Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander
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  • Personal
  • No sooner had Swedes grieved the retirement of Bjorn Borg, and wistfully wished for his sixth French title in 1981, than an unheralded young countryman conquered Paris the following year. Unseeded 17-year-old Mats Arne Olof Wilander, a rugged 6-footer who beat powerful one-time champ Guillermo Vilas at his own baseline game, became the youngest of French champs. It was the first of seven singles majors for Wilander over a seven-year stretch when he competed at the top of the game, reaching No. 1 in 1988.

    Although Michael Chang, a younger 17 in 1989, usurped his male precocity record for the majors, Wilander won the French again in 1985 (dethroning Ivan Lendl, 6-2 in the fourth) and 1988, and the Australian, on grass, in 1983 and 1984. But it was 1988, an all-time season, that stands as his masterpiece. He won three majors, starting with a magnificent five-set Australian final-round victory over hometown hero Patrick Cash in Melbourne's newly opened Flinders Park. It was the Aussie Open's first year on hard courts, and victory meant that Mats was only the second man (emulating Jimmy Connors) to win majors on grass, clay and hard. While he won the French without much trouble, his dreams of a Grand Slam were pierced by Miloslav Mecir in the Wimbledon quarters. An arduous U.S. backcourt duel with Lendl, who'd beaten him for the title in 1987, lasted over four hours before at last Wilander showed more offensive initiative to win.

    As the first winner of three majors in a year since Connors in 1974, he completed 1988 with six victories in 15 tournaments, with a 53-11 record, and personal prize money of $1,726,731. But after that, having attained the No. 1 ranking, his motivation seemed to disappear. He was through as a factor, and by 1991 he was retired. His last of 33 career titles was at Itaparica (Brazil) in 1990, yet in some ways Wilander outdid Borg. Bjorn never won three majors in a year, and he led Sweden to but one Davis Cup. Mats won three. Stunning Connors in straight sets on opening day in Goteborg in 1984, Wilander launched Sweden to a 4-1 upset of the U.S., he backboned a 3-2 win over Germany in 1985 in Munich, and a 5-0 win over India in 1987 in Goteborg.

    In 1991, he had dropped to No. 157. However, he felt the urge to play again in 1993, and came back to do moderately well, climbing to No. 45 in 1995 and earning about $500,000. He was even selected as a starter for the Davis Cup semi-final against the U.S. in 1995, losing to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Speedy afoot and an unrelenting competitor through 1988, he was at first a pure top-spinning, grind-it-out baseliner, a right-hander with a two-fisted backhand. But Mats developed attacking skills and a good volley, winning the Wimbledon doubles in 1986 with Joakim Nystrom. Two memorable matches were Davis Cup losses, the longest and third-longest played: Six hours and 32 minutes against John McEnroe in 1982; six hours and four minutes against Horst Skoff of Austria in 1989. His career figures: 33 wins in 220 tournaments; a 524-164 match record, and earnings of $7,976,256.

    He was born Aug. 22, 1964, in Vaxjo, Sweden, and grew up there. Today, he lives with his wife, Sonya, in Greenwich, Conn.

    MAJOR TITLES (8) - Australian singles, 1983, 1984, 1988; French singles, 1982, 1985, 1988; US. singles, 1988; Wimbledon doubles, 1986.

    DAVIS CUP - 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990; record 36-14 in singles, 7-2 in doubles.

    SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS - Australian (36-7), French (47-9), Wimbledon (25-10), US. (36-11).

    - Bio Courtesy Bud Collins

    (July 2013)


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