John Roberts

The unflappable Mats Wilander is halfway to the Grand Slam, having developed a knack of picking off local favourites in the finals of the Australian and French Championships.* The trend is hardly likely to be repeated at Wimbledon, where the Swede finds it almost as difficult to make headway as the Britons.

While it was natural that his mind should be steered towards the lawns of the All England Club after a smooth tactical triumph in straight sets against Henri Leconte on the red clay of Roland Garros yesterday, he approached the topic with the same measured caution he had displayed on court. "I feel more confident than before, that's for sure", he said, "but it's still a different story winning there than winning here. At Wimbledon you have to be a bit lucky. You have to have a good draw and win the big points. If the U.S. Open was next I'd say I had a good chance to win." Does this mean that he considers the feat of becoming the first player to win the Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 is beyond him? "It's still possible, but it's more of a dream. What is more important to me now is that I have won two grand slam titles in the same year. I have never done that before. The next step is to win Wimbledon or the U.S. Open." 

Wilander, 23, has now won the French Open three times, and the first two of his three Australian Open titles were on the grass of Kooyong, before the switch to a rubberised hard court at the new centre in Melbourne. Not that this helped him at Wimbledon, where a quarter-final defeat by an inspired Pat Cash last year was his best return to date. "The grass is different at Wimbledon and the ball bounces lower," he said, before conceding that "it's still the same game - serve and volley and coming into the net - so there's no real reason why I shouldn't do well."

Serve and volley is Leconte's game, and the left-hander used it to such dashing effect in the early stages of yesterday's match that he was serving for the first set at 5-4. At this moment the scene changed dramatically. An ominous wind began to blow, the sky grew darker, there were distant claps of thunder, and Leconte's backhand became as shaky as the branches of the chestnut trees visible above the Centre Court stands. Wilander, a patient, threatening figure on the baseline, applied the pressure, and the Frenchman's nerve began to give until he double-faulted and then missed a backhand volley to be broken. This was all the incentive Wilander required. Unlike Cash in the Australian final in January, Leconte was not likely to make a scrap of it after that, and the Swede won 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 in one hour 52 minutes, hitting double-handed backhand winners with the panache of David Gower on a good day to emphasise the impotence of many of the Frenchman's shots. "After I missed that volley in the first set Mats started to play better and better", Leconte said afterwards. "He played long and passed me very well."

(The Independent, 6th June 1988)

*And he beat Jimmy Connors in Florida that year, in the final of the 128-man, best-of-five sets Lipton tournament. And, last but not least, in the U.S. Open final he of course beat Ivan Lendl, who was soon to become an American. However, in that match he finally had most of the crowd on his side. - "Spider".