IT NEVER fails: every time Jonas Bjorkman walks through the gates of the All England Club, he gets that same flutter of butterflies and that same feeling of excitement that he did back in 1994 when he first came to SW19.
His duties this year are as Andy Murray’s assistant coach which brings the story full circle. His first match here was against another of Murray’s former coaches, Mark Petchey. He won in five sets and he was smitten. That year, Bjorkman went on to reach the fourth round and came back another 14 times before he finally hung up his racket. His greatest success came on the doubles court, though, where he won three Wimbledon titles between 2002 and 2004, all with Todd Woodbridge. Now aged 43 and after so many years at the All England Club, the love affair is as passionate as ever.
“Every year I come to Wimbledon and I feel like a kid during Christmas,” he said. “It’s that special. We probably all have different favourites [slams]. But for me there’s nothing better. So I can understand it.
“For me, this is the biggest event you can play. That was my biggest dream: to be part of Wimbledon one year and participate and play. My dream was to win one year. I can understand that everyone gets fanatical about the tournament because it is unique.”
Bjorkman will see Wimbledon in a very different light this year – to be a part of Murray’s team during the coming fortnight is to be in the spotlight from morning until night. Even Ivan Lendl, not known for showing any sign of emotion or stress (at times, people had to check if he was still breathing), was amazed at the levels of attention and pressure the Scot had to endure during the two weeks. Now it is Bjorkman’s turn to sit in the hot seat alongside Amelie Mauresmo and while both are more laid back characters than Lendl, it will not make things any easier.
The Swede, though, is getting the hang of life in the limelight. Like Judy Murray, he put his pride and his dignity on the line to take part in Sweden’s version of Strictly Come Dancing earlier this year and ended up in third place. The experience was, he thinks, enjoyable, but the business of trying to learn each new routine in the time for the performance was utterly terrifying. But when it came to showtime – that was just like the old days on court.
“Every time there was a live performance there was no problem for me,” he said. “It was like going in on Centre Court. And I think tennis is nice because we never know when matches are, so we are very relaxed, and then we can switch on and switch off very well, which helped me of course during the dancing.”
Alas, even if Murray were to win Wimbledon, there will be no chance for Bjorkman to show off his fancy footwork – the champions celebrate with a dinner rather than a ball. That is a shame, Bjorkman thinks: “I wouldn’t mind doing some dance steps there.” But the very thought of his charge winning the title, a Brit winning in SW19 again, is almost beyond his comprehension. He knows Murray has the game and the experience to win and, as a little boy growing up in Sweden when Bjorn Borg was winning everything, he knows what success at Wimbledon does to national pride. But for Murray to lift the trophy again – that would be something else entirely.
“The equivalent in Sweden would be if we won in ice hockey and soccer,” he said. “If Sweden wins the world championship in ice hockey or Olympic gold, it is 50, 60, 70 thousand people waiting for them in the centre of Stockholm.”
If Murray wins in two weeks’ time, Stockholm may not go wild but there will be one ecstatic Swede jumping up and down in the players’ box.