Tennis: Larsson's pay-day puts anonymity under threat

John Roberts on the Swede who won a tennis jackpot
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The Independent Online
Lottery winners may be interested to know that one advantage of being Magnus Larsson is that even at 6ft 3in it is possible to pass almost unnoticed while depositing a cheque for $1.5m (£1m).

How long the anonymity will last depends to a large degree on how the 24-year-old Swede responds to the sudden threat of fame in the wake of his twin triumphs in the Davis Cup and the Compaq Grand Slam Cup.

Larsson is accustomed to having his achievements overshadowed by events. For example, when he defeated the American Todd Martin in the final rubber to take Sweden to the Davis Cup final, much of the talk was about the injured Pete Sampras's retirement against Stefan Edberg.

Though Larsson's five-set win against Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov gave Sweden a 2-0 lead on the opening day of the final in Moscow, interest centred on Boris Yeltsin's untimely entrance after Alexander Volkov had lost a match point and been broken for 5-5 in the fifth set against Stefan Edberg.

On to the Olympiahalle here in Munich, where, after defeating Edberg in the first round of the Grand Slam Cup, Larsson eliminated Andre Agassi the world No 2. The big story? A foul-mouthed Agassi daring the umpire to disqualify him.

The Swede continued to rise without trace on Saturday, his swift demolition of Martin in the semi-finals rating scant attention following the thundering serves of a five-set duel between Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic.

Even Sunday's four-set victory against Sampras was minimised to a certain degree by questions concerning the world champion's fatigue, and how much this had contributed to the result. Larsson, none the less, has the distinction of being the first Swede to win the tournament. Winners of the Grand Slam Cup have been known to lose their way for a considerable time afterwards, though Larsson could hardly make a worse start to the coming year than he did in 1994. He was beaten in the opening round of his first five tournaments before ending the slump against Britain's Jeremy Bates in Copenhagen at the end of February. Qualification for the Munich dollarfest was secured by Larsson's advance to the semi-finals of the French Open in June.

"I am ranked 19 right now, and hopefully I can get better next year," he says. "I still think I can develop my game. I really have to work harder. Now a lot of players really want to beat me, and I get more eyes on me when I play the tournaments."

Sampras, who had not lost to the Swede in their six previous matches, the first as juniors, considers that Larsson is capable of building on his recent success.

"His confidence is huge right now, and he is a much better player than he was two years ago," the Wimbledon champion says. "Now he has got one of the biggest serves in the game. He moves quite well. I just think he's underrated because he doesn't look t

h at natural. But the end result is that he hits some good shots and he beats a lot of good players. He is definitely going to be a force to deal with next year."

In common with most Swedish players of his generation, Larsson was attracted to the sport by Bjorn Borg. "I picked up tennis when Borg played in the Davis Cup in 1975," he says. "My father entered me in some kind of Christmas holiday tennis school, and Iliked it."

He also enjoys golf and is devoted to a Third Division ice- hockey club in his home town, Olofstrom. "I played in the team for 10 years as a junior, so I follow them a lot."

"When younger, he admits, he used to gamble. Being based in Monte Carlo hardly seems an ideal way to avoid the temptation of casinos. He does appear, however, to be level-headed about his bonanza. "At the moment I have everything I can ask for. It is good to have the money, but money isn't everything in the world."