How Johansson Proved He Was 'On The Right Track' With 1999 Montreal Title
Swede Thomas Johansson last competed on the ATP Tour more than a decade ago. But nearly every day since arriving at the Coupe Rogers, where he is coaching Belgian David Goffin, fans have approached the former World No. 7. The reason why: 20 years ago Thursday, Johansson lifted his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Montreal.
“It’s one of the few places that when you walk around, people actually come up to me and say, ‘I remember the final. I remember that you won here in ‘99.’ Every time I come to Montreal, I almost feel like I’m at home,” Johansson told ATPTour.com. “It’s a lot of fun because some people, they remember the matches, they don’t remember just the final. I played two Canadians here that year and the atmopshere was amazing.
“I always loved to go out on a big stadium with a lot of people, especially that year. I played Simon Larose in the first round during a night session with a lot of people and then I played Sebastien Lareau with also a lot of people. That is what you practise for. You practise for going out on big courts, playing big matches against big players, so that’s what you train for each and every day."
Before the event, Johansson had never advanced past the quarter-finals of a Masters 1000 tournament. But he defeated former World No. 1s Jim Courier and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, while coming back from a set down in both the semi-finals against Nicolas Kiefer and the championship match against Kafelnikov, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July.
“I was only 24 years old, so for me it was a huge title,” Johansson said. “All of the best players in the world were here. That was like an approval that if I played my best tennis, I could compete with the best players in the world. So that was a sign that I was on the right track.
“I felt that I belonged, but I also felt that beating Kafelnikov and also beating Jim Courier, to beat those two big champions was just amazing.”
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Entering the final, then-World No. 22 Johansson trailed World No. 4 Kafelnikov 3-4 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and he dropped the opening set 1-6. But Johansson stormed back to win the match — and what was his biggest title at the time — and he would ultimately claim nine of the 14 matches in their rivalry.
“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because I felt that I was the underdog. He was the favourite by far,” Johansson said. “I knew going into that match that it was going to be a battle. But I managed to play really, really well. I think I played my best match of the tournament in the final.”
The big-serving Johansson would go on to win the 2002 Australian Open, but his Montreal triumph remains one of the biggest moments of his career, making his trips to Canada more special, even 20 years on.
“It sounds like I’m very old,” Johansson joked.
Whether that’s true or not, he provided memories in Canada that Montreal fans have not forgotten.