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I know it is an old article, but nevertheless I think it is worth a read :)


A conversation with Mats Wilander

Scandinavian Review, Summer 2002
by Fein, Paul

The former top tennis star talks frankly about trends and players in the world of professional tennis on the eve of his induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He is only the third Swede to be so honored, following the legendary Bjorn Borg (1989) and Sweden's King Gustaf V (1980).

IN THE MID AND LATE 1980S THE BIGGEST WEAPON in men's tennis was often said to be "Mats Wilander's mind." Tenacious and resourceful, Wilander pulled off classic victories against the likes of Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash. The mild-mannered Swede wound up with seven Grand Slam titles, more than Becker and Edberg, and he did it on three different surfaces-clay, grass, and hard court. Wilander attained number one ranking when he captured the Australian, French, and U.S. Open titles in his career year, 1988. He also sparked his country to three Davis Cup titles and two more Cup finals.

In recognition of these achievements, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, has named Wilander, now 37, as the only male player to be elevated to the Hall in 2002, with induction ceremonies in July. Wilander and his family lived until recently in Greenwich, Connecticut. They now reside in Sun Valley, Idaho.

PF: Why did you move there?

MW: We moved because I thought that New York City was creeping out to the suburbs and the people living in the suburbia were all working in New York City. And they're living at a pace at which I don't want to live my life. I love to be in New York and I have a lot of good friends there. But when people are hooting their car horns at the elementary school, then it's a little too stressed for the kids. Another reason we moved is that we have one child who has a skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa. When it's warm and humid it gets much worse and he gets severe blisters.

PF: What is life like in Idaho?

MW Sun Valley is a ski resort and there are a lot of recreational things to do outdoors. I ski quite a bit in the winter. It's more free for kids to roam around, no crime. You don't have to worry about your kids running around in the streets.

PF: Tell me about your wife and children.

MW: My wife Sonya is a homemaker. I have four kids--Emma, who is nine, and three boys, Karl, Erik, and Oskar.

PF: What was your reaction when they told you would be enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame?

MW: I was delighted. It's something you don't really think about until it happens to you. But once they call you, it's great. It gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment, for sure.

PF: What were your emotions when watching the 2002 Australian Open men's final in which a fellow Swede, Thomas Johansson, won, while the player you had been coaching, Marat Safin, lost? [Safin, a Russian, won the U.S. Open in 2000 and was briefly ranked number one in the world.]

MW I was rooting for the Swede because Sweden has a great tennis history. Sweden has great tennis clubs and great tennis programs. A lot of people play tennis and it's a really big sport. And the press has been really down on tennis in Sweden because they can't repeat what we did in the 1980s, which is impossible and never going to happen again unless we have another Bjorn Borg. We have so many good players and always do well in Davis Cup competition, but nothing has been written about the game. For that reason I was rooting for the Swedish guy. I know Johansson really well and I know his coach [Magnus Tideman] even better. He used to coach me, too. Another reason is that it's more important right now for Safin to get to the final and lose than it is to win.

PF: Why do you say that?

MW He learns a lot from losing. If he wins he has the confidence of someone who wins a Grand Slam title and he's not going to change his game. Whereas you always have to try to change your game and improve something. He has a bit of an attitude that "I'm good enough to win Grand Slams, so I'll keep on doing what I'm doing." He isn't as motivated to improve as other players are.

PF: What should Safin do to become a better player?

MW He needs to do what I did-develop a different kind of game. The guys are learning how to play him now. They know he's eventually going to have a breakdown [in concentration] whether it lasts for one minute or five minutes or half an hour. Unless he changes his game guys are going to keep him out there forever. Safin used to have the biggest game of any player I've ever seen play when he played well. But he's not as dangerous as he used to be because he's playing smarter, so he doesn't hit the ball as hard. If you want to change anything in your game you have to do it between [ages] 19 and 22. That's where Safin is now. If he doesn't do it now, he'll always be the same player--a great player--but, unfortunately, not another Sampras or Agassi.

MW Actually, I didn't decide to stop coaching Marat. We were supposed to go to Australia this year as well. I think he didn't feel he needed to have me there, or wanted to have me there. He felt a lot of pressure last year and he was very tired at the end. He changed to a Dunlop racket. It was all a little too much. He's 21 years old and you can put too much information in somebody's head at that age. Maybe he's just not ready to have a full-time coach. Now I am no longer his coach; I'm his friend.

PF: Just when Bjorn Borg retired, you arrived on the scene and shocked everyone by winning the 1982 French Open as a 17-year-old kid. You and Borg came from the same little country, were about the same size and also had blond hair, had the same two-handed and baseline style, and even a similar reserved personality. But when you were asked: "Are you the next Borg, "you replied: "I am not Borg number two, I am Wilander number one."

MW To ask "are you the next Borg is" an immature question. No, of course I'm not the next Bjorn Borg. I don't look like him. I don't exactly play like him. Even as a 17-year-old it was very hard not to be rude when I was asked that question by Swedish journalists. How can you be the next Bjorn Borg? He won five Wimbledons in a row. How can you compare a skinny 17-yearold with a Borg who had the greatest record of a tennis player?

PF: In 1987 you confided: "I live a good life being a top-three or top-six player, and the price Ivan Lendl and Borg paid to become number one is too high for me." Yet the next year you won three Grand Slam titles and the Lipton Championship. With your attitude how did you produce the second-most-dominant year in open-era history after Rod Laver's 1969 Grand Slam year?

MW I got married in 1987 and really lost my drive. I was playing great in 1985 until I was about 21, and then '86 and '87 were kind of down years. I wasn't working to improve anymore, sort of like Safin is now. Matt Doyle, who was on the ATP board with me, told me my ball striking and natural talent were at least as good as Lendl's, but I just didn't do anything off the court. So we started working really hard-six, seven hours-off the court. That's how it happened. I managed to win the first Slam in Australia. Because I won that title 8-6 in the fifth set against Pat Cash it was like "whoops, I can do it now. I'm stronger than these guys. They know I'm stronger."

PF: You once confided: "All my career I bad dreamed of being number one. But when I finally achieved it and the initial excitement wore off, 1 felt nothing. I had no sense of elation and pride. I was world champion, but so what. I got more existement out of cutting the grass than playing tennis." How do you explain that reaction?

MW: I started really young and was basically a pro when I was 15. So that was my ninth year as a pro. I started working hard, as I told you, in '87, and we were aiming to peak in 1990 or even 1991. All that time I thought 26 or 27 was the perfect age for a tennis player. You're a little stronger and smarter but still young enough to run on the court. But the great year happened immediately and it happened too fast. If I had won one major and felt like I was improving I could have kept it going, and then maybe my 1988 year should have come in '90 or '91. So when the U. S. Open was over I just couldn't see myself trying to improve anymore. And it's definitely not as much fun being on top. After that I let other things in my life, like my wife and my friends, take a bigger role. I had achieved in tennis more than I had ever expected to achieve. They wonder why Tiger Woods has ice in his veins and more killer instinct than Davis Love. It's because nothing is more important than golf in his life. Once something else takes the place of tennis as the most important thing in your life you are basically done.

PF: Fifteen years after your prime, men's tennis has become more powerful than ever How do account for the fact that Lleyton Hewitt, whose counterpunching game resembles yours and Borgs, ranks number one?

MW: First of all, he's unbelievably fast. He's got a heart as big as Jimmy Connors. He plays really smart. He plays every shot-not just every point-- as if it's the most important shot of the match, which is the way you have to play. Not everyone does that. Agassi does. Bjorn did. And Jimmy Connors did. McEnroe did not all the time. Tennis is always going to be changing back and forth. You're going to have the little guy come in, and suddenly Boris Becker comes in, and after the Becker-Kevin Curren final at Wimbledon, everyone goes "Whoa! This is terrible. There are only big serves." And then Agassi, the little guy, wins Wimbledon on grass, and people say: "How does this happen?" And then Sampras. And now Hewitt. Little guys are always going to have a shot at tennis, but you've got to have the special tools to be a great player if you're little these days. Unless you have a heart the size of Australia you're not going to be a Lleyton Hewitt. So I think it's all mental in his case.

PF: "What do you think the next great rivalry in men ' tennis will be?

MW: Unfortunately, I'm not sure there will be one. Tennis players are so even. So many good players can beat the best players. So many guys out there just go for broke [on their shots] all the time. When they have good days, they'll upset the favorites and kill the rivalries every time. You're not going to get Andy Roddick against Lleyton Hewitt in three out of the next six Open finals. That's too bad because when you get the same guys playing each other on different surfaces and under different circumstances it's easier for the fans to follow and it's more interesting.

PF: Sebastien Grosjean recently described professional tennis as "a world out of touch with reality. " You've been in pro tennis or observing it for the past 20 years. Is Grosjean right?

MW: He's right. But that's true of all professional sports today. It's so removed from reality. It's a great life. In tennis I suppose it's worse because we do travel more than any other athletes. We go back and forth from America to Europe and around the world. At least the golf guys, most of them, stay on one continent. In golf, if you're 25 or 41 and you suddenly hit the ball 50 yards shorter you can still shoot the same score. But in tennis, if you don't have the killer instinct, if you're not better than the other guy, you're done. And that doesn't happen in other sports either.They get paid before they even start the season in basketball and other sports. Tennis is a little different and craves a little different mentality than any other sport. The world revolves around you, for sure, because when you get to a tournament the press is there and they're not asking about the world; they're asking about you. If people ask questions about you all the time, you're going to think: "Wow, I'm that big." It's not healthy.

PF: During much of the 1980s you traveled everywhere with fellow Swedes-- Anders Jarryd, joakim Nystrom, Hans Simonsson--on Team SLAB and were coached by Jon Anders Sjogren. Now players seem to travel alone or with a parent, coach, physical therapist, psychologist, etc., but not with other players. What do you think of this trend?

MW: It's a necessity in one way. Andy Roddick is so strong at such a young age. He probably can't handle it and gets hurt all the time. You make enough money these days that it's worth it to be healthy all the time and bring guys [physical therapists] with you. But what these players don't understand-because they've never experienced it-is that you learn so much from your peers. I practiced with Nystrom a lot. He gave me so many tips on what I was doing wrong because it was much easier to tell when you're playing against somebody all the time and you're at the same level. He'd say "You've got a little less zip on those backhands today than yesterday." That's why we were so good in Sweden. We traveled together, we practiced together. We talked tennis all the time. We brought up a lot of important points about our games. The coach is not going to pick it up because he's standing next to the player and he can't really see it. So the current trend is a bad thing. There's too much individualism today.

PF: Please tell me about your charity work.

MW: I have been involved in an Irish charity called GOAL for about 16 or 17 years. It provides aid to catastrophic areas of the world. We used to go to Ireland to play an exhibition on grass before Wimbledon-me and Joakim Nystrom against Matt Doyle and Sean Sorenson from Ireland, for the first two years. Eventually we had almost everyone from the top 10: McEnroe, Cash, Edberg, Tim Mayotte and all the Swedes. Everyone came and supported the cause. I've done a lot of things for them and they've done a lot of things for me.

PF: After you retired from the ATP tour you spent some time visiting the poorest of the poor in India. Please tell me about your humanitarian mission.

MW: I felt I needed to see firsthand what life in India is actually like. I think some people don't believe that all the people who are starving are actual people. Life is unbearably horrible for many of these people. But at the same time the only thing they have going for them is that they only care about surviving. In the Western world life is just racing past us. It's so rushed. It's the computer age. Kids have less patience because they are able to push a button. That is why I truly believe you're not going to have the athletes that we've had the last 25 or 30 years, the freak athletes like the Jordans, the Gretzkys.

PF: What' the connection?

MW: The connection is that they don't want to work as hard as it takes to become as good as they can. They will become as good as $40 million will pay for, basically. They will make a pro team. But I don't think they have the same drive because life is too simple now. It's computers, it's TV. It doesn't promote a mentally strong athlete.

PF: "What about your other charity work?"

MW: DebrA is the [New York City-based] organization that was formed to fight the skin disease, epidermolysis bullosa, that my son has. We're trying to help out as much as we can. We've done tennis and golf tournaments at the Westchester Country Club for the past three Octobers. My son has the mildest form of it, and he doesn't need any help. But once you get involved and you see all the other kids-once you start helping-you just can't stop. That's why the lives of the people in India are unbearable and horrible. But at the same time the kids in India have smiles on their faces. Whereas kids in the Western world do not always have smiles on their faces. Little things irritate a kid in the modern world compared to Third World kids because they don't have anything to get irritated or angry about. All they care about is getting another plate of food. There is a bigger chance you'll become a great human being coming from the Third World than from the modern world, for sure. They're so desperate to survive, whereas we take it for granted.

PF: Last year Andre Agassi said, "There is too much money in the game nowadays. " But Yevgeny Kafelnikov complained that "the money on the ATP [tour] is ridiculous compared to what other athletes are making." Who is right?

MW: They're both right. There is too much money in tennis. But at the same time sports people should be paid more than actors. They do more. They certainly work harder. There's too much money in sports, period.

PF: Why do many players lack intensity?

MW: How can you have intensity if you're like Pete Sampras and hit 20 aces [a game]? The point is all over before it starts. Jimmy Connors is intense because he gets to hit 30 balls every point. And he's fighting, and he can't reach every ball with his two hands, and he's grunting. That's intensity! Sampras makes it all look so easy because he's such a great natural athlete. Sports goes in cycles. You've got the big guys, the small guys, the undemonstrative guys, the entertainers. It's going to keep changing all the time.

PF: In 1986 you told The New York Times: "We [Swedes] are not like Americans, we don't have Jimmy Connors fighting spirit. Everyone has a temper, but in Sweden no one throws a racket or screams. We show more manners or common sense. This is a game, not war." Since Swedes have been hugely successful during the past 30 years, do they have the right temperament for tennis?

MW: We have a very good temperament for tennis because of our upbringing. There is very little pressure put on kids to perform in school. School is free, hospital care is free, everyone has a new car and a new TV and VCR. There was very little pressure put on kids to succeed or to fail. So it got to the point where I wasn't afraid of failing. I was just trying as hard as I could. I knew my parents and my club believed in me.

PF: Pete Sampras has won a record seven Wimbledons, four U.S. Opens and two Australians as well as five ATP World Championships, one Italian Open, two NASDAQ-100 Opens and two Davis Cup titles. Does all that make Sampras the greatest player of all time?

MW: I don't think so. His record is unquestioned. When he played well he was easily the best player I've ever seen. You cannot do anything against Pete Sampras when he plays well on hard courts and on grass. But he never did anything on clay. Bjorn did it all. He did clay, he did grass, he did hard courts. He didn't win the U.S. Open, which is really weird, but he got to four finals. Sampras is a more accomplished player than Borg technically. But Borg somehow managed to play well on all surfaces. And that's why Rod Layer was such a great player.

PF: So you'd give the edge to either Borg or Laver over Sampras?

MW: Let's put it this way. Sampras played the best tennis ever and he won 13 Slams. Nobody ever hit the ball like him. And nobody has a chance against him when he plays well on his favorite surfaces. But I don't like the fact that Pete Sampras couldn't play on clay. The greatest player ever is not necessarily the player who has won the most. I would say that Bjorn Borg is the greatest player ever because he won Wimbledon five times in a row. And out of those five times, he won the French Open all of those five years, plus another year. How do you beat that? That's great!

PF: You helped Sweden with three Davis Cup titles, in 1984, 1985, and 1987, and represented your country 27 times in Davis Cup competition over II years. What were your best and worst moments?

MW: My best moments were beating the United States in 1984 when you guys had John [McEnroe and Jimmy [Connors]. We won on clay in Sweden, which seems like we were cheating, I guess. The lowest was losing to [West] Germany at home in 1988 on clay, having Edberg and me. He won Wimbledon that year and I won the other three [Grand Slam titles]. We were number one and number two in the world and couldn't beat Germany at home on clay.

PF: You played the longest U.S. Open final in history in 1987 against Ivan Lendl, lasting 4 hours and 47 minutes, and the longest Davis Cuip match in history against McEnroe in the 1982 Cup quarterfinal in St. Louis, lasting an incredible 6 hours, 22 minutes, when the U.S. beat Sweden 3-2. What do you remember most about each historic marathon?

MW: I don't remember the U.S. Open final being that long. It didn't seem that long. I remember losing both of them. I learned a lot from that match against McEnroe. The two matches that taught me the most were losing to McEnroe indoors in Davis Cup and to Yannick Noah at the [1983] French Open [final]. I felt I was way better than Noah as a tennis player on clay in 1983, but I still had no chance. Noah also taught me to be a little more passionate. It helps.

PF: In a 1990 ESPN "Sports Profile, " you said: "The most important thing for me, in terms of tennis, is that I want more people to play tennis because I think its a great sport. And that's the way I want to be remembered. It's that people are going to say,I started playing because of Mats, Mats Wilander.' " Did that actually become your greatest legacy?

MW: I don't know. But that's how you like to be remembered. I don't want to be remembered for anything else. If there's one person out there who started playing because of me, yes, that's how I'd like to be remembered.

Paul Fein has been a freelance tennis writer for the past 25 years. His articles have appeared in 25 countries and he has received 16 writing awards. His new book, Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches and Controversies, was published by Brassey's, Inc. in April. For information, see www.tennisconfidential.com.

Copyright American Scandinavian Foundation Summer 2002
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Source: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3760/is_200207/ai_n9115790/pg_1
 

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very interesting what he said about Sampras, like when he played his best on his favourite surface, he was invincible. And also fun how 4 years after this interview one of the many greats rivalries in the sport appeared out of nowhere :)
 

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as i read this i was wondering: has there been any past champion out there in the beginning of the new century calling roger a potential all-time great or anything like that? and i'm not talking about the ordinary "yeah, he could be..." or "yeah, he should be", because those vague things are said about everyone rising through the ranks and being young. i'm talking about things like "dammit, this guy is probably gonna be it!, mark my words!" has anyone ever said that back in the days?
 

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"Balls" Wilander made a mistake, Borg didn't win the FO every year of the 5-year Wimbledon run. How could he forget the years Borg won the FO? Also funny to read an interview 1 year before Federer would take over tennis.
 

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as i read this i was wondering: has there been any past champion out there in the beginning of the new century calling roger a potential all-time great or anything like that? and i'm not talking about the ordinary "yeah, he could be..." or "yeah, he should be", because those vague things are said about everyone rising through the ranks and being young. i'm talking about things like "dammit, this guy is probably gonna be it!, mark my words!" has anyone ever said that back in the days?
.....

He's probably the greatest player that ever lived.

* John McEnroe, BBC Wimbledon 2006 live broadcast.
Oh, I would be honoured to even be compared to Roger. He is such an unbelievable talent, and is capable of anything. Roger could be the greatest tennis player of all time.

* Rod Laver, winner of 11 Grand Slams, considered by some the greatest player to ever play the game of tennis.
We have a guy from Switzerland who is just playing the game a way I haven't seen anyone—and I mean anyone—play before. How fortunate we are to be able to see that. If he stays healthy and motivated—and the wonderful feel he has stays with him—he is the kind of guy who can overtake the greatest.

* Boris Becker, winner of 6 Grand Slams.
He's an artist on this surface. He can stay back. He can come in. No weaknesses. Federer could win Wimbledon six, seven, eight times. He can play on any kind of surface, he is so complete. And if he continues the way he has been doing and stays away from injuries and still has the motivation, he will be the greatest player ever. I think the motivation is the key thing and he has the motivation to continue to play for another three or five years.

* Bjorn Borg, winner of 11 Grand Slams, at Wimbledon 2007.
 

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It's amazing what gets dug up during the off-season.
 
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@ juninho

yeah now they say it. that's easy, my granddad could do that. i was referring to the early 2000s, back when wilander gave that interview and roger was still one of bunch that could/should/would have an impact on the tennis circuit, back when roger was still "just" top 10 material.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Didn't wanted to start a new thread for this, but maybe someone is interested in this:


MATS WILANDER

by

Rex Bellamy


The summit of Everest has had many transient colonists since Hillary and Tenzing first "knocked the bastard off", as Hillary put it. In the same way, Swedes have crowded the upper slopes of world tennis since Bjorn Borg showed them that it was possible. Wilander led the charge - succeeding Borg as French champion, grabbing the two major titles that eluded Borg, winning Grand Slam championships on four surfaces (clay, grass and two varieties of hard courts) and serving as the rock on which Sweden built a Davis Cup run only four nations have equalled. At the age of 24 Wilander had already won as many Grand Slam singles titles as John McEnroe. Yet somehow this quiet achiever manages to ghost his way through tournaments without attracting attention until the last two or three days - when there is hardly anybody else to attract it.

There is nothing spectacular about Wilander's tennis or his personality. He just goes about his business in an unfussy way and, unless a Grand Slam event or a Davis Cup tie is in progress, sometimes conducts himself in such a casual manner that one would think the result of a tennis match was no more important than a row of beans. Wilander has to work hard for his points, physically and mentally. That kind of game is demanding: and he admits that he cannot give a hundred percent all the time, that he tends to reserve it for the big occasions. In all this - and in his playing method, too - he is much like Borg. But although Wilander's game has more variety, he lacks Borg's unquenchable thirst for winning.

Bjorn Hellberg, rare among Swedish journalists in that he was reporting Wimbledon in the pre-Borg era, makes interesting comparisons between Borg, Wilander and Stefan Edberg. "I watched them as juniors, when they were 11 years old", Hellberg tells me, "and from the very beginning Wilander and Edberg have always been nice to work with: extremely pleasant young men. Always modest, helpful and generous. Wilander has kept his calmness, his controlled mood, during his whole career. Edberg was a little patchy as a junior, - more temper on court - but that disappeared very early. Two gentlemen. Borg is a different story but on court Borg, too, was a gentleman. What would have happened if they had all been at their best at the same time? Well, Borg always had trouble with attacking players and because of that I think it would have been extremely difficult for him to beat Edberg on fast surfaces. On the other hand I believe Borg would have beaten Edberg on clay, any time.

"With Wilander it is more difficult to say, because he has such a high standard when he is motivated. When he is really "on" he is probably the best of them. The highest potential. Wilander has changed his game all the time. When he beat Vilas in the 1982 final in Paris he won only on his patience, his youth, his willingness to work, and his safe ground strokes. After that he gradually improved his game. He still has his double-fisted backhand but he also has a one-handed sliced backhand, which won him the final of the 1988 U.S. Open against Lendl. He has also improved his attack - his approach game and his net play. On the other hand tennis meant more to Borg and means more to Edberg than it does to Wilander, who finds other values in life. He can have spells when he doesn't look so interested"...

Wilander won a string of Swedish junior titles and, in 1978, the European championship for 14-year-olds. He left school in 1980 and earned good opinions a year later by qualifying for the German championships and winning the French junior event while Borg was taking the senior title which was to be his last Grand Slam championship. All that was impressive but hardly seemed an adequate basis for Wilander's achievements in 1982. What matters about experience, though, is its intensity rather than its duration. Wilander had a lot of hardening competition and practice behind him when he went to Paris in 1982 and (at 17 years and 9 months) replaced Borg as the youngest French champion and became the only player except Ken Rosewall - 29 years earlier - to win the junior and senior titles in consecutive years. Wilander's older brothers undertook an overnight drive in order to watch his semi-final, which ended with an incident that, after Hellberg's comments, will not surprise you.

José-Luis Clerc, match point down, hit a shot that both players considered to be a winner. The line judge and umpire thought the ball was out: and Jacques Dorfmann, the umpire, announced game, set and match to Wilander and climbed down from his chair. Wilander protested that he could not win that way, that he wanted the point replayed. According to the rules the match was over. But Dorfmann decided that the prevailing climate of courtesy mattered more than the rules. The players were behaving like gentlemen, he told me later, so it was up to him to do the same. The point was replayed.

Wilander had previously played the first five-set match of his career, a four-hour win over Lendl, the favourite. The final was shorter but longer, because four sets with Guillermo Vilas took four hours and 42 minutes...The unseeded Wilander was not playing for fun. He was playing to win: and at that time the only way he could do it was by attritional warfare...What mattered was that on Borg's birthday Wilander succeeded him as champion of France. In terms of length and quality the French final paled by comparison with the deciding match of a Davis Cup tie played that year at St Louis: John McEnroe beat Wilander 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6 in an epic that spanned six hours and 32 minutes. The lad from Vaxjo was beginning to make a habit of playing more tennis in one match than most men play in two.

Wilander now had a status he could not consolidate. Like Boris Becker, who was to win Wimbledon in 1985, he tucked away one of the game's two most important titles when only 17 years old and still learning his trade. In each case the evolution into genuine all-surface competence was to take a long time. But in 1983 Wilander sprang another surprise, this time on grass, when he competed in the Australian championships - largely as preparation for the Davis Cup final scheduled for the same courts a fortnight later - and beat McEnroe and Lendl in consecutive matches to win the title...In 1984 we were reminded that Wilander still had much to learn, even on clay. Lendl was too smart for him in their French semi-final...Pat Cash stopped Wilander at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow but the tousle-haired Swede kept the pot boiling by retaining the Australian title. And in 1985 Wilander, now a match-hardened 20, beat McEnroe and Lendl in consecutive matches to regain the French championship. By this time he was a more versatile, positive and mature player: more competent and confident at the net and in his exploration of the short angles.

Four years running, Wilander had won either the French title or the Australian. His future looked rosy. But he was beginning to suffer from wear and tear - partly physical, partly psychological. In his next nine Grand Slam tournaments he could do no better than finish runner-up three times: once to Stefan Edberg (the 1985 Australian championships featured the first all-Swedish final of a Grand Slam event) and twice to Lendl. We began to wonder if Wilander still had it in him to make that last push to the summit. Would he, like Borg, be burnt out by the middle 20's? But those paying close attention were aware that - with the help of his coach, Jon-Anders Sjogren - Wilander was still refining his game. He wanted to make it more interesting. So he worked on the one-handed backhand (which he had often used in emergency, for wide balls) so that he could use it more consistently as a variant to the two-handed shot. The one-handed sliced backhand is less strenuous than the double-fisted stroke: and more effective in dealing with low balls and hitting approach shots. That last point was an important component of another improvement - in Wilander's net game. Thus it was that his tennis gradually acquired the technical and tactical variety that was the basis for what we may assume was Wilander's finest year, 1988 (his 1989 recession bore ominous signs of ebbing motivation).

In 1988 Wilander mixed his game admirably, came through a bunch of five-set matches, won three out of the four Grand Slam championships, and was unquestionably the best player in the world. In the first Australian championships played at Flinders Park he won consecutive five-set matches with Edberg and Cash. The final, against Cash, lasted four hours and 28 minutes and was notable for a memorably dramatic fifth set. It was a pity there had to be a loser but Wilander's was a superb performance in its tactical craft and unflinching tenacity. He was a popular champion, too, with a more engaging, less peevish personaity than that of Cash, a local man. In Paris, Slobodan Zivojinovic came within two points of beating Wilander (as Cash had done in Melbourne) but the Swede was never in such serious trouble again during his four remaining matches. A familiar bete noire, Miloslav Mecir, baffled Wilander at Wimbledon. Then came the U.S. championships and five set wins over Kevin Curren and, in the final, Lendl. That classic final, particularly exhilarating during the crises of the fourth and fifth sets, lasted four hours and 54 minutes. Wilander went to the net almost twice as often as Lendl and, ultimately, broke through by challenging Lendl to pass him with backhands down the line.

It had been a gloriously harrowing year: glorious because of what had been achieved, harrowing because of the mental and physical cost of achieving it. One suspects that Wilander cannot do it again, that (like Lendl) his only remaining ambition is to win Wimbledon. Should that ever happen, Wilander would doubtless put his marriage, his golf, his guitar-playing and his composition of verse way ahead of his tennis. The game is his job, not his life. Wilander just happens to be a sportsman, in both senses. Apart from that, he is a gently contemplative, stoically phlegmatic chap who enjoys winning but can do without the fuss that goes with it. And his common sense and his droll sense of humour will never desert him.

In the post-Wilander years we shall remember that he never quite made 6 feet or 12 stone, that his face was lined, his eyes tired, his hair curly and unruly, his shirts large and flapping loosely over his shorts. He has always had the weary but indomitable air one associates with marathon runners. We shall remember, too, the nimble tactician with wonderfully accurate ground strokes, an unflappable temperament, and a strength of mind that saw him through many a long match. There has always been an air of serenity about Wilander. He lacks the capacity to panic. Maybe that is why he is a single-handicap golfer.

(From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions [essays], by Rex Bellamy, London: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
 

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Thanks Eden for another great article :hatoff:
Willander can sometime makes :retard: comments but he had one of the best tennis mind ever you can still feel that during interviews and commentaries.
 

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Wonderful read.

This is why Wilander is one of my favourite players ever!
 
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