Tennis: Bjorkman recovers his form

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The Independent Online
IT CANNOT be easy being the Swedish No 1. Borg, Wilander, Edberg - it reads like a list of all-time greats, never mind a top player from a single country. But the mantle to match these illustrious predecessors has fallen on Jonas Bjorkman.

A good fist he is making of it, too, judging by his week so far at the Nottingham Open. True, the field is not the strongest, but the Swede has survived longer than the world No 2, Marcelo Rios, and he is recovering from an illness that debilitated him in March and April.

Yesterday, he defeated Germany's David Prinosil 7-6, 6-3 and faces a semi-final and a final today, if he is successful, which would be a worrying workload with Wimbledon only two days away if he was not looking for matches to regain his sharpness. "The more I play the better," he said. "Maybe I was burned out by last year, but I got a virus and had to take antibiotics for three weeks."

That lay-off helped drag Bjorkman from his 1997 rank of fourth in the world to ninth, but if he can pick up a lot of points anywhere it will be at Wimbledon where he lost ignominiously in the first round last year. Indeed, his record at the All England Club is puzzling.

He prefers to attack the net rather than stick to the baseline - "I like to finish points quickly, I don't have the patience of other Swedes who stay back" - and ideally his game is suited to grass. In theory. So far in four years, he has managed only four wins. "I can't say why," he said. "In my first year I reached the fourth round, which was pretty good for someone who was ranked in the 80s. since then I can't say I have done my best. My ambition for Wimbledon is to get past the first round, then I might go far."

Bjorkman began at a rush, breaking Prinosil in his first game, but he lost his accuracy with his first serve, was broken back, and took the first set with a tie-break that was notable in that eight of the 12 points went against the server. After that it was pretty routine and he will now play France's Jerome Golmard, who defeated last week's winner at Queen's, Scott Draper, 6-4, 6-3.