Robert Lindstedt was far too young to attend ABBA concerts when the legendary music group was in its prime and reaching the top of charts, writes Polish sports journalist TOMASZ LOREK.
But you can hardly meet any Swedish person who wouldn’t recognise hits like Dancing Queen, Knowing me, knowing you, Waterloo and Mamma Mia.
“Obviously they are legends and in Sweden it is required by law to love them. You are born, you have to sign that you love ABBA band and you write: ‘yes’ in a questionnaire. Doesn’t matter if you were born in Uddevalla, Goteborg or Malilla, you must love ABBA!
“Or you’d be put up for a deportation, Or adoption. Do you love them? No. Ok, you’re not Swedish!” Robert laughs.
While conducting an interview with Robert, you quickly realise that he’s a lovely boy from Sundbyberg. But, where on earth is Sundbyberg?
“It’s the biggest small city in Sweden. That’s what they say. It’s a part of Stockholm.”
There’s a fabulous statement on Robert’s profile on the ATP website: I consider my Mum – Bibbi – the most inspirational person in my life.
Fantastic to hear from a mum’s perspective…
“Yeah, I mean she is … my parents sacrificed everything for us three kids to play tennis. She really helped me to become who I am.
“Mum always told me to pursue my dreams if it was what I wanted to do. She never pressured me to not playing tennis or even to play tennis. This is what you want to do and this is what you love. A wise lady.”
Born on March 19, 1977, Robert Lindstedt was well prepared for the upcoming tough battles on tennis courts all over the world, because he almost died at birth. “Oh, yes, you mean the umbilical cord story?
“Somehow I had it around my throat. I came out like purple and blue. The doctors just cut the cord, took me away from my Mum and saved me.”
The history of tennis illustrates a magical side of siblings. It’s not always the case that the older one plays better. Serena Williams – Venus’s younger sister has collected more Grand Slam titles than the older one. Niclas Lindstedt (born 1973) was former No. 1 junior in Sweden. Annica Lindstedt (born 1978) was very talented, but she reached her highest WTA ranking in singles – 401 on June 17, 1996. Robert has one Grand Slam title in doubles under his belt.
“Yes, they (brother and sister) were much better than me. I was the black sheep of the family. Niclas in particular. He had to carry a lot on his shoulders because he was the next big thing to come out of Sweden. The next Wilander, the next Edberg basically. But he had a lot of injuries, he was a bit too lazy and it didn’t work. And then my sister had a lot of injuries too and then decided not to make the push,” Robert admits.
It’s a cliche, but sometimes the most talented athletes never reach a summit of their profession, because they’re not the hard workers, right Robert?
“Hard work pays off. I learned from both of them from what I saw. I became the hard worker instead of the more talented guy.”
Robert became interested in tennis at age 4. It wasn’t his only sport. Well, maybe it’s something to do with Swedes. Former world No. 2 in singles, 2000 Roland Garros runner-up Magnus Norman has been highly talented in a discipline called bandy. Was there any dilemma for Lindstedt?
“Magnus was very good at bandy, not only in tennis. Norman played bandy on a national team also, so he is a bit special. But for me, I don’t know, I was stupid. I wanted to be a tennis professional, I thought I am just like a superman (presenting his muscles). Very stubborn. Playing tennis can’t be that difficult. I played floorball a fair bit growing up as well. And I was decent at it. Maybe I could pursued a career in that, but I always played that as a compliment to my fitness for tennis.”
Floorball? Would you be so kind to explain it, Robert? “It’s like ice hockey, but it’s indoors and there’s no ice. You use sticks and a round, white, plastic ball. There’s a big World Championships nowadays. Floorball – we call it bandy in Swedish. Sweden, Norway, Finland are very good in it. Switzerland and Germany are pretty good in floorball. It’s become a big sport”.
In 2001 Jarkko Nieminen from Masku in Finland, became the first Finn in year-end Top 100. He qualified and reached the final in Stockholm (losing to Sjeng Schalken) just in his second ATP event. Jarkko was then the first Finn in an ATP final since Leo Palin in Sofia’81. Nieminen won the 1999 US Open junior championships by beating a Danish player Kristian Pless 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.
What’s more important for Lindstedt, Jarkko was his first partner to win an ATP title in 2007. Scandinavian connections.
“Yes, Jarkko was the first partner that I played with for an extended period of time. He was very nice. We were really good friends. It was nice that he played with me and helped me, because of his ranking we got into a lot of tournaments.
“It took a while for me, but then we won in Mumbai, I remember it pretty well. Finnish and Swedish are totally different languages. But a part of Finland has Swedish/Finnish as their primary language. So, Finland has two languages basically. And all of them have to learn Swedish at school more or less.
“If you are travelling by road, you have Finnish and Swedish names on roadsigns. Same story with movies and theatre, you’ve got subtitles. Jarkko could speak Swedish perfectly.”
A memorable date for Robert and Jarkko, September 2007. Mumbai, India, hard courts, outdoor. They won a tough final against Rohan Bopanna (India) / Aisam-Ul-Haq-Qureshi (Pakistan) 7-6, 7-6. A victory in Mumbai may have sounded like ‘OK, I’m going to be fully focused on doubles?’ Robert achieved his highest ranking in singles on March 26, 2004. He was then ranked 309.
“No, it was before that. I’m convinced I could have become a decent singles player. The classic: if I knew then what I know now. I would say around 32, 33, 34 I was probably the best tennis player I ever was. I was working really hard and then I had the finances to back me up which I didn’t have when I was playing singles. Back then I wasn’t training hard enough. I was very, very up and down, because I wasn’t training enough, so I could beat a Top 100 guy and then the next day I could lose to my grandmother. The only regret I have is actually not starting with doubles sooner.”
Lennart Bergelin, Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Anders Jarryd – a great Swedish tennis legacy. Was it far more tougher to grow up as a tennis player when Robert Lindstedt was a teenager?
“I grew up after them. It’s tougher in a way, because then we had much more quality players than we do now. So, I had no help from a federation, no financial backing whatsoever, I was never taken to trips or anything. I had to do everything on my own, which I am happy with now. It created who I am.”
The truth is you respect it more once you climb by yourself into the elite group of doubles players.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s nice in a way to be self-made also. Would I prefer to have had financial backing and be able to have a comfort of choices? Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t? But that’s how it was then.
“My year was actually very good even if no one has never really made it. The year younger than me, we also had really good ones. Bjorn Rehnqvist was 1996 Australian Open boys singles champion, Mathias Hellstrom was a runner-up. We had really good juniors also. No one really made it. But, that time we had many, many more players, so in a way you like brushed aside a little bit. And now if we have someone who can put the ball in four times, we take him! And suddenly he becomes a huge prospect.”
Sweden was successful at junior tennis. A perfect example was Nicklas Kulti. He was world No.1 in juniors. Kulti won AO and Wimbledon titles in juniors in 1989 beating an Aussie icon Todd Woodbridge on both occasions. Then injuries made it impossible for him to be a great player considering his fabulous talent.
“Yeah, but I think everybody is really unfair to him. Because he was world No.32 in singles and 11 in doubles. It’s an amazing career. I was talking about this topic with my fitness guy recently. We, Swedish tennis, do not have a tennis tradition anymore. We have a tennis history. The tradition is not there anymore. We are not a strong tennis nation. We have a tennis history, but we don’t have a tennis tradition. You could say we have the best tennis history in the world. We had 6 guys in the top 10 at one point! No other country had managed to do it. So, what was the question?”
“Oh, thanks. So, because of the history that we had, people said ‘oh, he failed, he failed’, but to me it’s a success. He had a successful career.”
Poland is no different in terms of general public opinion. Hubert Hurkacz is a top 40 player, he’s resilient, he’s competitive, he’s not afraid to win and that’s a very appealing quality. He collected victories over Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem, Lucas Pouille and Denis Shapovalov. He played a great third round match at Wimbledon against World No.1 Novak Djokovic, but a plethora of people in his native country are still moaning ‘oh, he could have done it better, only a third round of Wimbledon, bla, bla, bla’.
“Oh, they don’t understand it” – Robert reckons. “But, that’s the problem with the ATP also. Now they’re doing a better job, because previously they’ve just promoted the top players forever and ever and ever. If you just spread it out, I am a firm believer like when you create more stars, the sport will become bigger and bigger. People would always love to watch superstars, but you need variety as well.”
Robert Lindstedt is a very sensitive man off the court. While playing, he wants to win, which is a very positive attitude. He has won 22 doubles titles. In 2009 he reached five finals partnering Martin Damm, clinching three titles in Auckland, Zagreb and Washington. Martin Damm from the Czech Republic, is a former Grand Slam champion in doubles (US Open 2006 with Leander Paes). Robert captured a maiden Grand Slam crown in Melbourne partnering Łukasz Kubot. So, can Robert communicate with them in Czech and Polish?
“No. English is the key. You learn some phrases and stuff. When I played singles I played a lot of futures in Poland. I really liked going there. Those days it was cheap for me to live there coming from Sweden. It was great.”
Is lefty-righty the best combination in doubles? Or you can have two lefties like Jamie Murray and Eric Butorac who played together in the past and were very successful?
“I don’t think it matters really. There’s a lot of theories and statistics. There might be some advantage having a lefty serving. Obviously you don’t return so many lefty serves, but for me it’s more the quality of a player that matters. You know, like if you have two really good righties, it doesn’t matter if you play with someone that is a little bit worse than a lefty.
“I don’t think the combination matters so much. I think it’s more the quality of the actual players.
“Look at The Woodies. They were unbelievable tennis players. They weren’t successful because they were lefty and righty only. They were proper, proper good tennis players. Phenomenal skills. I think that is more important than being a lefty or a righty.”
Three Wimbledon finals in doubles (2010-2012), mixed doubles final in 2019 on the grass in London. Partnering a great serve and volleyer from Poland – Lukasz Kubot during the Aussie Open in 2014. Was it truly a pinnacle of Robert’s doubles career? En route to the title match they won three straight three-setters over Dodig/Melo, Mirnyi/Youznhny and Llodra/Mahut. Lindstedt became the first Grand Slam winner from Sweden since Simon Aspelin at the 2007 US Open (with Julian Knowle).
“No, I would say no. He wasn’t. It’s the biggest joy that I’ve experienced on a tennis court and that was with Łukasz in Melbourne.
“I am forever gonna be connected with that. I will always appreciate Lukasz helping us achieved that goal. The years with Horia Tecau, that’s where the pinnacle is, because we reached so much on a consistent basis. We were winning so many titles and reaching so many finals and also that was the pinnacle of my success, I would say.
“With Lukasz it was a massive surprise for both of us. We weren’t supposed to play even. I was going to play with Jurgen Melzer. He got injured, so I asked Lukasz.
“He was supposed to play with Jeremy Chardy. Then he talked to Chardy, so Lukasz played together. We played Sydney, we lost to the Bryans first round. We played OK in Sydney and then all of a sudden we’ve won five or six matches or whatever it was in Melbourne.
“We won the Grand Slam in Australia and said to each other: OK, that was not so bad.”
Lindstedt and Romanian tennis player Horia Tecau were three times runners-up at Wimbledon (2010-2012).
Their biggest title came in August 2012 at the ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, defeating Indian pair Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopannain the final.
To lose three times at a Wimbledon doubles final must be a horrifying feeling. In 2010 they lost to Melzer/Petzschner in straight sets. A year later they lost to the Bryans in three sets. In 2012 they were pretty close, but lost a five setter to Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen.
“This final in Melbourne was the easiest final to play for me. I slept good before the match and I was like: ‘whatever happens, happens’. It was the first one I actually enjoyed. Then it clicked in Melbourne.
“I was like OK, I am sitting in Rod Laver Arena, it’s a night match, lights are on, everybody is looking at me. I was saying to myself ‘this is amazing’. A night session really made me play that good.”
A successful combination with Kubot pushed Robert to decide to play together with another Pole and doubles specialist, Marcin Matkowski. But for some reason the Polish and Swedish combination couldn’t make a trick again.
“Lukasz was still playing some singles and I just felt like I was tired of looking for practise every week and trying to find someone. I felt like the problem with me and Lukasz like we didn’t play enough points together and stuff which is totally understandable when he’s still trying to play some singles.
“It’s not something I blame him for doing it. I just felt like ‘OK, I want someone that we going towards the same goal every day’, but with Marcin it didn’t really work ever. We were kind of team that could play good for a few weeks, but as to play for a whole season, I think we were too different when it came to our approach to tennis.”
If Robert had a choice, would he love to be a tennis racket, a tennis court or a tree in his second life?
“I wanna be .. what? I’d be a tree in my next life. If I’m a tree I am helping to create life and helping to the environment. As a tree I am also a part of a whole ecosystem, so that would not be a bad choice.” – he says, with a smile.
Robert Lindstedt – a wise man from Sweden.