Mats Wilander Interview : Davis Cup, modern tennis and son's illness
This was a Mats Wilander interview translated by Choupi who did a great job on this who spoke to Yannick Cochennec, from the French Tennis Magazine, March edition 2005.In Davis Cup, if a player does have a bad game, it's the captain's fault!
He has some very interesting views on the game, especially on Federer at RG and Wimbledon.
Mats Wilander? Of course the French crowd hasn't forgotten the one who won Roland Garros three times and who reached number 1 in 1988, after achieving the "small chelem" which only Roger Federer has equalled since then. In a couple of days, it's a different man they'll discover for the 1st round of the Davis Cup between Fance and Sweden, where Wilander, in the outfit of the captain he's become, will try to thwart Guy Forget's plans.
Only a short time before this tough game for both countries, we have met that 40-year-old voluble and passionate man. Opinions? Thoughts? Wilander doesn't lack any, whatever the topic, so that he can be seen sometimes as too peremptory or impudent. But his honesty is enjoyable to see as well as to hear, as refreshing his enthusiasm is for the Swedish players he's closely followed on Melbourne Park's courts. In this long interview, Wilander details this France vs Sweden before talking about numerous other subjects among which the serious illness his son Erik is suffering. Here's Mats Wilander, heart-to-heart and sincerely speaking...
TM: Mats, you're the great champion who has won 7 GS among which 3 times RG, but you're also the actual DC captain of the Swedish team who's about to play France, on March 4th to 6th in Strasbourg. How do you see this game?
MW: First, I consider France to be the toughest country to cope with in DC. Second, in this particular situation, the French have the advantage of the surface. Which doesn't mean that clay is the ideal surface for them, but it can't be denied that the choice is hard for us. On the whole, for this game, the French have the number advantage, that means that Guy Forget can pick out among 8 to 10 players when other captains are forced to always count with the same ones. In a DC team, that's a good thing to have a Roger Federer, a Lleyton Hewitt or an Andy Roddick, but for me it's best to have a group where everybody's at the same level. If France has been able to be that successfull during those past years, it's mostly because of this large possible choice.
TM: Commenting on what you've just said, do you consider clay to be such a huge disadvantage for your players?
MW: No, because any top player has the ability to play a great match on clay. In DC, even a player who happens to be allergic to that surface can feel adrenalin rising in him. It's different from playing an Argentine in the 1st round in Monte Carlo, when you tell yourself you won't go away with it because all is playing against you. Take the example of Robin Söderling whose results on clay have never been very good. Except in one particular situation: when he's played in Sweden, in Bastad, under circumstances which were deeply motivating. Plus playing on clay indoor has nothing to do with playing outside. Pim Pim Johansson's serve can be as tough to return as on any other surface, mostly because of bad bounce. We are a little disadvantaged but not that much. Anyway, all those considerations are quickly swept away in DC.
TM: How many players will you bring with you in Strasbourg?
MW: 5 if all goes well. Pim Pim Johansson, Thomas Johansson, Jonas Bjorkman, Robin Söderling and Thomas Enqvist. It's a good mix between experience and new blood in the person of Pim Pim and Robin. Thomas Enqvist is a bit like the natural leader of the group, whether he plays or not. He knows how to put right with the young people, telling them off when they talk with their mouth full or when they don't feel like playing football with the others (smile). He's definitely there from the first ball played in the training week to the last one on the sunday. Jonas Bjorkman is the one who breathes energy to the others when we get into the heat of action. Just have a look at him, sitting on the bench in reserve during a match. Thomas Johansson is more discreet but he's also an extremely funny guy who knows how to "bump into" the "juniors" when they slide onto sticky ground (smile).
TM: Those young players, as you say, those rising Swedish Joachim Johansson and Robin Söderling...
MW: Robin's got a knee injury here in Melbourne, but I've been disappointed by his mental ability. I would have liked him to be more self-demanding. Not during the match in which he's given up, but outside. I was sure that he would make a great season- and maybe he will- but this false start might be harmfull to him. I think that having a good start in the season is essential if you wanna have the right tempo afterwards. Nevertheless, Robin plays very well when under pressure, so that includes DC. I've enjoyed his game against Hewitt last year and I think he'll be part of the basic team for the upcoming 5 years in singles. Pim Pim Johansson will also be a determining element in my strategy, but the problem is he's in good physical shape- which I'm glad to know- and that according to me, he's to play 3 matches. But I doubt it would be reasonable to have him play 3 days in a row. I've tried to do this with Jonas Bjorkman last year and I went wrong. I don't think that playing 3 great matches in DC is actually possible. I've had a good lesson there. Though I'm still tempted to have him play 3 matches against France. I'll see how it goes and I'll make the decision after the 1st day.
TM: Joachim has reached the semi in the last USO, dominating Andy Roddick in front of his fellowmen, and he's just won the 1st tournament of the year in Adelaide, before reaching the 4th round in the AO. How do you picture his future knowing that he's already at the doorstep of the top 10?
MW: He's getting higher in the ranking very fast and I will explain it by the fact that he makes the right decisions now. He used to make wrong tactic choices a few months ago, mostly on his 2nd serves. Today, he can serve a better 2nd ball at the best of time. It's important for a player to build a strong shape but it is different from gaining in mental strength. And those who are able to mix up the two are very few. Will it be certain that he'll be among the 5 best players? I don't know because I think that injuries will play a determining role in his career, mostly concerning his shoulder. He's pretty tall but fragile. And if I had some advice to give him, it would be to not bother too much with his ranking but with his body. To play much on clay to preserve his joints and to learn about all the game's subtle sides. Apart from those restrictive points, I think he has all the abilities to win a GS and this from now on. His maturity is growing so fast!
TM: Now let's talk about the French team and its captain in particular Guy Forget, you have rubbed your shoulders with him all through your career...How do you get along with him?
MW: We have excellent relations. We have always got along very well. Maybe because we're ordinary guys (laughs). And we aren't numerous among ATP players, even in seniors. We both do live in the present. What we have accomplished in the past is past. What we are doing now is now. Plus, I know that he's become a better player than me (smile). He's a nice guy. I don't know exactly how good he is as a DC captain, but his results so far do show he's worthy. What I'm about to say may be misunderstood, but I still haven't got why he's had Santoro play singles on the 1st day against Spain. I've found it weird. That settled, I really do like like the French team. I always root for them, whoever they face. And this for pretty easy understandeable reasons: because for me, it all began in Paris, because there's Yannick, a man of exception, Henri against whom I've played dozens of matches. And I also like how intense the French game can be. For example, I do appreciate Arnaud Clément, because he's used to fighting on every ball like a lion. Guys like this bring so much to the game. They bring emotion, they're wanted to be watched. They are cheered for.
TM: Sébastien Grosjean is undoubtedly the French number 1, but a recent injury at the AO makes his taking part to that France/Sweden pretty unlikely. How do you consider his career going?
MW: His injuries are much too numerous and that's patently obvious to say so, but he shouldn't be injured that often. I'm totally ignoring what his problem is but he has to give himself the means to be fitter physically. Because he's pretty talented and because I think he's one of the players whoare the most dangerous on the circuit, who should be looked upon in each and every single GS event. Even if his not taking part would please us, I really would like him to be there. DC is terrific when the best players are in. I'm not DC captain because I want to win the DC. I'm captain because I want to be part of the celebration that goes with the DC. Even if the captain has to load all responsibilities onto him (smile).
TM: What do you mean?
MW:I think that the players shouldn't feel any responsibility pressure during DC. They've been chosen and all they're expected to do is to play and give the best they can from the time the captain has decided to trust them. This is no tournament, you don't play for a better ranking, you just have to go for it. If the players show a bad game, it's only the captain's fault. That means he's made the wrong choice, he hasn't felt things properly.
TM: Yesterday night, when you were watching the match between Johansson and Lopez, you seemed to be very nervous. How do you live your role as captain from the inside?
MW: For the whole weekend my wrists are so painfull because I keep on clapping all the time (smile). I'm 100% in the matches, but I repeat it, it's not because I want to win, it's because I'm happy to be there. In DC, I don't see players. I see characters, emotions...
TM: Has the decision to become captain been tough to make?
MW: Yes it has. First, I didn't want it to come from the Federation. I was wishing the players to ask me about it, and that's exactly what happened. If you wanna be captain, you have to be wanted by the players, or all is spoiled in advance. But yes, I've wondered about it. I have not questioned myself about my knowledge of the game, but about my personal investment. Was my passion strong enough for the job? Some time before, I had coached Wayne Ferreira for 6 months as well as Marat Safin for 8 other months. And the routine of the circuit has pissed me off. I didn't care about ordinary tournaments. But how I've enjoyed following Marat in RG, Wimbledon and at the USO. I love to be in the middle of the action, of the event. And DC brings me that sensation. From the moment the Swedish Federation let me totally free , I said OK. I'd like to be trusted for at least 6 years. Actually, 10 years would be the most suitable delay for a small Federation as the Swedish one.
TM: Has the role of the captain much changed within the past 20 years?
MW: The job is totally different in Sweden. 20 years ago, Mikael Pernfors wasn't even in the team, being world number 9. There were me, Edberg, Jarryd, Nyström and we could play on every kind of surface. Being captain wasn't that hard. I remember we used to make a lot of fun on the bench, the mood was really relaxed. The players I can count on don't have the same results, and I have to make do with it. What I have noticed so far is that they ask me many questions, much more than us at our time. My replies to them may not be right, but that's what has worked out for me.
TM: You've said you've been a coach for a few months. Have you enjoyed this reconversion?
MW: I've loved doing that job as long as I was doing it with guys I did appreciate much. They were cool, they had quite the same vision of life as me. But it was also much frustrating because I had so many opinions on there game, maybe too many. And it was maybe too tough for them to follow me (smile). The player I love to work with in DC is Jonas Bjorkman, who's a much mental guy. He's used to always sticking to the options I give him. With Thomas Enqvist, it's the other way round. Better avoid brainwashing him with your ideas. With him I only see the surface of things.
TM: Roger Federer has no full-time coach. The current players, do you think they need a coach from January to December?
MW: It all depends on the coach they have. Roger Federer doesn't need Tony Roche for 30 weeks. It's too much for both. 10 weeks, their choice, that's the rightest one. Sometimes, it's surprising to see Nadal with coaches whose tennistic past is much more than limited whereas he should be pictured more with former champions such as Emilio Sanchez who could teach him important stuff. Those are players who prefer working on small details, whereas I think you should be more definitive and say: here's what you do wrong, here's how you can improve. You also get the feeling that their coach, who haven't been high-ranked players, do learn at the same time. For example, I'm worried about somebody like Ferrero who, from the level he's reached so far, should be able to volley much better than he actually does. Same for a champion like Hewitt, who has to improve on some points. I'm admiring Roddick's decision to separate from Brad Gilbert. Because Gilbert wasn't the one who could have bettered Roddick's backhand or his game on clay. He was absolutely not interested in all this. I'm myself not much talking technics in my training way. It's not much what happens on my side of the court that matters for me, but more what occurs on the other side of the net.
TM: Current players, are they really different from the ones you used to meet in your professional time?
MW: In big events, no, they show the same intensity. Maybe they aren't that present all through the season, even if what strikes me concerning Roger Federer, is that on top of 3 GSs, he's been able to win 8 other tournaments in 2004. How could he have won in Bangkok after a "small chelem"? It's absolutely incredible!
TM: Speaking of Roger Federer, how do you perceive his domination?
MW: It's so great to see him play that you hardly feel like seeing somebody else play. I have admiration for Roddick and Hewitt's will, but Federer is another game topic. The question one might wonder to ask, if one feels like asking one of course, would be "will he be physically strong enough to win matches the day his mind would have remained in his hotel room"? Me for example, it was impossible because I had to give my best 100% from the first up to the last point. And from the moment my envy has started decreasing, after winning 3 out of the 4 GSs in 1988, it was over, it was the end of my career.
TM: Can he win RG?
MW: Of course, he can! He can do whatever suits him on clay and he's already proved it. If I was in Roger Federer's shoes, and given what he has already gone through, I would focus mostly on RG. Furthermore, if I were him, I would be wishing to win the 4 GSs each year. For me, he has the means to equal the great results of somebody like Rod Laver. But if he wants to achieve it, he has to ask himself the essential question right now : how can I put all the chances on my side to win RG? Pete Sampras for example, has never granted himself the means to achieve it. And this didn't mean for him to radically change his game on clay. But in order to be faithfull, he should have trained sufficiently so that the game which allowed him to win the USO could also allow him to be the best in Paris. Many people will certainly disagree with what I'm about to say but for me, RG is the easiest GS you can win. Because ALL lies in the player's hands. ALL depends on him. You'll never get a chance to witness 4 aces in a row like in Wimbledon. It's only you who are building your victory from the beginning till the end of the match. Why should Federer fail here? Last year, against Kuerten, he had absolutely taken no risks. It was as if his mind was already wandering in Wimbledon. And we should therefore stop pretending that Wimbledon is the most important GS of the year. That's crap. It's the least important one simply because it's played on a surface on which you never play anymore.
TM:If you had to change one thing in tennis today...
MW: Precisely Wimbledon. Let's make it be what it was used to be. The surface has been slowed too much and today, apart from Tim Henman and Taylor Dent, who plays serve and volley? Nobody! To be lively, the game needs the contrasts of different styles.
TM: In a few months, Mark Miles will quit from the ATP, after 15 years at its head. Who would you like to see replacing him?
MW: A former player. Not some kind of a politician who does only marketing. I see somebody perfectly suited for the job but I won't give you his name. For me, this role must be granted to a champion who has won at least 1 GS and who is friend with the players. And I will even add that this person shouldn't be paid for that job. His own passion should be what matters.
TM: When you look back at your career, is there some place left for regrets?
MW: Absolutely not. My career made my life and my life made my career. Everybody makes mistakes and I've done bunches. But they've helped me to move on. Though I'd never have imagined getting the record of achievements I have. Before winning my first RG, the idea of turning into a champion wasn't even coming to my mind. I was thinking my game was too poor and it was. It's thanks to the mental that I've made the difference. And I've been lucky enough to get aware of this in one of my very first GS I took part and won. I was 17 and I've realized I had the mind to defeat the best. It's been the sweetest lesson I've had of all my career.
TM: Do feel much joy playing seniors?
MW: Yes very much. It's so nice to play with no consideration other than the game, after all those years of stress that have been mine. But I don't win many matches anymore (smile). And to be honest, I don't care that much, because in general, I don't care about what people think of me.
TM: You've been living in the US for numerous years now but far from big cities, as you've settled down in Idaho...
MW: One of our kids suffers a serious skin illness. And this has forced us, Sonya my wife and me, to settle in a place with cold and dry climate. Erik's life- that's his first name- has been much better there in comparison to the first years when we were living in Connecticut. The illness is called "epidermolysis bullosa", generally called eb. My son, who's 7, suffers the medium form of that general pathology which has no cure. In the US, 2 children out of 100 000 are touched. It's characterized by blisters forming on a large part of the body, mostly in the face, on the feet or the hands, but also inside the throat and oesophagus. The skin is totally fragilized. The most little contact with anything might cause serious damage. It's awful when you watch it, unbearable for parents. It's all so visual you can't even imagine. If my son was here in Australia where it's so hot and if he was spending half-an-hour outside, even covered from head to toes, he would be totally unable to walk on the following day. Anyway, we've been lucky because the most serious form of the disease leaves only a life expectancy of 30 years. Erik can go to school like any other boy, even if teachers have to take real good care of him. Today, we can say his life is safe and he'll be able to live a more or less satisfying life, knowing of course he'll have to be carefull all the time. But it's tough for him because there are days when he can hardly walk because of the blisters. That said, I want to repeat that we are lucky because the most serious form of the eb is dreadfull. Skin goes away in large parts. We really would like to find a cure to that shit and that's why I'm trying to collect funds thanks to the organization of a tennis and a golf tournament in Connecticut each year.
TM: Can it be said that this illness has totally changed your life?
MW: Completely. I can't complain about anything anymore. I take a look at Erik and his suffering and I tell myself : my God, how can my little boy endure all this?
TM: Apart from your activities as a family man or tennis pro, what do you do?
MW: I keep on running our company "Global Caps" which produces caps and which is finally bringing some money (smile). Otherwise, I'm always playing music, but not like Yannick Noah, who undoubtedly impresses me much. What is absolutely fabulous about him is how he manages to draw all the attention to him along with his personality. He's a pretty good singer but most of all, he has this fabulous personality. I love France for its openness of mind. Here's a country which has been able to forget that Yannick's been a tennis champion, and which is able to picture him in another role but with the same look of love. That kind of attitude is impossible in Sweden. When I've played among a band of musicians in which there were yet some of the country's best, the media have definitely brought me down, even before I get the chance to play the very first note.
TM: What are your plans for tomorrow? How do you see yourself in about 20 years? In which role? At which level?
MW: I'm not aiming something in particular though I do wish that my last days on earth would be the best ever, the merriest (smile). Pleasure, pleasure, always pleasure, that's all that really matters and that's really how I feel when I'm in DC.
“ On Nadal bumping him on the changeover, Rosol said: "It's ok, he wanted to take my concentration; I knew he would try something".
Wilander on Dimitrov - "He has mind set on imitating Federer and yes it looks good. But he has no idea what to do on the court".
Machado wins 6-2 6-1
I definitely would have preferred Gaba winning as he needs the points much more, but Jan would have beaten him anyway. I expect Hajek to destroy Machado, like 6-1 6-2.
Last edited by Action Jackson; 02-13-2005 at 04:05 AM.