Swedish Tennis Before Television – 1950s Profiles Lennart Bergelin and Sven Davidson, and the Challenge of the Professional Tennis Circus

In Swedish

Johnny Wijk
Dept. of History, Stockholm University

This article is about Swedish tennis during the 1950s. It is a partial result of my project on the development of Swedish tennis and Swedish golf, with a particular focus on both the successful development of both sports into rapidly growing popular sports, and with a sudden success wave with a large number of players in the utmost world elite. The term “the Swedish tennis wonder” with allusions in the 1980s is well known, as is the view that it all began with Björn Borg in the 1970s. My perspective is different. The strong success period for Swedish tennis for several decades would not have been possible without the marked build-up period of the 1960s. It was about a structural foundation, consisting of more courts, new clubs, more coaches and a strong influx of youngsters, with TV broadcasting Davis Cup matches from Båstad, featuring the new idols Jan-Erik Lundqvist and Ulf Schmidt. In a previously published article on idrottsforum.org I have highlighted the structure of the 1960s, but in this article, it is the 1950s that is at the center. Swedish tennis was at an early stage of development with small volume, but there were pronounced strategies for growth. On the elite side, most of the attention revolved around the players Lennart Bergelin – later Björn Borg’s coach and manager – and Sven Davidson, both very successful in international amateur tennis. The article also contains a section that focuses on the contested competition in world tennis in the 1950s and up to 1968, where private so-called “professional circuses” bought the top players in the world to perform in show games instead of participating in traditional tournaments.

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JOHNNY WIJK, b. 1955 and professor of history at Stockholm University, defended his dissertation in 1992 on the rationing system on food and the black market during the Second World War entitled Svarta börsen – samhällslojalitet i kris: Livsmedelsransoneringarna och den illegala handeln i Sverige 1940-1949 [The Black Market – Social Loyalty in Crisis: Food Rationing and Illegal Trade in Sweden 1940-1949]. The studies of the war years led to an examination of the active role of the sports movement in civilian physical preparedness through various broad mass events, which included studies of the Swedish war time track and field achievements, resulted in the book Idrott, krig och nationell gemenskap: Om fältsport, riksmarscher och Gunder Hägg-feber[Sports, War and National Community: On Field Sports, National Marches and Gunder Hägg-fever](2005). At present, Wijk focuses on the development of Swedish tennis and golf from the 1950s to today.

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