Mikael Ymer and Elias Ymer are fine tennis players but, especially after their victories in singles over Canada on Thursday, you also might not mind seeing them in track and field running the 100 metres.
The brothers are similar in their playing styles and maybe most remarkable is their ability to defend to the two-handed backhand side. Their speed and balance give them an ability to reach shots and return them aggressively that is rare on the tour.
But basically in the Pavilion Madrid Arena against their Canadian opponents, they did everything well in their singles wins on the opening day of the Davis Cup Finals against Team Canada presented by Sobeys. Elias defeated Steven Diez 6-4, 6-2 and Mikael followed up with a strong 6-4, 6-4 performance against Vasek Pospisil.
In the third match of the day, the Swedish doubles pairing of Andre Goransson and Robert Lindstedt edged the Canadian duo of Pospisil and Brayden Schnur 7-6(5), 6-4 to make it a 3-0 sweep for captain Robin Soderling’s squad.
The opening singles could not have started better for the 30-year-old Diez, playing only his second live Davis Cup match for Canada (2010 in Colombia). He led 4-1 in the first set and had the 25-year-old Elias Ymer rattled.
But then after holding serve to 2-4, Ymer played two sensational points in breaking back to 3-4 – on the first he streaked to his right and flashed a terrific forehand cross-court passing shot winner and then two points later won a ra-ta-tat volley exchange at the net with Diez.
Breaking back to 3-4, Ymer gained confidence and used his potent baseline game and quickness, which at times was amazing, to win 11 of the final 13 games.
Credit to Diez, he was swinging from the hip and putting everything he could into his ground strokes right from the outset. It got him the lead. But once Ymer found his rhythm, he was always a step ahead. The No. 171-ranked Swede finished the hour and 27-minute match with a winners to unforced errors ratio of 18/10 while No. 264 Diez was 7/5.
“I was down 4-1 and I think Steven, he shocked me a bit and then I started to be more aggressive,” Ymer said. “I felt my forehand evolved during the match and I think that was the key.”
Canadian captain Frank Dancevic summed up, “Elias played really well, was very aggressive. Steven was fighting right until the end but the other guy had a little too much firepower.”
As was the case in the opening match, the early stages of Pospisil – Mikael Ymer proved to be telling. Serving to start the match, Pospisil survived six deuces and finally held serve in an 11-minute game. But two games later Ymer broke to 15, finishing with a forehand, wrong-footing winner.
That proved to be the difference in the set as the 23-year-old Swede held serve the rest of the way to wrap it up in 45 minutes.
The second set was more competitive and turned when Pospisil had his only break point of the match leading 3-2. Ymer hit a good serve and Pospisil misfired with a forehand return.
A game later, as often happens in tennis after missing a break opportunity, Ymer broke serve to lead 4-3. He only lost two points in his final two service games to seal the victory in an hour and 29 minutes.
The break points stat reveals a lot about the closeness of the match-up – Ymer was 2/2 and Pospisil 0/1.
Ymer’s superiority on serve – he won 70 per cent of second-serve points to just 48 per cent for Pospisil – was a major factor.
“Against someone like Vasek,” Ymer said about his solid serving that also included winning 80 per cent of first serve points to 69 per cent for Pospisil, “he’s so good in his offence. It doesn’t give me a lot of other options – especially with my tool box – than to try to counter. I think the serve helped today to not give him too many looks in my service games. It was key because he started being really offensive on my second serve.”
Pospisil, who had to retire with a back issue trailing Denis Shapovalov 0-3 in the second round of Indian Wells last month, had only played two matches since then – losing to Americans Christopher Eubanks (No. 178) and Emilio Nava (No. 349) in Challenger events in Knoxville and Charlottesville earlier this month. He was asked if he came into Davis Cup a bit under-prepared.
“I wouldn’t say that I was not prepared,” he replied. “I think today I didn’t play badly – my opponent played well and I didn’t play as well as I could have. On any given day you can play up to your standards or above them or a little bit below. Today I played a guy who was playing really well and I just didn’t execute the way that I’d like to. But I felt fine out there.”
Pospisil came out in good form for the doubles and he and Schnur were competitive against an inspired Lindstedt, 44 and in the final professional appearance of his career, and the 27-year-old Goransson.
The match started a little ragged with service breaks in four of the first five games before Pospisil held to make it 3-3. The set then went to a tiebreak and, as well as he was serving, hitting off the ground and volleying, a critical double fault by Schnur gave the Swedes a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Play in the second set was more conventional doubles with both duos holding serve to 4-all. Then, with Pospisil serving at deuce, Lindstedt hit a miss-hit backhand service return that blooped over him and landed just inside the sideline. It was just that kind of day for Canadian players and a point later the Swedes broke to lead 5-4.
In the final game, Pospisil and Schnur survived two match points and even had a break point but Goransson saved it with a timely poach. Two points later Lindstedt hit an ace to sew up the victory.
“It was a couple of points that made the difference in doubles,” Dancevic said in a Sportsnet interview. “Vasek hit a few laser beams that just caught the tape throughout the match. And I feel like those four or five balls could have made a big difference in the match.”
Asked about the decision to play Diez in the opening singles, Dancevic said, “he’s playing really high quality tennis and he looked really sharp going in. As well Brayden wasn’t feeling well two days before. It was a little bit of everything and the guy was playing well. I thought he deserved to play the first match.”
Canada now plays Kazakhstan on Sunday in its second and final Group B tie. The 3-0 loss to Sweden – and with no sets won – means qualifying as either the group winner or one of the two best records among the six group runners-up, will be a challenge.
Looking ahead, Dancevic seemed to imply there could be a change in the No. 2 singles player. “Brayden has adjusted with the doubles match,” he said. “It looks like he’s in really good form, so we’ll see what the matchups are with Kazakhstan.”
As for Mikael Ymer’s fine showing against Pospisil, Canadian fans may remember how good a player he is from his second-round match against Félix Auger-Aliassime at Wimbledon this year. He played impressive tennis and the match was on serve in the third set when he fell and injured his leg – with Auger-Aliassime then going on to win 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-1.
After a rewarding initial match of his first Davis Cup Finals, he said about older brother Elias – they share an Ethiopian ancestry – “regarding my brother, I was watching in the locker room and I was really proud because he played fantastic. I’m really happy he was able to play like this today.”
Feature Photos: Martin Sidorjak