Mikael Ymer: 'I'm Not Only Playing For Me'

Swede concludes breakout season at Next Gen ATP Finals

Five of the eight players in this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals are making their maiden appearance in Milan. Among them is Swede Mikael Ymer, who has jumped more than 180 spots in the ATP Rankings this season to reach a current career-high standing of No. 73.

But while some fans may be surprised to see so many new faces competing at the Allianz Cloud, the 20-year-old Ymer believed it was bound to happen.

“It’s part of the Tour. Sooner or later, if you work hard, you’re going to start winning matches. Once one person does it, then others get inspired,” Ymer said. “If you look at ‘breaking through’ as some kind of power, with that kind of power comes responsibility. It’s time for me to focus on what I can do to stay there.”

If his recent results are any indication, he won’t need to worry about exiting the Top 100 anytime soon. Ymer opened this year with his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Noumea and soon finished runner-up at two other Challenger events. He then qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros and convincingly moved past Blaz Rola in the opening round.

Read More: Ymer Opens Up After Winning First Challenger

But it was his second-round defeat in Paris that proved to be the most valuable experience. Facing a Top 10 player for the first time in Alexander Zverev, Ymer found himself daunted by the prime-time setting and the German’s powerful baseline game. Although he lost the match, he gained plenty of insight in what to work on for the future.

“The one lesson I learned from that match is to have more belief in my own game. My focus went away from my strengths and too much toward his weaknesses,” Ymer said. But playing a Top 10 player like Sascha made me see that there is another level. It got me inspired and made me see a lot of things that I could improve in my own game. I went home and picked up a racquet straight after.”

Buoyed by his Grand slam breakthrough, Ymer picked up three more Challenger titles and won his opening-round matches at home ATP Tour events in Bastad and Stockholm. Perhaps most noticeably, he stepped out of the shadow of his older brother, Elias Ymer, by surpassing him for the first time in the ATP Rankings this July.

Read More: Mikael's Magical Month: Ymer Wins Back-To-Back Challengers

The younger Ymer’s surge in the second half of the season was the result of a lifetime of persistence. He was first introduced to tennis at age three and immediately took to the sport. The Swede had an outstanding junior career that included reaching the Wimbledon boys’ singles final in 2015 and a career-high ITF Junior Ranking of No. 3 that year.

But just as he began to shift his attention to pro events, a hip injury sidelined him for nearly all of 2016. Rather than get discouraged, Ymer focussed on his recovery and was rewarded at the end of the season in Stockholm. The then-18-year-old won his first ATP Tour main draw match in singles and clinched his first tour-level doubles title with his brother.

Ymer credits his parents, Wondwosen and Kelem, with inspiring his determination. They left war-torn Ethiopia in the 1980s to begin a new life in Sweden, but had never met each other until they arrived in the country. Once they started a family, they always did what was possible to support their children’s pro tennis aspirations.

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“When it gets tougher, I have that in the back of my head, that people have sacrificed a lot. My family has sacrificed more or less their lives for us to be able to do this. So I’m not only playing for me. Having that in the back of my mind always helps me,” Ymer said. “Sometimes I’m still going to fail, but it definitely helps me to make sure I do the work. It also motivates me.”

Ymer looks to use that determination as a springboard to becoming an ATP Tour staple. He's dominated the ATP Challenger Tour this season, but has limited experience against Top 100 players compared to the rest of his fellow competitors in Milan. The experience of multiple matches against his peers at that level will serve him well as he looks to continue climbing the ATP Rankings next year.

”The important thing for me is to keep working and not lose sight of the big picture, keep doing the right things no matter how the tennis goes,” Mikael said. “I’m very excited to get back to work so I can come back stronger and compete against the top players. The higher you get in the [ATP Rankings], the tougher your opponents will be, so that’s something I have to prepare myself for.”