Thomas Enqvist. A name that smells of Swedish victories, of 90s fast carpets, a reminder of Kafelnikov, Rios and Rafter fighting it out with Sampras at the top of the rankings... and of the gap wider than the English Channel between the specialists of Roland Garros and the experts of Wimbledon. Finalist at the Australian Open in 1999 with three Masters 1000 titles to his name, what is Tomas Berdych's tennis big brother doing now?
“Say hello!” Playful and smiling, Thomas Enqvist is now almost forty. Far from the austere face he showed during his 15 years on the professional tour, the man is now able to suddenly give you his phone, just for you to exchange pleasantries with his wife, Carine, a Frenchwoman from Aix-en-Provence, "a very beautiful part of France." He didn't say much more in the language of Molière, even if he's been working hard on it since his retirement in 2005.
Like most of the players of his generation, Thomas Enqvist has invested heavily in the national interest to revive Swedish tennis, moribund since the disappearance of Robin Söderling, leaving little time to look after his kids since the former world No. 4 quickly entered the Swedish Tennis Federation, in a program to accompany the best junior in the country. He explains: "The idea was to establish a link between us, the elder with an experience at the highest level, and the most promising young players, to help them prepare for the requirements of the tour. There is such a big gap now between the ATP Tour and the junior tournaments, or the Futures...”
Captain of a Swedish flagship in perdition...
In the continuity of this task, it was quite logical that at the end of 2009, he took over from Mats Wilander at the head of the Swedish Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team. If he experienced this appointment as an honour - "Representing your home country as a player and then as captain is the highest honour that can distinguish a tennis player" - he also knew that the job would be no easy task: for three years, the team fought bravely against relegation before the inevitable happened in late 2012, with a crushing defeat 5-0 against Belgium in the playoffs.
A sad ending to Enqvist’s captaincy, although the man himself was eager to pass the baton on. However his last matches in charge allowed the two-time winner of the competition - as a player (1997, 1998) - to see his substantive work give its first results: long forced to call upon the injury-prone pair of Joachim Johansson and Andreas Vinciguerra for every Davis Cup by BNP Paribas match, Enqvist was finally able blood younger players in the last gatherings, with the selections of the young Markus Eriksson and Isak Arvidsson.
...He dominates the Senior Tour and beats professional players at training
After working with juniors, now he has turned his attention to the seniors. In early 2012, Thomas Enqvist got a new job and became director of the newly-created Senior Tour event in Stockholm: “to be honest, I needed a helping hand at the beginning, to know how it all works. I think it's one thing to become the director of an existing tournament, but it's another one to become the director for a first edition. It's rough, but I like it. So much preparation beforehand, so many people to meet... it's a lot of work for three hectic days! But it feels good to see that in the end the work was well done and that everything has gone well.”
He is, moreover, not the last one to take back his racket for the Legends exhibitions and his success rate borders on the insolent, as he has won seven of the ten events he has entered since 2009. Per Gut, journalist for the Expressen, a Swedish national newspaper told us: “Thomas is a true sports fan. He has never stopped working out. When he was captain of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas team, he used to play against the players of the selection during training, very often beating them! Over three sets, he couldn't hold on, but over a few games, he hasn't lost anything of his ball-striking qualities." Was it enough to make him nostalgic for the competition? Thomas smiles: "I miss the excitement you get just before entering the court. Feeling nervous, hearing the crowd outside, and having goose-bumps... I don't miss the competition itself, but more the adrenaline rush it provides. I don't think you can ever be weaned from this sensation.”
Interview by Guillaume Willecoq