Mats Wilander and Henri Leconte, Roland Garros 1988

By David Irvine, The Guardian, Monday June 6 1988

It is perhaps an apt comment on their contrasting sense of priorities, as well as their ability (or otherwise) to play their best tennis when it matters most, that Mats Wilander, who has never been ranked number 1 in the world, now holds as many Grand Slam titles as Ivan Lendl, the world champion since 1985.

Yesterday the 23-year-old Swede claimed his sixth major singles championship, and his third on the red clay of the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, when he cut the charging Henri Leconte‘s challenge to ribbons by 7-5 6-2 6-1 in the most one-sided final since his distinguished compatriot Bjorn Borg, annihilated Vitas Gerulaitis in 1980.

Wilander, a quiet and self-effacing man who has never been fully appreciated by British audiences – his best performance was to reach the quarter-finals last year – is nevertheless the only player yet to win major championships on red clay, grass and synthetic surfaces.
But heading the computer, a favourite topic of Lendl’s, has never bothered Wilander. When he said as much, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were appalled, but his views have not changed.

“It’s always been more important to me to win the big events; that’s what really counts. To get to no.1 you have to win almost every tournament you play, and that’s not my style any more. But now I’ve won two Grand Slams in a year for the fist time, so the next step has to be the US Open and Wimbledon.”

Indeed Wilander is now halfway to completing the first Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969. “But that’s still a dream” he admitted, “although I have to recognise that the chance is there.”

Many wondered if his superb five-set victory over Pat Cash in the final of the Australian Open at the new Flinders Park stadium in January indicated that he had changed his game too much to maintain his supremacy on clay.
But Wilander, whose closest call came when he met Slobodan Zivojinovic, gave an emphatic answer to such speculation by resisting Leconte’s first-set challenge before overwhelming him.

“I was a bit worried when he served for the first set at 5-4” said Wilander, “but not, I feel, as mch as he was. When I won the first set that was it. After that he was far too tense.”
This showed in a French flood of backhand errors, while his own passing shots, hit with deadly accuracy from either side, were never better.
A low-level pass by the Patrouille de France, the Gallic equivalent of the Red Arrows, celebrated 100 years since the birth of Roland Garros and brought a sense of anticipation to the occasion which Leconte whipped to a climax as he broke Wilander to love at 4-4.
But the journey from climax to anticlimax was swift. Wilander broke back, took the set and proceeded to make Leconte look as out of place in a final as Steffi Graf had done to Natalia Zvereva 24 hours earlier.

Wilander said that although he was aware that Leconte was not regarded with the same hero-worship as Yannick Noah, he was surprised that the crowd “were not really there when he needed them most.”

Jean Borotra, who will be 90 in August, and his 87-year-old fellow musketeer René Lacoste, the losing finalist when the stadium was first used 60 years ago, presented Wilander with the trophy and the winner’s cheque for £150,000.

Last Sunday in Miami, Martina Hingis captured her 38th doubles title, her first. 17 years ago in Miami she was crowned the new Queen of tennis. Between those two dates? Lots of highs and lows, trophies and retirements.

Summary of an article published in French sports daily L’Equipe, translated by Tennis Buzz:

By sweeping Monica Seles in final at Key Biscayne 6-2 6-1 in only 44 minutes, Martina Hingis reached the number one ranking at age 16 1/2. A record of precocity that still stands to this day.
Surpassed in all areas of the game, Monica Seles didn’t know how to counter Martina Hingis’ tactical intelligence. The stronger she hit the ball, the quicker it came back at her.

Despite her precocity, her accession to the top was ineluctable, scheduled a long time ago. Scheduled since her birth on September 30, 1980 in Kosice in the then Czechoslovakia? Perhaps not, but her mother Melanie Molitor put a lot of effort for her daughter to succeed. This former good player named her daughter Martina in honor of Martina Navratilova and put her on tennis courts at the age of 3. Two years later she entered her first tournament and in 1987 mother and daughter exiled in Switzerland.

Her progress and exceptional talent attracted agents, sponsors and medias and she hasn’t deceived them. She became junior world champion in 1994 and turned pro the same year.
Her arrival on the circuit at such an early age was criticized by many people who feared Hingis would follow the same path as troubled teen prodigy Jennifer Capriati.

In 1996, Hingis reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semifinals at the US Open (loss to Graf 5-7 3-6) and finished her season with another loss to Steffi Graf in the Masters final at Madison Garden 0-6 in the fifth set.
1997 was her biggest year (71 wins, 5 defeats). She captured her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne against Mary Pierce and also won in Sydney, Tokyo, Paris, Key Biscayne and Hilton Head. And just before the clay court tournament in Hamburg she fell off a horse. Injured, she didn’t play any clay court tournament before Roland Garros, where she lost the final to Iva Majoli.
She then won at Wimbledon (victory over Jana Novotna 2-6 6-3 6-3) and the US Open (victory over Venus Williams 6-0 6-4).
Even though she won two more Grand Slam titles after this fantastic 1997 season (Australian Open in 1998 and 1999), the Swiss was no longer as dominant when approaching the 2000s.
Overpowered by the Williams sisters and bothered by recurring injuries, she dropped out of the top 10 at the end of 2002, for the first time since 1995. She announced her retirement in May 2003, at only 22, after 209 weeks at the top ranking.

She came back in 2006, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros but in 2007 she tested positive to cocaine at Wimbledon. Suspended for two years by the ITF, she retired again.
Since then she came back to the courts to coach or play a few doubles tournaments, but she was also often on the front page of gossip magazines.

Andre Agassi will take part to the World Tennis Day Showdown in London on Monday, where he’ll meet archrival Pete Sampras – in another Wimbledon final rematch Ivan Lendl will face Pat Cash.
Prior to his return to London Agassi talked to Tennis Oggi about Wimbledon and its importance in his career.

Interview by Roberto Angelelli, translated by Tennis Buzz

22 years after his first Grand Slam triumph, Agassi recounts the historical moments on that magical green mantle, which helped him to grow as a player but also as a man.
“The last time I played in London – says Andre – was for the opening of the roof on Centre Court in 2009. But other times I came back just to enjoy the city.”

“I’ve always looked for an excuse to set foot on those courts again, and I think the best way is just that: play with Pete. Wimbledon makes me reflect and memories resurface. My career owes much to this tournament and to these people. I’ve learned so much here, I’m very fond of London. Here my wife shined and I grew up and matured, any excuse is a good one to come back and I look forward to it.”

My first experience in England was not good,” admitted Agassi. “It coincided with a particular period of my life, I felt overwhelmed by the big city and from different cultures. Playing for the first time on a totally different surface made ​​me feel like an intruder. I felt like I was in a dollhouse. I have lived a unique, bizarre experience that blew me away enough to not want to come back, because of a number of reasons, for three or four years.”

Opposed to the dressing code of the tournament, which always requires a predominantly white clothing, Agassi ended his self-imposed exile in 1991. And one year after, he won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles. A real turning point in the career of the American tennis player, who then wrote some of the most memorable pages in the history of tennis.

“When I really understood what Wimbledon meant to our sport, I came back and was forgiven by the British people. I think it was a great relationship, something unique, that grew over time. Every time in my career I played in London, regardless of the outcome, I always felt people were ready to support me and this helped me a lot in my life and career, to realize most of my dreams.

8 time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi was in Paris this weekend for the French Open and he held an autograph session to the delight of his fans for the inauguration of the new Hour Passion boutique.

Andre Agassi also had an opportunity to test the Longines Smash Corner at Roland Garros.
The Smash Corner is an interactive game where guests can test their serve speed against various tennis stars for 2€. Each player gets three serves and a certificate, but participants this weekend got something better – advice from Agassi himself! The proceeds from the Smash Corner go to Andre Agassi and wife Steffi Graf’s respective charities: Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and Children for Tomorrow.

To further support the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, Longines presented Agassi with a US$50,000 cheque at a dinner at the Champs Elysees. Set up in 1994, this foundation is dedicated to improving the education of disadvantaged children in the USA.

Since 2007 Longines has been the official timekeeper for the French Open at Roland Garros. The brand uses this occasion to organise its Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament for international under-13 players. These young tennis stars compete for the grand prize: funding that will finance their sports equipment until their 16th birthday and the chance to play with Longines Ambassadors: Andre Agassi and Jim Courier in 2011, Steffi Graf and Sabine Lisicki last year.

AA2

AA3

AA4

AA6

Photos by Longines

Need a break between two tennis matches at Roland Garros? Pay a visit to Roland Garros tennis museum (also called Tenniseum), situated near Gate B. It is open to the public free of charge from 10am to 7pm during the tournament.

Tennis museum at Roland Garros

The museum was created in 2003, I first visited it in 2005 or 2006 but haven’t since.
The permanent exhibition area, that has been totally revamped last year, features some player memorabilia, a few videos as well as some infos about tennis history and the future Roland Garros expansion.

Roland Garros museum

Roland Garros museum

Roland Garros museum
Read More