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Carrollwood pro works on tennis exchange project

Carrollwood Golf and Tennis Club pro Tomas Ollestad has devised a way for junior tennis players to see the world. It's called the Swedish Connection.

Ollestad and two pros in Sweden, Stefan Vanemo and Eva Hedin, got together to provide Swedish juniors with an opportunity to travel to the United States and experience tennis here. That was two years ago. Now Ollestad may go a step further and arrange for American juniors to go to Sweden.

"I was coaching over there three years ago at the same camp and we met each other," Ollestad said of Vanemo and Hedin. "Then when I went back to Florida to teach here, we kept in touch. The idea grew that we could do some kind of exchange. We might go the other way as well, bringing some American kids over there."

There are 10 tournament players from the Balasta TK tennis club north of Stockholm who are staying with seven Carrollwood members. Eight of them are repeat travelers.

Last year it was not as smooth a transition for the juniors as thought. Some of them had difficulty dealing with the intense heat and court conditions.

This year, it is a different story. The juniors are better prepared.

"They are having some problems," Ollestad said. "Right now, it is very hot here even for Floridians, but they are doing fine."

Not only do the juniors get a taste of American tennis by playing some of the top juniors from Vos International, they are learning the American culture.

Ollestad has put together a program that gives the players ample time on and off the court. They will play miniature golf and visit Epcot Center, the USF campus, Clearwater Beach, Tampa Jai Alai and Adventure Island.

"We will be doing drills, private instruction, using the ball machine, playing points against each other, working on special stroke techniques, and conditioning," Ollestad said. "It is not a culture shock for the kids. There are a lot of things similar. There are more similarities than differences.

Bjorn Bernardtz is one of the players who returned and found things sweeter the second time around.

"Last year I was bleeding from my nose because of the heat," Bernhardtz said. "The doctor said that it was a change in temperature. I rested for a half an hour and then kept on playing. I hope that I improve as much as last year. I got stronger. Maybe it didn't show directly, but after a few weeks it did.

"I wanted to come back again. Everything is very nice. You improve your play and maybe you can hit a little harder on the ball. You also get stronger in this heat, so when you come back to Sweden, you can play longer."

For first-timers like Carin Bjorkholm, the transition was easy.

"This is my first time in the United States and I like it very much," Bjorkholm said. "I like the weather very much. It was difficult in the beginning, the first half an hour of play, but now I think it's comfortable."

"It is more like an adventure," Vanemo said. "It is fun to go somewhere to practice; otherwise you see the same people and the same courts for almost a year. I think that's good for them to come over here and get used to the heat. It makes them a lot stronger when they go home and play in tournaments during the summer."

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