Tennis Players That Changed the Game: Mats Wilander

R LSenior Analyst IOctober 25, 2008

This is a player that I'm not too familiar with. It's never easy being overshadowed by the great Bjorn Borg. However, Wilander is a Swede sensation in his own right. The tennis world got their first glimpse of his tremendous talent at the 1982 French Open.

Being an unseeded player, Wilander had to face the second seed, Ivan Lendl, in the fourth round. Following his upset against Lendl, he would go on to defeat the No. 3 (Guillermo Villas), No. 4 (Jose Luis Clerc), and No. 5 (Vitas Gerulaitis) seed on his way to the title.

At 17 years of age, Wilander was the youngest male to ever win the French Open. Since then, this record has been broken by Boris Becker and Michael Chang. In 1982, he finished as the seventh ranked player in the world.

Wilander's second Grand Slam title came in 1983 at the Australian Open. He defeated John McEnroe in the semifinals and Lendl in the finals to achieve glory again. The following year, he successfully defended his Australian Open title, but lost to Lendl in the semifinals of the French.

In 1985, Wilander earned his second French Open title and beat who? That's right, Ivan Lendl. Fellow Swede, Stefan Edberg defeated Wilander in the finals of the Australian Open that year.

For the next two years, Wilander didn't add to his Grand Slam trophy case but still managed to finish with the No. 3 ranking on both occasions. It was in 1988 that Wilander was on top of the tennis world.

In January, he won his third Australian Open title, getting the better of Edberg in the semifinals and Pat Cash in the final. His third French Open title also came to him before he defeated Lendl once again to win the U.S. Open for the first time.

In doing so, he ended Lendl's reign of three years as the No. 1 ranked player. Wilander was the top ranked player for only 20 weeks before Lendl took it back. Still, he certainly made his mark.

Wilander's career would take a downward spiral over the next few years. He briefly returned as a top 10 player in 1990 but finished the year as the No. 41 ranked player.

The best result that would come in the remaining Grand Slams of his career was a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open in 1990. Edberg defeated Wilander easily in straight sets.

Two years ago, after Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal at the French Open, Wilander made these comments.

"Federer, today, unfortunately came out with no balls...You don't find too many champions in any sport in the world without heart or balls. He might have them, but against Nadal, they shrink to a very small size and it's not once, it's every time."

This is how I came about realizing who Mats Wilander is. Along with his seven Grand Slam singles titles, he won a doubles title at Wimbledon.

Even though the Wimbledon title eluded him in singles competition, two of his Australian Open victories came while the tournament was played on grass. Along with Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors, this makes Wilander one of the three men to have won a Grand Slam singles title on grass, clay, and hard courts.

Personally, I hope we haven't heard the last of Mats Wilander. His comments on Federer's performance against Nadal were hysterical and also true in a way. I think he and John McEnroe would make a great pairing in commentary.

Whether or not they would get along is another story.