Rex Bellamy

Mats Wilander of Sweden, 17 years and 9 months old, who was competing for the first time, won the French Championship by beating Guillermo Vilas 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 in 4 hours and 42 minutes here yesterday. The final was an admirably deplorable exercise in physical and mental stamina on a humid afternoon when the temperature was 27 C in the shade and 36 C in the open...Above all, though, it was the last chapter in one of the most amazing stories in the history of tennis. Wilander became the youngest of French champions on the 26th birthday of the previous youngest champion, his compatriot Bjorn Borg, who has won the title six times - more often than anyone else, but did not defend it this year.

Wilander also became the only player except Ken Rosewall (1952 and 1953) to win the French Junior and Open championships in consecutive years. In his last four matches Wilander beat Ivan Lendl, Vitas Gerulaitis, José-Luis Clerc and Vilas: respectively ranked third, ninth, sixth and fourth in the world.

Just think about all that. It is the stuff of schoolboy fiction, even fairytales. A curly-haired, genial lad from a town called Vaxjo, tucked away in a forest, suddenly jumped from obscurity to win the most gruelling tournament in the calendar. Within a week or so a boy became a man and a star was born (the clichés are irresistible.) Wilander's performance should be remembered for its romantic and historic connotations, rather than the fact that his ultimate success seemed to be chiselled out of stone. "I could not have beaten him any other way", WIlander said later. The second rally contained 59 shots and set a pattern for the match. We began to wonder whether the best of five sets meant the best of five days...

(Extracts from Game Set and Deadline: a Tennis Odyssey, London: Kingswood Press, 1986.)    

(Originally from The Times, June  1982)