Super Swede with 53 national titles and 124 caps
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Sweden’s greatest squash ambassador, Fredrik Johnson, has begun his sixth decade of playing the game competitively. Starting in the late 1970s, he recently competed in a national league match for his home-town club Linköping and beat an opponent who was 41 years younger!
Fredrik began playing for Linköping Squash Klubb in 1979 and has continued to represent them through the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and just recently made it into the 2020s, still impressing spectators and overcoming opponents at the age of 56, playing two matches in one weekend in the top division in Swedish squash.
He said: “Making it extra special was that in one of the matches I played against the best under-17 player here in Sweden, Karl Bundy from Malmö SRC. The age difference was 41 years! But I still managed to scrape a 3-0 win.”
Fredrik has accumulated a massive collection of titles and records in his homeland. He has represented Sweden 124 times and has amassed an astonishing 53 national titles at various levels including junior, senior, masters, individual and team events.
With his beloved Linköping, he has won 17 Swedish national team triumphs and twice the European Team Championship title.
I caught up with Freddy last week and discussed his experiences in squash down the years.
Sadly, he is taking a break from running the hugely successful Swedish Open. However, by removing that workload he has freed up more time to train and play competitively, so perhaps he will one day be in line to overhaul the joint male record held by James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier of 186 caps each for England and France.
But it will be a long slog before he catches up with Nicol David’s phenomenal record of 291 official appearances for Malaysia, but, according to stats guru Howard Harding from SquashInfo, that figure may well be a little higher!
SQUASH MAD INTERVIEW: 11 POINTS WITH FREDRIK JOHNSON
1: Freddy, a few questions on your remarkable squash career. Firstly, what’s your date of birth. We need to get that out there!
A: 31st of May 1963.
2: Where and when did you first start playing? Who were the inspirational figures during your junior days?
A: I started to play here in Linköping at a hotel named the Hotel Ekoxen (also the official hotel for the Swedish Open for 15 years). My parents played squash there and after they have played I practised for a while on the court as well. I was around nine years old then.
Of course I have my parents to thank a lot. But also Linköping was a very good place to be at in Sweden because the owner of the Squashclub was a “squash fanatic” so he made sure to bring the best Swedish players to the club and also some very big international stars. Swedish squash players from the generation before me here in Linköping included brilliant guys like Mikael Hellström, Bo Boström and Clas Ericsson.
3: What was it about these characters that fired up your enthusiasm for squash?
A. I saw how much they trained and also many of them won a lot of tournaments, so I was growing up in an environment where winning was a “natural thing”. I have been proud to represent the same club during all my squash years, Linköping Squash Klubb.
Early on, when I was young I was grateful to have the opportunity to practice with these top players. Fortunately, I have never had any problems finding motivation for my training.
4: At what age did you start thinking that squash might develop into a professional career?
A: I played for Sweden in the Junior World Championships in Singapore and Malaysia in 1982 and that was really the first time I spent a long time abroad playing tournaments. I was 18 by then and I did quite well there, so after that I was on my way to the professional career. Also one important tournament for me was the British Open under-23. Almost all the top under-23 players in the world took part and one year I reached the final. That gave me a lot of hope!
5: What was the reaction of your parents?
A: They have supported me very well right from the start. No “pushing”, but very good support “in the background”.
6: What were your favourite performances as a professional?
A: As for tournaments, I have always enjoyed playing in England. Also to mention is all the times I played in Pakistan. I have been there around 10 times. That was during Jahangir and Jansher’s big days. Squash was almost a national sport there by then.
As for my best results I won a number of professional international titles, including the Spanish Open, Swiss Open, Swedish Open, Norwegian Open, Brazil Open, Paraguay Open and Argentina Open. Plus being runner-up in the British Open Under-23s.
I won the European Champion of Champions once (like the individual European Championships, but only the champion from every European country could enter).
In international team events, I was in the Swedish team who beat England in the final of the European Team Championships (in Münich 1983). Also twice European Club Champions with my team Linköping Squash Klubb (1996 and 1999). Plus all those domestic titles in Sweden.
7: Since playing in Masters events, can you list all of the major titles you have won in various age groups?
A: In the European Championships I have won six official straight titles. Starting 2009 and then every second year. I have never lost in this tournament (the tournament started to be official from 2009). The most recent title was in Vienna in August 2019. The titles I have won have been in the Over-40, Over-45, Over-50 and Over-55 categories. I have won seven titles in the British Open Masters and won the World Masters in 1999.
8: Please tell us about your current training regime, your diet and lifestyle.
A: I practice around eight times a week. Squash around five times and fitness around three times. I used to do a lot of running, but for the last year I have cut down a lot on the running and instead spend more time in the gym.
Regarding the diet I try to eat various, healthy foods. But as a naughty treat I have to admit that I like cookies and ice cream!
Regarding lifestyle I work quite a lot. I have my own events company, ActiPro Event, which employs six people full-time and many extra workers when needed. I also do a lot of work for the Linköping Ice Hockey Club, working with sponsorships and different aspects of marketing and sales. Ice hockey is almost a national sport here in Sweden.
I have been married to my wife Louise since 1993 and we have three fantastic daughters, who are 19, 23 and 25 years old.
I try to spend some time in the forest and get some quiet, relaxing and harmonious time. I also do quite a lot of social biking with my wife.
9: Alongside playing in Masters events, you also developed the Swedish Open in Linköping into one of the most popular tournaments on the PSA World Tour. That must have made you incredibly proud.
A: Yes, indeed. Fantastic to have organised this big professional tournament in my hometown where the city works with the slogan “Where ideas become reality”.
And this project really was a bigger dream for me than playing professional squash myself. For 15 years we have arranged this big event here in Linköping and every year I have been responsible for the Swedish Open.
A lot of people said in the beginning that “you can’t establish such a big event here…….”. But we proved they were wrong. For sure I had a lot of advantages as a tournament promotor that I had been professional myself and knew what the players would appreciate. For many years the tournament was the second biggest in Europe, after the British Open.
It was a very difficult decision to step away. Right now, for 2020, I will not organise the Swedish Open so hopefully someone else will do the tournament instead. I think it’s so important for squash in Sweden to have this kind of tournament.
But looking at the amount of work I have put in, together with all my other work, in the end it was probably the level of work that made me take the decision.
Also, in terms of prize money, the Swedish Krona has lost quite a lot of value compared to the US dollar, and that made it difficult to stay at the level I want to have for the tournament. But, who knows, I might organise the tournament in a couple of years here in Linköping again.
10: How do you compare the standard of today’s professionals to your own pro days? What has changed the most?
A: A lot of things have changed. The pace is much quicker on the court, a little bit of course thanks to the development in racket technology. Faster rallies, but most of the time the rallies and matches could be longer before. The depth on the tour is much better and more spread out around the world.
But, maybe, looking at the very top level, when you compare different eras it was just as competitive when I was professional as it is now. I’m happy to see that a lot of positive things are happening around the professional squash scene. All the professional squash players are really worth their rewards, because squash is a very hard sport.
For myself, when I was professional I relied a lot on my fitness and speed. I would say that I have better technique now than I was number 16 in the professional rankings. Also, I think I use better tactics now!
11: I love giving people the opportunity to talk about relationships and partnerships, because they are so important both to individual athletes and to tournament promoters. Who are the people and the sponsors who have helped you both as a player and as a promoter?
A: A lot of people have been very supportive during all of my squash years. I have been based in my hometown Linköping during my whole career and here I have had a lot of different companies who have supported me a lot.
During my professional years, and also after my playing career, I have organised all of my sponsorship contracts myself. From this I learnt a lot. I really worked a lot with this when I was professional. And I got some good contracts because I really paid attention to providing value and recognition for my sponsors. I played quite a lot of squash with them, organised tournaments and of course exposed them on my shirts etc. And I always reported to the Swedish media when I was playing tournaments. In that way my sponsors got a lot of coverage in the media.
Another thing I did when I was professional and was travelling a lot was that I sent a postcard to my different sponsors from all these different places all around the world. And it’s nice to hear now when I talk to these companies and they say: “Yes, Fredrik it was very good that you won some tournaments, but we appreciate at least as much that you sent those postcards”.
That showed that I thought of them, but also that I appreciated our cooperation.
I must mention the different title sponsors we have had for the Swedish Open and the 15 years I have organised the tournament we have enjoyed phenomenal support from companies including Catella, Case and UCS.
The city of Linköping has been very important for the Swedish Open as well, and then of course a lot of other companies and a fantastic event staff.
AT: Thank you, Freddy. Here’s to the next six decades!
FJ: Thank you very much to you too, Alan!
Pictures courtesy of Fredrik Johnson