Mysterious Food Allergy Behind Him, Swiss Laaksonen Focuses On Roland Garros First
Laaksonen used to have salmon at least three to four times per week, and when he was cooking at home, he'd have it every night.
The 27-year-old, who spent his first 16 years in Finland, grew up on seafood. He'd cook his salmon “medium, not well done” – with olive oil, garlic powder, and add it to pesto penne, a healthy dish that reminded him of home.
“I really like salmon,” Laaksonen told ATPTour.com in one of the understatements of Roland Garros so far.
But more than a year ago, in February, Laaksonen began to feel intense pain all around his body whenever he ate seafood. He'd been eating it for the past 20 years, but, all of a sudden, whenever he had his favourite dish, he couldn't move.
He'd have it one night, then try to practise the next day, but could only hit for about a half hour. The inflammation in his tendons and ligaments was so intense, he'd have to spend the next two days in bed.
He could hardly win a match, let alone two in a row. From February until June, Laaksonen played in only one tour-level event, losing in the second round at the ATP 250 in Houston. Laaksonen won two matches in a row – at any level – only twice, and both were on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“It was tricky because it helps a bit if you win one match, but then you have to try to go far in the tournament,” he said.
In June, however, Laaksonen conducted an experiment. He went cold salmon on his favourite dish, and stopped eating seafood altogether for a couple of weeks.
“Then I ate it again and directly the next day I got a fever again (100.4 Fahrenheit, 38 degrees Celsius), and all the tendons, ligaments... I had pain,” Laaksonen told ATPTour.com.
But when he stopped eating it, the Swiss felt cured. He could practise. He was pain-free. So he bid au revoir to his favourite food, and in July, he made his first tour-level semi-final of the year at the Swedish Open in Bastad.
And on Monday, he's playing in the Roland Garros main draw for the first time, completing his Career Grand Slam participation. “My body is starting to work again in a more normal way,” Laaksonen said.
The 27-year-old has spent nearly all of his 11-year pro career behind Federer and Swiss No. 2 Stan Wawrinka in the ATP Rankings. But Laaksonen, who, at No. 104, is near his career-high ATP Ranking of No. 93, doesn't begrudge his countrymen's success.
“In the end, it doesn't affect me if I'm No. 2 or No. 3 in Switzerland,” he said. “It's my own career. I have my own goals, and I try to achieve them.”
Laaksonen, whose father is Swiss, moved to Switzerland when he was 16 and began training with the Swiss Tennis Federation. Now he has both Finnish and Swiss passports.
The right-hander hasn't matched the careers of Federer or Wawrinka, but Laaksonen has the perspective of player who has spent much of his career fighting for ATP Ranking points on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“My career could be better, it could be worse, but I think I'm happy with what I'm doing, and I have been playing Grand Slams,” he said. “I think many players would be happy with the situation. Of course, everyone tries to do their best and be better ranked than they are at the moment. But I have nothing to complain about; I'm happy with the situation.”
He never got tested for his salmon allergy, but Laaksonen has a strong hunch that he's found the culprit. “I haven't eaten that for one year now, and I haven't had those problems anymore,” he said.
Laaksonen misses his favourite dish – he eats more chicken and beef now – but he'll take his health – and his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros – over salmon every day of the week.