Magnus Norman Seeks to Boost Swedish Tennis at Good to Great Academy
by Colette Lewis
, 21 December 2012
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When Magnus Norman retired from the ATP tour in 2004, he didn't pick up a tennis racquet for three years. The 2000 French Open finalist, who reached a career-high of No. 2 that same year, went back to school to study marketing and economics in his native Sweden, then went to work for a funds management company.
But he began to miss tennis, so when friend and 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson asked him to travel to a few tournaments, Norman agreed to re-enter the world of professional tennis. He briefly served as Johansson's coach before Johansson announced his retirement, and a few months later Norman began a two-year stint coaching Sweden's Robin Soderling, who went from 37 to 5 in the ATP rankings while working with Norman.
With his girl friend expecting twins, Norman wanted to travel less, so he decided to concentrate on developing a private high performance academy with longtime friends and former ATP professionals Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom.
"It was the right timing to do something," says Norman, now 36. "Swedish tennis has gone down a lot, and we have nobody inside the Top 200, which is a shame. We said, let's try to do something. One and a half years ago, everybody quit their jobs, we started a page on Facebook and said, who wants to join us?"
The Good to Great Tennis Academy, currently renting six courts at a large tennis center in Stockholm, tapped a need in Sweden, and it has attracted many of the country's top juniors, including nine players ranked number 1 in their age group.
The oldest of the 30 players now working out of the academy is no longer a junior, with 21-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov recently moving his training there after many years at the Mouratoglou Academy in France.
Norman, who was in Florida for the major junior events with young players Gustav Hansson, Rebecca Peterson and brothers Elias and Mikael Ymer, shared his thoughts on coaching and player development while at the Orange Bowl earlier this month.
Questions and Answers
Colette Lewis (CL): What are your goals for the Good to Great Academy?
Magnus Norman (MN): Our vision is to help Swedish tennis produce more players of course, but at the same time we want to build a good center for the Northern European countries, to have a place where they can come and train.
CL: Is there competition in the academy business?
MN: I think maybe we are the first one in the Scandinavian countries. Sweden had never had a private academy before, so it's something new. At the beginning, some people were skeptical, but now everybody has accepted us, and a lot of good players are choosing to have Good to Great as a base for training.
CL: What's your relationship with the federation?
MN: We have a good relationship with the Swedish Tennis Federation. At first everybody said, we have the tennis clubs, we have the federation, and now Good to Great with all the big names, but I think we have positioned ourselves, and there is a spot for us as well. They are doing the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup and all the junior events, and we have our business. We don't cooperate with the federation, but we have a good relationship with them.
CL: What are your thoughts on the decline in Swedish tennis?
MN: When I was working with Robin (Soderling), I did big research myself on Swedish tennis. I was interviewing a lot of people - parents, coaches, players, etcetera, etcetera - so I have 150 pages of material.
But there are probably a lot of reasons why. It's so easy to go into the media and say, they did something wrong, the federation is bad, to blame. But we wanted to do something, not just say that everything is wrong, and all the juniors are bad.
Now I think we have big possibilities. We have the No. 1 ranked junior under 14 in Europe, Mikael Ymer, and his brother Elias is playing here, and he is also one of the best in his age group in the world. So we are starting to produce some good juniors, also on the women's side, so I think there is some light in the tunnel, so to speak.