get up there at the top… I like to think competitively.  If someone my age sees that I beat a certain player, they might think, “Damn, but I’ve beaten Elias in practice”.  That’s how they did it before?”

Peter Carlsson breaks in.

“We pushed each other forward.”

“Magnus (Norman) always tells me about how he and Thomas (Johansson) worked like that.  ‘I beat Thomas in practice—and he beat that guy.’  When you work like that, you lose respect for the big players.”

More fun than math.

You seem to be very focused.  Do you think about fame and fortune?

“I think you need to understand sport… When you win, you’re king.  And when you screw up, you learn who your real friends are.  If you get a lot of text messages when you’re down, you’ll remember that.  Because when everything’s going well, everyone wants to be your friend.”

Do you sometimes miss having a regular teenage life?

“I don’t think I sacrifice so much for tennis.  Sure, when you’re out doing the worst kind of physical training you might give it an extra thought.  But then I think: would I rather sit and study math instead of train?”

For Elias Ymer it’s simple: tennis comes first.

“I don’t do so much in my free time at home.  I almost get bored.  Now I just want to get out and play,” he says.


Translated by Mark.  Feedback and criticism are welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.


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