WILANDER NEEDS TO BE AT HIS BEST
Mats Wilander, who won the French men's singles championship in 1982 and 1985, reached the final for the fifth time by beating Andre Agassi 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 yesterday. A thrilling, wonderfully spectacular match lasted three hours and 50 minutes. Six years ago Wilander, then aged 17 years and nine months, became the youngest French singles champion of either sex. He considers that Agassi, aged 18 years and one month, is more mature than the Wilander of 1982. "He's a hell of a player", Wilander said. "He surprised me. I didn't think he was this good. I've never played anybody who hits the ball like that. He's going to be in the top 10 for the next five to 10 years."
Wilander has the tired eyes and deeply lined face of a battle-hardened veteran on clay. He played his best tennis of the championships because he had to. Nothing was more impressive than the anticipation that took him off the mark fast for the extraordinary variety of shots Agassi played: most of them like rifle shots, but some as gentle as snow-flakes dancing on air. Agassi was tactically smart and technically daring. He played drive-volleys (rare products for a two-fisted backhand). Sometimes he chipped his backhand one-handed. He used the drop-and-lob routine as if he had been born to play on clay. After a few games Agassi realised that Wilander was usually in line to deal with brutally violent forehands - whereupon Agassi began to fire bullets from the backhand. Wilander could never be sure what would happen next - but kept his eyes open and his brain in gear.
What a striking contrast they were, with the impassive Wilander sliding smoothly into position and floating the ball back into awkward places while the exuberant Agassi gasped and roared as he flung his boyish frame into one ferocious assault after another. Agassi had to make all the pace and at times was a little impetuous and erratic. But he was as happy as a schoolboy at playtime (though he spent even longer in the classroom). Agassi kept clapping Wilander's ripostes. He chatted up two line judges, who made close calls in his favour. During a light shower he borrowed a spectator's umbrella and prepared to receive service. Even Wilander had to smile. Inevitably the crowd took Agassi to their hearts. It all boiled down to the first game of the fifth set. Agassi had two break points but lost them. For the first time he became disheartened - and aware that, competitively, he was terminally tired, that playtime was over. "That game", Wilander said later, "turned out to be more important than either of us realized."
"I gave it all I had but didn't have quite enough", Agassi said. "Mats moves you around and works you. If I'm ever going to win a tournament like this I have to be a lot stronger. That will come with time. I'm still growing." What a pity it is that such an exciting player, such a charming man, will be relaxing at home in Las Vegas during Wimbledon. What a final we should have, because Wilander's opponent will be the adventurously volatile Henri Leconte, a Frenchman who embodies such words as panache and élan. Leconte beat Jonas Svensson 7-6, 6-2, 6-3. Leconte provided the fireworks. Svensson lit the touchpapers.
(The Times, 4th June 1988)