Today marks a birthday for two players who compete with exceptional passion. Each has earned a reputation as someone certain to throw him and herself into battle, often in a way that is vocal without being rude, tactically resourceful and, in matters of wardrobe, often quite colorful.
Though the vast majority of pros who’ve emerged from his native Sweden were exceptionally taciturn, Jonas Bjorkman, who turns 45 today, went against the norm. This was a man who enjoyed a robust fist pump, savored a healthy yell – and yet never did so inappropriately. As a singles player, Bjorkman reached a career high ranking of number four in the world in 1997, a year highlighted by a run to the semis of the US Open. Prove of his sturdiness came nine years later, when he also made it to the final four of Wimbledon.
But while Bjorkman was a fine singles player, in doubles he was a superstar. He captured 54 ATP World Tour doubles titles, including nine majors with four different partners that ranged from big-serving Max Mirnyi to crisp dart-thrower, Todd Woodbridge. Bjorkman’s sharp returns and volleys, fueled by his positive attitude, made him a supreme force in any foursome.
The candles will also be blown out today by another excellent doubles player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Now 32 years old, Mattek-Sands might draw headlines with her distinct taste in fashion, but of late her racquet has made an even louder statement. Partnered with lefty Lucie Safarova, Mattek-Sands has earned four Grand Slam doubles titles, most recently taking the ’17 Australian Open. She’s currently the number one-ranked women’s doubles player in the world.
Like Bjorkman, Mattek-Sands is versatile, always willing to attempt the widest possible array of tactics – from swift and opportunistic approaches to the net, to changes in pace from the baseline . Mattek-Sands’ skills have also helped her earned two mixed doubles Slams and reach a career-high singles ranking of #30 in the world.
What made so much passion surface on March 23? Subtract nine months: Each of these two was conceived during Wimbledon. Perhaps the spirit of our sport’s premier tournament – and a touch of strawberries and cream – kicked them into a high gear.