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post #1 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:21 PM Thread Starter
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Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Wilander enjoying Federer's quest

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By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- He stands casually in a corner of the nearly deserted player's lounge under Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Monday night doubles match, featuring Martina Navratilova and Maria Sharapova, is already on and several junior players, talking and laughing, brush right past him with no sign of recognition.


Mats Wilander won the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open in 1988.
Mats Wilander turned 40 two weeks ago, but he still looks suspiciously like the 5-foot-11, 165-pound athlete that ascended to the world No. 1 ranking nearly 16 years ago. Wearing a white short-sleeve shirt and cream-colored cords, he drops into a blue wicker chair. His manner is calm, but the muscles in his jaw are working a piece of gum to death.

"I feel like I could play in the French Open -- right now," Wilander says, smiling. "No. I'm done, physically. I'm done."

For a brief, shimmering sliver of history -- 20 weeks, according to the ATP ranking system -- Wilander was the best tennis player in the world. His ground strokes and his focused mind were his most lethal weapons.

"I felt like I was the strongest man in the world -- the tennis world, anyway," he said. "I could always run forever, and that year I was in the best shape of my life."

In 1988, Wilander won the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open -- three of the four Grand Slam singles titles. No one has done it since. Roger Federer, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, has a chance to equal that feat with a win here in the U.S. Open.

"I hope he does," Wilander said, seeming to mean it. "I'm rooting for him. I'd love to have my name next to his and J.C."

J.C. would be Jimmy Connors, who won three Slams (all but the French Open) in 1974. The only other man to achieve it was Australian great Rod Laver, who won all four in 1962 and 1969 -- the Slam of all Slams.

Why didn't Wilander mention Laver? He laughed.

"You can't compare yourself to that, winning the Slam in '62 and '69," he said. "That's like putting your name next to Bobby Jones -- you just don't do it."

Wilander, born in Vaxjo, Sweden, introduced himself to the world when he won the 1982 French Open. He was 17 years and nine months old -- the youngest man to ever win a Grand Slam title. And though his record was eventually eclipsed by Boris Becker and Michael Chang, he won three more Grand Slams over the next three years. And then his career, at the unformed age of 21, began to plateau.

"I decided to work really hard in 1987," said Wilander. "I hired Matt Doyle, a former pro player, and he helped me with my physical training. Lendl was the first to focus on that. He used to be weak, physically and mentally.

"Yeah, Lendl was the target, basically."

Lendl, a taciturn Czech, followed Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as the sport's best player in the middle 1980s. He assumed the No. 1 ranking in September, 1985 and held it for more than three years.

"The whole plan was to get better for '89, '90," Wilander said, "but I started playing better immediately."

He won the 1988 Australian Open, defeating Aussie Pat Cash in a rousing final that ended in the fifth set, 8-6.

"Once I beat Cash in the Australian, the door was opened for me," Wilander said. "I believed that I could beat anyone."

Wilander hammered Frenchman Henri Leconte in straight sets in the French Open final. But in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, crafty Miloslav Mecir dispatched him in straight sets -- his only Grand Slam match loss that year.

"I was a little unlucky at Wimbledon," Wilander said. "Did you ever see Mecir play? He was a wizard. He never reached his potential -- except against me. The U.S. Open was really a matter of doing what I knew I could do.

"I knew I was as strong as Ivan."

Wilander, attacking more than he had in the past, prevailed in a taut Open final, defeating Lendl 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. A week later, Lendl's 157-week reign as the No. 1 player was over. It was Wilander, then 24, who displaced him.

And then, 20 weeks later, Wilander lost the ranking to Lendl. Although some historians will tell you that his game was more well-rounded than Borg's, Wilander never reached another Grand Slam final.

"It had nothing to do with my being No. 1," Wilander said. "I had reached my full potential. I couldn't ever be a better player than I was in 1988. I just didn't have it in me to work as hard as I did."

Today, Wilander lives a quiet life in Hailey, Idaho, near Sun Valley, with his wife Sonya and four children: Emma, 11, Karl, 10, Erik, 7, Oskar, 6. In 2000, Wilander moved the family after 10 years in Connecticut because Erik has a serious condition that causes his skin to blister easily. Since there is less humidity in Idaho, Erik can at least skate and ski now.

Wilander still plays a few senior events and became the Swedish Davis Cup captain last year. He helped engineer a 4-1 upset of the reigning Australian champions earlier this year before losing a quarterfinal match to the United States.

Always a truth-teller, Wilander said he doesn't think Federer will win his third Grand Slam this year, anyway.

"I don't think it will happen. I hope it will happen. I see a couple of Yankees in the way. It's hard to beat an American at the American Slam. I lost to McEnroe here in '85 (in the semifinals) -- I know.

"It will happen some day. I think he'll win the French. It's a mind thing. He was focusing on Queens at the French Open. He played Kuerten this year, a guy who thinks he beat Napolean on that court."

Wilander plans to stay in New York through Saturday -- the day of the men's semifinals.

What if Federer beats Agassi in the quarterfinals and the winner of Dominik Hrbaty and Tim Henman in the semifinals?

"I'm going to talk to him," Wilander said, smiling. "If he takes me out to dinner, I'll stay.

"I'm rooting for him. I'm rooting for him."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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post #2 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:26 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

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Originally Posted by Tennis Fool
"It will happen some day. I think he'll win the French. It's a mind thing. He was focusing on Queens at the French Open. He played Kuerten this year, a guy who thinks he beat Napolean on that court."
Thanks for that TF, either Mats made a mistake or the writer did that Rogi played in Halle and not Queens, 30 sec of research could have fixed that.

Maybe Wilander should be the guy who coaches Federer, one of the best tacticians ever.

I saw him at a few of the matches and it would be good if Roger could equal that record.
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post #3 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:32 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

He loves Rogi. Smart choice. Maybe Rogi and him will hang out because Mats can do part time coaching because we all know Rogi doesn't need a full time one. I hope they get together for Dinner with James Liption WONDERFUL ARTICLE.
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post #4 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:32 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

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Originally Posted by Marc Rosset is Tall
Thanks for that TF, either Mats made a mistake or the writer did that Rogi played in Halle and not Queens, 30 sec of research could have fixed that.

Maybe Wilander should be the guy who coaches Federer, one of the best tacticians ever.

I saw him at a few of the matches and it would be good if Roger could equal that record.

Wilander doesn't want to be away from his family. If he had the opportunity to coach again, he would go with Marat.
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post #5 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:34 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

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Originally Posted by Tennis Fool
Wilander doesn't want to be away from his family. If he had the opportunity to coach again, he would go with Marat.
He could work for whoever he wanted I mean Lundgren has worked with both and so could Wilander, though the full-time travelling would be a pain for him. He usually goes to the Slams, Davis Cup events, then again Federer could only use him on a part time basis.
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post #6 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:35 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Nah I think he would coach Rogi. Hell if they do go out to dinner we could see Mats in Rogi's box this saturday. I think Mats could help Rogi for awhile.
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post #7 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:36 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Plus Rogi and him could train during the off season to focus on some things. The few things left for Rogi to improve. I think Rogi would be very keen on the idea.
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post #8 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:39 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Great article, Tennis Fool! Mats was on the air last night with Ted and John for a little Mats/Mac Phone after it started raining. Mats has a great sense of humor and I liked the way he got into answering the calls with John. A really nervous guy asked him what his greatest moment in tennis was. He told a romantic story about meeting his wife of nearly 20 years at the US Open in the 80s. Eventhough he lost that year to John, it was his greatest tennis memory because he met her. Ahhhh...

He also seems to have his career in prospective with the rest of his life. Jimmy Connors did an interview with Tracy while it was raining, too. It was great to hear these guys reflect and update the public on their lives today.

Do you MTFers think Roger can do it here? I don't know. I'm just staying tuned.

Did you notice that Nick changed his champion pick from Roger to Andy today?

It would be HUGE for Roger because he would reach a tennis milestone. So, I think I'd like to see him make history.

Last edited by jmp; 09-09-2004 at 10:42 PM.
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post #9 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:42 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Of course Roger can do it. I just hope he comes out sharper against Henman.

Wilander is a very honest and down to earth guy, you wouldn't know he won 7 Slams, whereas someone like Becker and Connors would let you know how good they were.
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post #10 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-09-2004, 10:43 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Agassi groundies had a great deal with Rogi's backhand being off and the wind didn't help either of their stats. Rogi won't have the same problems with Tim as he did with Andre. Rogi knows what to do and will form a plan. I hope Mats can help him with that too.
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post #11 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-10-2004, 09:18 AM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

I bet Mats had some words with PimPim about being Roddick, as I know he criticised Roddick for lacking tactical nous and that was shown up tonight.

I will be looking out on the TV to see that he is there.
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post #12 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-10-2004, 01:09 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Nice article, Mats is smart

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post #13 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-10-2004, 01:11 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Kom igen Mats, and I hope Rogi spoke to him after the Agassi match.
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post #14 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-10-2004, 01:23 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

Roger & Mats. wow. that would be a good team. they have similar personalities.


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post #15 of 26 (permalink) Old 09-10-2004, 01:25 PM
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Re: Wilander Enjoying Federer's Quest

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Roger & Mats. wow. that would be a good team. they have similar personalities.
I remember GWH saying that would be the perfect combination quite a few months ago. I doubt that it would happen though.
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