In February twelve months ago, Mikael Ymer still traveled the ATP Challenger Tour. Ranked no. 206 in the ATP Rankings, he was far from being directly accepted into ATP World Tour events. The Swede had been one of the most promising young talents for some time but couldn’t find a way to get through to the main tour. Considered a clay court specialist, Ymer’s exceptional court coverage and groundstrokes very rich in topspin were more than enough to keep him experiencing a ton of success on tennis’ second circuit. But that wasn’t enough.
The Swede soon caught the best form of his life, having a really good European clay-court season. With that circuit ending after the summer, Ymer decided to look for points in indoors events. And that went much better than expected.
With back-to-back titles at Mouilleron-Le-Captif and Orleans, Ymer upped his ranking to a point which allowed him to play qualifying for the Rolex Paris Masters and make the cut for the Next Gen Finals. All the success on indoor hard was not an accident.
Ymer slightly flattened his shots and learned to play in the forecourt. Improving his serve in the process, he was finally able to win cheap points by setting up put-away shots. While still an extremely fast runner, he learned how to use that speed not only to defend, but also to dictate the rallies.
But change doesn’t come easy and the Swede was still vulnerable to blowout losses when his opponent redlined his game and pushed him off the baseline. That’s what happened last year against Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in Stockholm or against Jannik Sinner at the Next Gen Finals. That issue is still not completely sorted out in 2020. In Montpellier, Ymer got blown off the court by Filip Krajinovic, another player who likes to take the ball very early. A defensive style can be great and force tons of errors from the opponent, but it also gives your opponent a lot of time and space to tune in their game. And there are many opponents on the main tour who will make you pay for that.
As Mikael said himself in an interview to a Swedish outlet tennisportalen.se:
“I could get away with things because I have a certain fitness, a certain defense and I am able to break players down with my game. Well, I can do it here as well but at the same time, players will punish you here in a completely different way. I can’t win matches the same way nowadays and I’m a little bit nervous about that.”
Struggling to get out of the comfort zone
Mikael Ymer is still trying to find the right balance. The Swede massively improved his offensive game and is now very dangerous playing in the forecourt. But in moments of doubt, Ymer has the tendency to refer to his previous gameplan. In his opening round at the Open 13 In Marseille, the Swede came out all guns blazing and opened with a 5-0 lead against Richard Gasquet. Many of these games were earned with brilliant backhands down-the-line, probably the weakest shot in Ymer’s arsenal. But as the match got tighter, the Swede lost all the confidence in that wing.
Engaging in too many backhand cross court rallies with Richard Gasquet can be deadly. This mistake almost hit the Swede hard. While he still nicked the 7-5 deciding set victory, the style in which he’s done it reminded of his previous days. Gasquet had all the initiative on his racket but ultimately fell to Ymer’s defensive abilities. Some players in better form than the Frenchman is right now won’t do so.
Ymer’s next opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, doesn’t find himself in great disposition coming into that match. But with a player of such class, you can never allow him too much space. We probably won’t see Mikael Ymer be as good on clay as he was on the ATP Challenger Tour. The quality of the opposition has changed and the Swede has to adapt. Prioritizing faster hard courts at the moment, Ymer finds himself constantly improving and making moves towards the top echelon of the game.