Saturday, 23 October 2010

Mats Wilander interview

Mats Wilander was once the No. 1 men's tennis player in the world, winning seven Grand Slam titles during his heyday.

He had epic battles with John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors -- and while he thinks men's pro tennis is in good shape today, he'd love to see more competition.

"I think on the men's side, I think it's pretty healthy," said Wilander, 46, who will play in the Mercedes-Benz of Cherry Hill Pro Tennis Classic at the Cherry Hill Health & Racquet Club Sunday. "I think the longer that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play, the better it is for the game, but the longer the two of them are dominating as much as they do, the worse it is for the game. We need the guys that are ranked below them to push them to better things. Right now, they're a little too dominating, I think."

Wilander, who is based these days in Hailey, Idaho (which is part of the Sun Valley ski resort), retired from the ATP Tour in 1996, but he has played on the champions or seniors tours every year since then, averaging about one event per month. He also does tennis commentating for Eurosport, a European sports channel, during Grand Slam events.

Tennis is something Wilander knows well. A native of Sweden, he is one of only five men -- along with Connors, Andre Agassi, Nadal and Federer -- to have won Grand Slam titles on grass courts, hard courts and clay courts. He won his fourth career Grand Slam singles title in 1985 at the age of 20, the youngest man in history to do so.

While he made history in the sport, he's also had some controversy in his career. Wilander tested positive for cocaine at the 1995 French Open and was banned for three months, although he denied allegations of drug use.

He thinks there was a lot more parity when he played compared to today, when players such as Federer and Nadal just flat-out dominate. Nadal is currently No. 1 in the 2010 ATP Rankings, followed by Federer and Novak Djokovic.

"In our day, because the physical strength and power hadn't come into play as much and feel was such a big part of it, there were six or seven guys in the '80s that we all thought were the best players in the world on any given day," Wilander said in a telephone interview. "Today, the feel has gone away and it's more about speed and physical power. The easier it is to play the game, the harder it is for the guys below to beat the best players because they just don't have an off day."

Wilander said there were times that McEnroe would have an "off day," but in today's game, that just doesn't happen.

"Some days his feel just wasn't there and he had an off day and then we could all play with him," Wilander said. "It doesn't happen with Nadal. He doesn't play on feel, he plays on physical power and speed, so he doesn't have any off days. He's strong every day."

On Sunday, Wilander won't be playing the role of analyst. He'll be playing the role of tennis advocate. He'll be teaching the sport he loves so much and playing it as well.

The inaugural event includes a junior clinic, an adult pro-am as well as the exhibition, which features Wilander, former 14th-ranked player Jan-Michael Gambill, among others.

Proceeds will benefit the Children's Regional Hospital at Cooper, as well as the tennis teams at Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West high schools.

"It's actually huge for the club," Cherry Hill Health & Racquet Club general manager Brian Kosa said of Wilander's appearance. "We actually chose Mats for that reason as a first-time event. This is a great tennis area, the South Jersey area.

"He's all about helping tennis. He's still teaching tennis. He's all about growing the sport of tennis. That was motivation to us, too."

Wilander, a married father of four, loves the teaching aspect of the game now and enjoys playing in these types of events.

"It's really fun," said Wilander, who also runs "Wilander on Wheels," a traveling tennis fantasy camp. "It's a promotion of the game of tennis, obviously, and I think the role has changed quite a bit. It's much more about entertaining and spreading the word on the game of tennis. It's a great sport. It's a good way to keep fit and healthy, physically and mentally."

Courtesy: CourierPost

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