Richard Finn

Mats Wilander follows an old custom in his new home. As he did in his native Sweden, the no.2 ranked men's tennis player takes his shoes off when he enters his house here. He asks his guests to do the same.

"You always take your shoes off in a Swedish house", says Wilander, 23. "It is not a holy thing like the Japanese. You take your hat, your jacket off when you go inside and so why not your shoes? Shoes are made for the outside. It keeps the house clean."

The shoes-off custom appeals to his wife, model Sonya Mulholland, too - but for practical reasons. Some day their lawn will be landscaped and lush. Now, it's mostly dirt, which is easily tracked inside...

With his move to this five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home on four acres late last year, he has moved within striking distance of Ivan Lendl. First, they are neighbors. Asked how close they are, Lendl has said "about 10 minutes by car, seven minutes walking." Second, although Lendl beat Wilander in the 1987 U.S. Open and French Open finals and remains the no.1 ranked player, he has missed several tournaments this year because of injuries. Meanwhile, Wilander has narrowed the gap (on the computer Lendl has 160.8 points, Wilander 138.5).* Third, both are avid golfers. Wilander claims an 8-handicap; Lendl says his is a 10...

Settling in has given him new confidence, says Wilander. "This is the first time I had a real home. I'm more eager now. I know where to put my energy, I'm not wasting it on stupid things."

Says fellow Swedish player Stefan Edberg: "He is keener than before, practicing more than before." "I have always liked the way Wilander has played", says Jimmy Connors. "I always thought he could be the best if he worked one more inch and now he seems to have that attitude." Indeed, Wilander has improved his serve, and although his strength is from the baseline, he has become more daring in the last year, occasionally coming to the net. His tournament play the last year mirrors his off-court composure. In 1987 he won five tournaments, was a finalist at the French Open, the U.S. Open, the Nabisco Masters and Barcelona tournaments and an important member of Sweden's winning Davis Cup team. He began 1988 by winning the Australian Open with a stirring five-set match against Pat Cash of Australia.

"If life is good outside, that's when I get psyched and concentrate the best", says Wilander. "For me, if I'm happy, I play much better." Two years ago, he said he was tired and needed a break from tennis. He took a sabbatical and got married. He credits his wife with expanding his social arena. "Before all the people were from just one area, tennis", says Wilander. "Now it's just great. I have friends who don't care whether I win or lose. Here I say I play tennis and the other people just say O.K. I know what I've done. And it's good not living in the past, but living in the future."

There is also little evidence of his career at home. No rackets, trophy case or glossy photographs of him hoisting trophies or playing. Instead, a few cans of tennis balls lie on the den floor. Only that and the backyard court - covered with the same Deco Turf II surface used at the U.S. Open - tells visitors a serious player lives here. Inside there are few furnishings - just a king-sized bed in the master bedroom - and much decorating to be done. But large picture windows keep the house filled with sunlight. "Dark, small rooms are for old people", says Wilander.

(U.S.A. Today, 6th April 1988)

* Mats had not narrowed the computer gap between himself and Lendl by April 1988 primarily because the latter had missed tournaments due to injury. Lendl took part in the Australian Open, which Mats played brilliantly to win. He did miss some later on, but most of them were ones that Mats didn't play either, as he took a six-week break over the Feb.-March period. - "Spider".