Holding down or achieving a place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group is no easy task – just ask Italy. They’ve been trying to get back there for the past 10 years and they have a proud tradition in the men’s game.
So Sweden’s achievement to stay in there for yet another year – they have only slipped out briefly once, in 2000 - is not to be sneered at. And yet they were so close to dropping out this time at Lidkoping in southern Sweden against Corrado Barazzutti’s Italy.
The lack of a solid No. 2 almost cost them dearly. Despite possessing the fifth best player in the world – soon, maybe, to be the fourth best – in Robin Soderling, these are not halcyon days for Swedish tennis. Not yet, anyway.
Long gone may be the golden eras of Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg, but they have remained a respectable force in recent years with the likes of Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson.
Now they have just Soderling and a potentially good doubles pair in Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin. For a country which has won the Davis Cup seven times it’s incredible to think that Soderling is the only singles player it has in the Top 300.
Without a supportive No. 2 Sweden is destined to be no more than an also-ran in the top tier, which would be good enough for most countries, but not Sweden.
Had they lost the doubles here, and at two sets to love down they were desperately close to doing so before wriggling out of trouble in a third-set tiebreak, the Swedes would almost certainly have lost this tie.
One can never say with certainty how a live fifth rubber will go, but the likelihood is that this one would have finished in much the same way as the dead one did, which was a straight sets victory for Fabio Fognini over Andreas Vinciguerra.
The 29-year-old Swede’s best days are long behind him and he no longer plays top level tennis. Indeed he indicated that this would be his last Davis Cup tie.
Strangely enough, Sweden have the ideal No. 2 in their midst, but no one can say with any certainty where Joachim Johansson’s head or fitness are at the moment.
The man who fired down a record 51 aces in four sets against Andre Agassi in the 2005 Australian Open (and still ended up losing!) has played only a few dozen matches in the last four years and just one match this year, oddly enough in the Davis Cup tie against Argentina in March, which he lost in four sets to Leonardo Mayer.
He says he is now over the shoulder injury which has plagued his career, but the man they call “Pim-Pim” is more likely to be found these days carrying a bag full of golf clubs for his professional-playing partner Johanna Westerberg than a bag full of tennis rackets.
“I speak to him on a regular basis and we decided for this match that he was just not physically prepared to play five sets,” said Thomas Enqvist, the Sweden captain. “He has not yet decided what he is going to do, but hopefully he will be a contender for next year.”
Other players more likely to figure in Enqvist’s thoughts are Filip Prpic, Ervin Eleskovic, Michael Ryderstedt and Christian Lindell, a clay court player of Brazilian extraction.
One thing is certain: they cannot continue to rely on Soderling to win ties almost single-handedly for them. He frequently plays in the doubles, too. And should his Grand Slam chances intensify still further he may be more judicious about the ties he plays in.
Here he looked very much like the man in form – Rafael Nadal apart, of course – going into the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena in November where the court will be similarly quick to the one on which he made himself at home in Lidkoping.
As for Italy, after drawing Spain twice and a Switzerland inclusive of Roger Federer once in the last five years, never mind what happened here, it deserves better luck in Wednesday’s draw in Brussels.