Saturday, August 11, 2001

New partner, same success for Woodbridge




By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — All that ended was the nickname. With doubles partner Mark Woodforde retired, Todd Woodbridge couldn't still be called "the Woodies” in his new pairing with Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. But the winning is the same.

        Woodbridge, a 30-year-old Australian, is in his familiar No.1 spot atop the team rankings. Heck, you could even revive the nickname if you want, as Bjorkman explains, “In Swedish, "Bjork' is a kind of tree. Wood, tree — get it?”

        Together, Bjorkman and Woodbridge definitely get it. In their first event together, the Sydney tournament in January, they reached the finals, and the next week they won the Australian Open. They're in today's semifinals of the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati, getting a pass Friday night when Lleyton Hewitt and Andrew Florent defaulted because Hewitt was dehydrated after winning his singles semifinal.

TODAY'S GUIDE
  • Schedule, results
  • Television: 1-3 p.m., ESPN (live); 10 p.m.-midnight, ESPN2 (tape delayed)
        They are 36-6 on the year going into today's match against Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

        “There was definitely pressure for us,” Bjorkman said. “The expectations were there. I wanted to show I was good enough to become No.1 (as a team), and Todd wanted to show he was a good player without Mark.”

        They said they were nervous and shaky in their first two matches in Sydney. Yet the chemistry was already apparent.

        “That (Australian title) was quicker than I had expected,” Woodbridge said. “I thought we'd have to spend some time working together to get going at first.”

        Last summer, Woodbridge asked Bjorkman, 29, to succeed Woodforde, who was retiring at year's end. The Woodies had a remarkable farewell season, going 55-8 and winning eight titles to finish the year No.1.

        They finished 508-137 (.788) in their 10-year career, becoming the most successful doubles tandem in Open Era history. Their championship here last year was the last of their record 61 titles. They won 11 Grand Slams, the most in the Open Era.

        How did Woodbridge decide on Bjorkman?

        “He was a guy I didn't really enjoy playing against,” Woodbridge said. “He put a lot of pressure on me. I felt if he was a guy that put pressure on me as a player, he must be putting it on everybody else. I need to have him on my side of the court.”

        Woodbridge didn't need a Woodforde clone. Bjorkman is right-handed; Woodforde played left-handed. Bjorkman is athletic, where Woodforde was technical and efficient. Bjorkman is fiery; Woodforde was cool and calculating.

        “He fit a lot of things I thought would work well with my game,” Woodbridge said.

        The No.1 ranking puts Bjorkman, who had previously ranked as high as third in doubles and held the No. 4 singles ranking in 1997, in high cotton. John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Yevgeny Kafelnikov are among the few other players of this generation who have achieved top-five rankings in singles and doubles.
       

        Malcomb C. Knox contributed to this story.
       

       



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