Mats Wilander exclusively in Legends’ Voice at the 1982 French Open triumph: “I was 17 and fearless”

At the age of 17, Mats Wilander won the French Open in Paris in 1982. The Swede won a total of seven Grand Slam tournaments. The 57-year-old expert has been involved for many years Eurosport.

In 1982, such a career was not predictable. Even Wilander did not believe he could ever win a Grand Slam tournament. “I was a little surprised that I was even able to win matches and survive as a professional,” Wilander explains in Eurosport-Series The voice of the legends.

Although he had won the Roland Garros Juniors Champion last year, there was no hype at all like the one currently surrounding Carlos Alcaraz. Wilander, however, did not win the hearts of the fans solely through victories; the audience was particularly impressed with his sportsmanship and his fair demeanor on the court.

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You can see in his how Mats Wilander experienced the tournament in Roland Garros in 1982, and how long it took him after the final to realize that he had won the French Open The voice of the legends.

By Mats Wilander

Hi dear tennis fans,

before the French Open in 1982, I was a little surprised that I could even win matches and compete as a professional. To be honest, I was just happy to win matches. I knew I was probably by far the best 17-year-old player in the world, and I only knew how to play on clay. In 1981, I had won the junior tournament at Roland-Garros. I played really smart as a kid, but I never had a plan against men.

I was naive and not near good enough to hit anyone. While I was sure I could learn what to do with my game, I was not very sure it would ever be enough to win titles. I knew what I was capable of – and it was not much: no first serve, no forehand to beat the winner. I had a good backhand, but no slice. I knew how to volley – I always knew that because I played a lot of doubles – but that’s all. That’s how I was then. I had never imagined I could win a Grand Slam. There was no Wilander hype in 1982, just as there is Alcaraz hype today. Not at all.

I played my best match in the whole tournament and imagined myself to be Bjørn Borg. I played much more aggressively.

I had a pretty good draw. The most important match was Fernando Luna in the third round. For some reason, they put me on track 1, and I played my best match of the entire tournament and imagined myself to be Bjørn Borg. I played much more aggressively. And after the fight, I thought, ‘Wow, that was an out-of-body experience.’ I think that was silly, but Luna was great for me. And I was easy. Three sentences. I realized I had reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam. Incomprehensible. And I played great. I had no problems at all.

And then I faced Ivan Lendl. I saw, of course, how Lendl lost to Björn in the final the year before. And I understood what Borg was doing to him. I said to myself: You just have to run and stay alive. But that was before Lendl became Lendl. He had not won anything yet. I started noticing that the guy looked tired. He did not seem very interested. Maybe he was nervous, I do not know. But I was very sure I would not ruin it. To me, he failed. He ended up not being interested in beating me mentally anymore. I think it gave me a lot of confidence.

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The semifinal against Jose Luis Clerc was special because of the famous match point, which I asked for a repeat, because I would not win by making a wrong decision. People said, ‘This guy is a real sportsman.’ They were shocked. They had never seen anything like it. I saw the people in the first few boxes, it was over for them. And then they looked at each other when they heard Judge Jacques Dorfman say: ‘At the request of Mats Wilander, the point is taken back.’ They said, ‘Can you believe it?’ But for me, there was no other choice. The guy hit the ball on the line. I just could not believe that the line judge would not look at the marker. It was just obvious.

My two brothers had just arrived from Sweden and then entered the locker room. They literally put me up against the wall. Then they said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ But I think they were obviously very proud of me.

It was definitely the best thing that happened to me in my career. It took me to another level as an athlete. There are more important things than winning tennis matches. Winning is secondary. The way you achieve something, the way you behave, was probably more important to me than winning than to most people. I have won many sportsmanship awards for this. It gave me a lot of confidence in my behavior on the tennis court.

Of course, if I had lost the battle … My two brothers had just come from Sweden and then they came into the locker room. They literally put me up against the wall. Then they said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ But I think they were obviously very proud of me. At that time, I also knew I would defeat José Luis. In my opinion, I’m not going to lose a fifth set against this guy. I felt like I was better. Jose Luis was so shocked that he just collapsed at the next battle point. To this day, he calls me ‘Junior’. We keep talking and laughing about it.

But even after beating Lendl, Gerulaitis in the quarterfinals or Clerc in the semifinals, I never thought I would win Roland-Garros because Guillermo Vilas was still there. He was the Nadal of the 1980s. He played with a lot of spin and was extremely strong. Back then, it was a physical specimen. A month earlier I had lost to him in Madrid. I even had a poster of Vilas in my room during the French Open.

Mats Wilander in the final of the French Open in 1982

Photo Credit: Getty Images

I remember my best friend Joakim Nystrom calling me before the final against Vilas. He asked, ‘What are you doing?’ My answer: ‘Well, I’m writing my speech for second place because I’ve never given a speech in front of an audience.’ In fact, I had never given a speech to anyone before. So I tried to think about what I would say after the loss. My only goal before the final was to win one match per. set. And I won a match in the first set (1: 6 for Vilas, editor’s note)so I was already happy!

Somehow it got tighter and in the second set there was tie-break that I could win. I became the happiest person in the world, because now I could lose six times in a row. It was not a big problem. I do not remember how I won the next two. All I know is that Vilas started throttling like I’ve never seen before. He was so tense. I began to understand his slowdown, and it gave me the freedom to step forward a little and get a little online.

We played four sets in 4:42 hours. 1: 6, 7: 6, 6: 0, 6: 4 – there are not many games. So it was more of a disaster to watch. But I did not like. I didn’t even realize I wanted to win the French Open until I literally hit the very last blow. My victory cheer was simply ‘okay, thank you’. I sat down and only understood what had just happened during the interview. When the guy asked me about it, I realized I had just won the French Open. I really can not remember my feelings after the match.

Mats Wilander raises the trophy after his French Open victory in 1982

Photo Credit: Getty Images

People always say that experience should be an advantage. To me, that is the worst and most misunderstood factor in a player. I was 17 and I was fearless because I was not afraid of the unknown. There was no consequence if I lost.

I do not think you can win a Grand Slam tournament at 5pm today. But at 19, 20, yes. Of course, the game has become much more physical. But the key is maturity in tennis. The maturity level for me or Boris Becker compared to the maturity of a 17-year-old today, it is equivalent to comparing boys who are 17 but only appear on the field at 12 because they are completely overtrained from an early age and are not ii able to solve their own problems. And when they try to solve the problem, they are told what to do. With every single workout, with every single shot. Different times, different mentalities, for sure.

Follow Mats Wilander on Instagram (@matswilanderofficial).
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