Stefanos Tsitsipas lost only four games to Mikael Ymer in Marseille Open.
We got a chance to talk to Mikael a couple of hours after the match when the Swede had had time to reflect on his performance.
We focused on the match but it also turned out to be a conversation about Mikael’s new social media habits, the misunderstanding about his tournament schedule and the players’ previous junior meetings.
– We don’t need to go into who was the better player on the court as it was pretty obvious, Mikael starts off.
– It’s also go to get matches against players of his calibre. I’m incredibly impressed by him (Tsitsipas) and it was a little bit like my match against Tiafoe in Milano last year (Next Gen Finals) when it felt like I had no idea what to do. I barely held serve once and it was sort of the same feeling. I’m not saying I will beat him in four months either but it’s good to get these matches. I’m going to come back to the hotel and reflect on the match and my brain will spin and wonder: “Okay, what do I need to do next”. I’m going to watch the match and hopefully there are some positives I can take from it and learn from.
– I’m not angry now either as I felt he held a level I’m not on at all, where I am today. All in all, I got a good win in the first round (Gasquet) and there’s a lot to learn from my performance against Tsitsipas. I had a good talk with Frederik (Nielsen) and it’s matches like these you learn from. Okay, this is what’s needed, I’m behind now and not where I want to be but with the right work I’ll be able to get where I want to be.
What do you think was the biggest difference between you on the court?
– He served very solidly all the time and especially his serve placement held a really high level. He got himself into good position in his service games and it felt like he got two free points in every service game. It’s going to be interesting to see if the stats say the same think but regardless, to practically start with 30-0 in your service games and with the kind of baseline player he is, I wasn’t even close. I felt also during the match that my serve wasn’t that bad but he got everything back in court. Usually, even during poor serving days, I can usually find a slice out wide, a couple of bombs, serve and volleys and such. Everything came back from him. I know how it can be when I have good return days and that’s when the opponent is in an uphill battle. He’s also frighteningly good mentally.
– He did his thing. 0-30, 30-0, it didn’t matter. He was very good at giving his all in everything he does and that also puts mental pressure on you. I’m actually impressed by everything and the development he’s had as I’ve known his whole family since I was young and we grew up together on the junior’s tour. He deserves a lot of credit for his success!
You mentioned his mental ability. Besides that, was there something else you felt he did that was on a completely other level than what you’re used to?
– It’s not like he has a Kyrgios like serve or something that sticks out that’s incredible. Instead, he does so many things so very good. There’s not just one specific thing and he doesn’t need that either. I don’t know if you agree, but at the start of the second set when I won the first game I felt for a short period what was needed to threaten players that are top 6. I “took” a little offensively from him and that’s where it lies, I need to learn to keep a certain level and to keep it up. I can’t be too hard on myself and it’s my first match against such a high ranked player but I fall back a little bit in the court and then it’s goodbye! It was evident after 30 minutes in the first set, I fell back too far.
Mikael and Stefanos are both born in 1998 and have played several times on the junior tour. It was the Swede who became victorious in their European Championships semifinal in 2014 in Moscow, 7-5, 7-5.
– There are clips from that match on Youtube and I have watched that. Not for this match but earlier and it was a little bit different then and easier to play against him, haha. We played many three setters and towards the end I felt I had a little better stamina than him and hade a “safe plan” which was to lift it high to his backhand. I found ways to tire him out but it’s different today and everything is so much quicker.
Mikael triumphed against Richard Gasquet in the first round which is no small feat on French soil.
– My practice days before this haven’t been good at all and after the match in Australia I got a little stressed when I got home and I could barely practice. I didn’t really get going like I wanted and I don’t really know what happened actually. Both in Montpellier and here in Marseille I surprised myself with my wins given what my preparations looked like.
What was the Swede’s game plan against the former top 10 player?
– I don’t know, it was maybe a little stupid since he has such a good backhand, but I challanged him on that side. Thought a bit like: “Okay, you have a great backhand but I’m going to challenge it. I played really well in the first set and it was a good win, of course.
With your success a lot more has been written about you lately, both in Sweden and in international media. Have you seen that development?
– I have 30 minutes a day when I use social media. I first tried to go completely without social media but then I realized I didn’t want to give my accounts to some “random” person or a management that writes for you, it’s not as authentic. Between 20:00 and 20:30 each night depending on the time zone I’m in, that’s when I’m active. All apps are deleted during the day and then in the evening I download Instagram, Snapchat.
– The problem with Twitter is that it’s so easy to get stuck there. Just out of nowhere 25 minuets have passed and then I have just five minutes left, so Twitter – no I usually skip that. I also get links when it’s written about me in for example Aftonbladet and such and it’s great that tennis gets attention. I think it’s good mainly for the younger generation, make them find motivation to pick up a racquet and that’s the biggest goal with all this – to inspire the next generation to chase their dream, whatever it is.
For how long have your social media habits been limited to maximum 30 minutes a day?
– I found a hitting partner in Auckland whom I clicked really well with. I flew down to him in Melbourne and Australian Open because I don’t like to be alone too much. We decided when we were in Melbourne after a breakfast. We sat and ate and I fought a little bit to keep me away from different apps. I just hear the notications coming and I look at him, my hitting partner and see how he’s completely in his phone. It lasted for 45 minutes.
– It didn’t work to delete it completely because it becomes a temptation so how could we find a way that works? It was during the week in Melbourne we started this social media between 20:00 and 20:30 thing and it worked perfectly. Then you can feed the drug or whatever you want to call it without feeling an abstinence of needing to be online. That took almost more energy than not checking at all.
It almost sounds like I should try this…
– That’s maybe a bit harder. It’s your job? Close Tennisportalen. You can’t do thar, right?
Mikael withdrew from qualifying of the 500 tournament in Rotterdam last week. Mental fatigue or injury?
– There was a misunderstanding between me and Frederik (Nielsen). The schedule was Montpellier, Rotterdam, Marseille and Dubai. Add Davis Cup, Indian Wells and potentially Phoneix and Miami. It would be simply too much and he said to me: “Mike, you need to choose one tournament to pull out of”. The practice week at home wasn’t good I should add but you need to take the positives and see that I managed to win the match against Gasquet and play a second round against Tsitsipas.
– Like I said earlier it’s good for me to get matches like these as previously I could dig my own holes and think in terms of “I’ll never be able to reach this level”. It just became a lot of motivation that disappeared. Instead it’s been the opposite lately. I have more energy and just want to get out there and practice and work on the things I can do better. I think the saying that you learn from your losses is true.
Qualifying in Dubai is next where his brother is an alternate as well. The brothers are joined by the family’s youngest, Rafael Ymer (born 2005) who made semifinal in TP/SALK Christmas Trophy.
– Yes, he’s (Rafael) coming! I have promised him since before, if he does well in school he can come. In other words, all that’s left is for me to call his teacher and see if he has…
Elias will potentially play his second tournament of the year and will thus be back from his foot injury.
–I’m not the type of person who hangs with everyone and have a lot of people around me, I stick to my coaches. A wish, maybe my biggest wish, is that “Eli” takes the next step and we can play doubles on the tour and watch and support each other between practice sessions. That would be perfect. Hopefully his time is now!