Born 22 August 1964 à Växjö (Sweden)
The ice king Björn Borg had barely abdicated from the circuit when a young fellow Swede – with a similar style but curlier hair – suddenly appeared out of nowhere to take his place. A mere 12 months after his boys’ singles title, Mats Wilander, No.30 in the world at the time, cut a swath through the tournament in his first ever appearance, winning it at the tender age of 17 years and 9 months (a record that would last until Michael Chang came along in 1989). The surprise came from the age of the winner and also his game plan. The 1982 final lasted 4 hours 42 minutes (the longest ever in terms of time at Roland-Garros, despite the fact that it only went to four sets, 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4), with some rallies lasting as long as three minutes!
Despite his frail appearance, Wilander proved to be physically stronger than evergreen Argentinean Guillermo Vilas, and he managed to outlast the veteran topspin merchant courtesy of limitless supplies of patience and finesse. Two days earlier in the semi-final, Wilander proved that he was also one of the most sportsmanlike players on the circuit, asking for match point to be replayed after José Luis Clerc had contested it – a gesture immediately went down in the annals of the tournament. It was perhaps the Round of 16 where he impressed the most, however, seeing off the previous year’s finalist and current year’s favourite Ivan Lendl, with whom he would share the spoils in Paris throughout the 1980s (four matches, two wins apiece at the end of the day).
These two squared off for the title in 1985, with Wilander winning in four sets by hurtling to the net, showing off a technique which also saw him win on the grass at the Australian Open in 1983 and 1984. He tried the same again in the 1987 final, but Lendl was on a higher plane that year, and won it on a fourth-set tie-break just as the heavens were about to open. The Swede regained his Paris title the following year, with 1988 proving to be his last great season (and one which saw him pick up a third Australian Open, the US Open crown and the honour of the world No.1 ranking). In the semi-final, he served up a 6-0 in the fifth set to see off an impetuous young American with flashy clothes and flowing locks by the name of Andre Agassi, while in the final, he put paid to home hopes by defeating France’s Henri Leconte, who put up valiant resistance in the first set before collapsing to a 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 defeat.
Wilander is of course inextricably linked with the history of French tennis. Five years before defeating the playboy lefty in the final, he lost to another local hero – Yannick Noah (imagine how different French tennis would have been if Wilander had won the first match and lost the second!) Wilander is today a regular visitor to the Porte d’Auteuil and has often said that he "loved nothing better than to be on Centre Court at Roland-Garros playing big matches". He is a genuine tennis aficionado and can often be found away from the cameras, following the action on the outside courts.
Mats Wilander’s record at Roland-Garros:
• 47 wins, nine defeats.
• Three titles (1982, 1985 and 1988) and two finals (1983, 1987). Mats Wilander also won three titles at the Australian Open (1983, 1984 and 1988) and one at the US Open (1988).
• 12 participations (the first in 1982 at the age of 17, the last in 1996 at the age of 31).
• 31 matches played on Centre Court (the first on 30 May 1982, in the Round of 16 against Ivan Lendl).
• Six five-set matches, and only one defeat (against Wayne Ferreira in 1982).
• Notable wins over Ivan Lendl (Round of 16 in 1982, 1985 final), Guillermo Vilas (1982 final), John McEnroe (semi-finals in 1985), Yannick Noah (quarter-finals in 1984 and 1987), Boris Becker (semi-finals in 1987), Andre Agassi (semi-finals in 1988).