Getting To Know... Johanna Larsson
Published August 05, 2010 12:00
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - At times, during the tricky path to success on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, Johanna Larsson's father joked that perhaps she should have stuck with cross-country skiing. Not any more. In the first half of 2010 the almost 22-year-old Swede won three ITF Circuit titles and reached a further two finals, leading to her Top 100 debut just before Wimbledon. Since then she's reached her first Tour quarterfinal, at Prague, and her first final, at Portoroz. It took former world No.5 and experienced finalist Anna Chakvetadze to end her dream run in Slovenia, but along the way Larsson beat seeds in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sofia Arvidsson - the longtime Swedish No.1 who now sits just a handful of ranking spots above her younger compatriot.
We caught up with world No.68 Johanna at the e-Boks Sony Ericsson Open in Copenhagen, where she once again ran into Chakvetadze, only this time in the first round.
Johanna, you've had a great year on the ITF Circuit and in recent weeks on the Tour. What clicked?
JL: It's hard to say just one reason, it's just so many things. I had knee surgery in April last year, and afterwards started working with a new coach, Mattias Arvidsson - no relation to Sofia! I think the work we've been doing is now paying off. I've been playing better and better the last six or seven months, and now I'm winning matches more regularly on the Tour.
How did you get into tennis?
JL: I started when I was five. I have a brother, Jonas, who is two years older and we began playing on the street, using our bicycles as a net. So we just had fun and after a while I started at a small tennis school. I didn't really practice that much when I was young, but somehow I got quite good quite fast. When I was 12 we moved from the north of Sweden to the south and about that time I won the biggest Swedish indoor tournament. I realized I wanted to continue.
How do you describe your playing style?
JL: I'm an aggressively baseliner, basically. I like to place trust in my serve and I like both sides - I just try to always step in and hit hard.
If you could steal a shot from another player, what would you choose?
JL: I would go for Tomas Berdych's forehand, maybe.
Who has been your toughest opponent?
JL: It's hard to look back. I always just think about the last match, really. So right now I would have to say Chakvetadze. She is 2-0 against me in two weeks and is playing really well.
Does that final at Portoroz rank as your best tennis memory?
JL: Obviously playing in a WTA final is really big for me. It's something I've maybe not been dreaming of, but certainly looking forward to for so long. It was just sad that I was totally alone that week, so I couldn't really share the moment with anyone. But I keep the pictures in my own head. Helping take Sweden back to World Group II in Fed Cup against China last April was great too.
The scoreline against Chakvetadze today in Copenhagen was much closer - 64 76(2). Did you feel you applied lessons from the Portoroz experience?
JL: Today was a completely different match - we played indoors with different balls and a different surface, so it's hard to compare. Also, this was the first round and I think we both had more energy. I really wanted revenge and I was trying really hard - I think I learnt some things last time that I maybe did a little bit wrong, and I tried to change it today. But I didn't quite get there in the end.
Why is Fed Cup important to you?
JL: I love it so much… sometimes I wonder why I play tennis because it's so individual and I love to play in a team. So Fed Cup is just amazing to me and I enjoy every minute of it. It was special, as I played the last singles rubber and I won it, and we went up to the World Group. I think last time we were up there was maybe 2001 or 2002, so it's been a few years that we've been struggling. We play Ukraine in the first round next February, and if we as a team are playing well, then absolutely we have a chance. And I'm so happy that we got the home match again.
In light of your recent results, have your goals changed?
JL: I mean, everything's been going quite fast lately. I had the goal to be Top 100 after the summer but I am already there. I wouldn't say it's unexpected, I'd say I deserved it because I've been working hard. But now I want to get to the Top 50 - that's my next goal.
Swedish men obviously have built a fantastic record in tennis. Do you feel any sort of pressure to help the women catch up?
JL: Not really. We've had a few girls playing well, such as Asa Svensson and Sofia. And before that of course there was Catarina Lindqvist, who made it to Top 15 and reached the semis at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. In fact, when I was 17, 18 I was in a squad of four girls with the Swedish federation and Catarina was the coach for the team. But in terms of comparisons with the men, I just really don't want to put that kind of pressure on myself - I don't like playing with pressure. It just makes things worse. I just want to go out there and enjoy my game and have fun. Obviously I have really strong emotions to win, but in the end it's maybe not the most important thing. I would not compare myself to the guys, because that is just impossible. I mean, we had so many guys in the Top 10 at the same time.
Did you have a tennis idol when you were growing up?
JL: No, not really. I watched so many different sports, so my idols were more from sports like swimming and cross-country skiing. As I'm from the north, skiing is the biggest sport you can do and so I was doing it a lot. I really enjoyed it and was quite good at it, actually. But I thought tennis was more fun. Sometimes when I've been playing badly my dad has said I should have gone for the skiing because I was much better at that… but only in fun!
Who would you most like to play on the Tour that you haven't yet?
JL: It would be great to play the Williams sisters, because they've been in the game so long and they are just so famous. I'd like to find out how hard they really hit.
Do you have a favorite Tour stop?
JL: For sure Bastad because it's my home tournament - it's just half an hour from where I live in Sweden. And the Grand Slams are really good as well. So I'd say Bastad and the French Open, as I played my first Grand Slam main draw there this year.
JL: I never really did my best results on clay, but I like it… I'm really trying to like it so maybe I'll get good results on clay soon! I'm quite an all-round player, so I like all surfaces, grass, clay, hardcourts… but my best results have been on hardcourts so maybe I have to put that one first.
How far did you go in your studies?
JL: I finished high school and then we have what we call a Gymnasium where you choose what line you want to go down. I did four years of that but I have four subjects to finish, which I will have to do if I want to study more when I'm done with tennis. Right now I feel I want to play tennis, so the study has to wait. But if I wasn't playing tennis at this level right now, I think I'd have studied to be a vet.
Do you have a pet?
JL: Traveling so much, it's not possible for me to look after an animal myself. But my parents have a dog, hens, cats, rabbits. Basically a zoo!
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be?
JL: I really admire Therese Alshammar - she's a swimmer who's won so many medals for Sweden. I think she's just amazingly cool. I just love her attitude, so if I could meet someone I'd like to talk to her about how she became so cool!
How do you spend your free time?
JL: I don't really have hobbies as such but I like to watch other sports. We have a football team in my city, Helsingborg, so when I'm in town I go to the home matches if I have time. Obviously I like to spend time with friends and family, enjoying my mom's cooking. I also like to read. I liked the Twilight series. I wouldn't say I was a hard core fanatic but I'm really a fan of the books - I thought they were amazing. I've seen the first two movies but I haven't seen the third one yet. I find the books always better, somehow, because there's so much more detail - you make your own pictures. But the films are really good as well.
What's your most treasured possession?
JL: Probably my tennis racquets. If someone took them away I'd be really unhappy.
If you were stranded on a desert island but could have one luxury item with you, what would it be?
JL: Some sort of communications, so maybe a phone.
What quality do you most admire in others?
JL: I like people who think before they talk.
How might your best friend describe you in a few words?
JL: Oh my God, I have no idea… that could be just anything! I think they would probably say I'm quite calm, but still happy.
Check out Johanna's official website at www.johannalarsson.se.