Roland Garros 1985: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl

By David Irvine, World of Tennis 1986

Mats Wilander won the men’s title for the second time in four years. Wilander, at 17 the youngest player to become a French singles champion in 1982, confessed a conscious willingness to present himself to the public as “more interesting” than he had been hitherto. In that aim he undoubtedly succeeded. The Swede, who had not won a tournament of any sort since lifting the Australian crown in Melbourne six months previously, delighted a sell-out crowd in prising the championship from Ivan Lendl’s grasp by a margin: 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 – which accurately reflected the pattern of play. Wilander’s failures in Hamburg and Rome, where he was mesmerised by Miloslav Mecir, had suggested that his career might be in decline. McEnroe, Lendl and Yannick Noah, who had shown touches of his 1983 form in winning the Italian championship, all appeared better bets than Wilander for the men’s title. Only the Swedish press corps had absolute faith in their man, because “this is the one he really wants”. All the same, Wilander must have been mighty relieved to find himself in the opposite half of the draw to Mecir, his bete noire, and among non-Swedish journalists there was still no discernible shift in the odds on Wilander until he routed Germany’s golden boy, Boris Becker, in the second round with a display which cast an entirely different light on the 20-year-old’s attitude.

If Wilander’s positive play delighted, his frank dealings with the press proved more intriguing still. “There have been times recently when I’ve been very bored with tennis”, he admitted. “But I’ve been looking forward to the French for some months. I agree I play well in big events – I don’t know why. Maybe deep inside I’m not concentrating 100 percent at some other tournaments.” He acknowleged that the French public had disliked the way he had played in winning the title in 1982. “And so did I”, he added. “Unfortunately that was the only way I knew how to play then. Now I’m trying to change. I want to be more interesting.”

During the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf the week before the French, McEnroe had questioned Wilander’s motivation and speculated whether the Swede really wanted to be the best. “I’m trying as hard as I can to be no.1”, was Wilander’s assurance, “but if it means practising eight hours a day I’m not prepared to do that. It’s not worth it.” Wilander had a more direct answer to McEnroe in the semi-finals , where he beat him 6-1, 7-5, 7-5, matching the American for touch at the net and then destroying him with the accuracy of his passing shots.

Lendl‘s progress to his sixth defeat in seven Grand Slam finals was even more convincing than Wilander’s for at no time did he drop a set. When the crunch came, though, the Czech’s serve let him down, and once again his inflexibility left him without an alternative strategy to fall back on. His appearance – gaunt, hollow-eyed and nervous – revealed the enormous strain he felt. Wilander, though, played with almost carefree abandon, his subtle command of the conditions (seen best in the confident way he spiralled so many lobs into the wind) underlining his absolute belief in himself.

Leave a comment