Murray praises ‘calming’ Bjorkman as he ponders rise of Swedish coaches
ANDY MURRAY has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to his coaching choices. If the World No 3 could be said to have ushered in the era of the superstar mentor when he appointed Ivan Lendl and got the masculine tennis world more in touch with its feminine side when he enlisted Amelie Mauresmo, he is in trend yet again with the hiring of Jonas Bjorkman. As witnessed by the efforts of Magnus Norman with Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros a month ago, having some cool, methodical Scandinavian thinking in your corner has never been more in vogue than it is right now.
There may be no Swedes currently in the world’s top 100 but three of the world’s top four players are at least coached by them – Bjorkman, Norman and Stefan Edberg with Roger Federer. You might call it the new Swedish coaching mafia. “A lot of Swedes turn out to be good coaches,” Murray said recently. “They’ve got a good mindset, they’re very calm individuals and extremely hard workers.”
Bjorkman has only been in situ for a matter of weeks but already he is lending a different dynamic to Team Murray. While this 43-year-old from Alvesta, Sweden had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of the net when one Murray sibling won a Wimbledon title – he and partner Alicia Molik were defeated in three sets by Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic in the 2007 mixed doubles final – SW19 was generally a happy hunting ground for Bjorkman and he would dearly love to celebrate further success this fortnight.
The former World No 4 in singles and No 1 in doubles claimed three men’s doubles titles here during the noughties with Australia’s Todd Woodbridge in tow, lost in one further final with Max Mirnyi, and even reached a surprise singles semi-final in 2006, ironically just as Amelie Mauresmo was recording her only Wimbledon singles crown. Given her condition, Murray could never have taken the chance of just having the heavily-pregnant Frenchwoman with him for the fortnight.
So far he has only agreed to take charge for 20 weeks, before the situation is reassessed after the US Open. But judging by the smiles emanating from the Aorangi Park practice courts this week, the Swede’s arrival only seems to have added to the harmony and chemistry in the camp.
Murray and Bjorkman have hit the ground running with a title at Queen’s Club but they also go way back. Along with Tim Henman, the Scot recently pinpointed the Swede as one of the veteran players who was always kind to the teenage Murray in the locker room when he was making his way in the sport.
Bjorkman is an exuberant character who likes a laugh or two. Famously, of course, he made it to the semi-finals of the Swedish version of Dancing with the Stars with partner Veera Kinnunen, but there are also stories of him playing a dead rubber on duty with Sweden’s successful Davis Cup team still ever so slightly drunk from the night before.
Everything is positive, energetic, and there is no shortage of ambition. “It will be a tough challenge for me,” the Swede said recently. “I want to add more positive energy. Sometimes he has certain periods where he gets down on himself a bit too much. Age-wise he’s at his absolute peak. I think he has every chance to win several Grand Slams and could threaten Novak for the number one spot.”
The tactical synergy is fairly obvious. “It is a good match, because I understand that Andy wants to add something more to his game, particularly the volley game and his movement at the net,” says Thomas Johansson, Bjorkman’s contemporary and coaching pal from the Peak Tennis Academy. Bjorkman may have excelled on grass, but Murray believes this is a partnership for all seasons and all surfaces. While it remains to be seen whether Mauresmo will have the appetite to continue travelling once her child arrives, already it seems unlikely that the Swede will be a mere substitute.
“Only really once before have I employed someone based on their experience on one surface, and that was when I started working with Alex Corretja to help me with my clay court game,” said Murray. “When I approached Jonas, I knew him extremely well. Some of the things I wanted to work on I felt like he could help me with because of his experience. He was extremely good at that. That was the reason to start working with him.”
When I approached Jonas I knew him very well. Some of the things I wanted to work on, I felt like he could help me with because of his experience