Mats Wilander is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player from Sweden. He is holder of seven ‘Grand Slam’ singles titles – 3 ‘Australian Open’, 3 ‘French Open’ and 1 ‘US Open’. He also captured a ‘Wimbledon’ men’s doubles title. An early bird in professional tennis he created sensation in the world of tennis in 1982 by becoming the ‘French Open’ singles champion when he was still a few months short of 18. By the time he was 21, he bagged four ‘Grand Slam’ titles, which many players would strive to achieve in a lifetime. His achievements reached pinnacle in 1988 when he secured three ‘Grand Slam’ titles (‘Australian Open’, ‘French Open’ and ‘US Open’) out of four and attained number one world ranking in September that year. He won eight ‘Grand Prix Super Series’ titles and also remained a driving force in 1980s in Sweden’s run of 7 successive ‘Davis Cup’ finals. Throughout his career he won a total of 33 singles titles and 7 doubles titles. Along with Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he is the only man to win ‘Grand Slam’ singles titles on grass, hard as well as clay courts. He holds a record of winning at least 2 ‘Grand Slam’ singles titles on each of the three courts, a feat shared by Rafael Nadal. He was included in the ‘International Tennis Hall of Fame’ in 2002.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on August 22, 1964, in Växjö, Kronobergs län, Sweden, to Einar Wilander and his wife Karin Wilander.
As any other kid in Sweden, Wilander also used to play soccer and ice hockey and was introduced to tennis later when his father himself took interest in the sport and started playing it, inspired by ‘Davis Cup’ he watched on TV.
Einar Wilander created a tennis court out of a local factory parking lot and young Mats gradually became interested in the game.
With time he started enjoying junior tennis tournaments and in 1979 won the ‘Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships’ under 16 boy’s tournament.
In 1980 he made his professional debut at the clay court tournament in Båstad, Sweden.
In September 1981, he lost his sole career match against ace Swedish player Björn Borg.
His intense focus and dedication towards the game soon saw him winning the junior ‘French Open’ singles title against Bonnie Gadusek in 1981. He also won the European under 16 and under 18 tournaments and was beginning to get noticed in the world of tennis.
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As an unseeded player he emerged as a surprise package in the world of tennis during the 1982 ‘French Open’ tournament. He moved up step-by-step during the tournament beating experienced and ace players and defeated second seed Ivan Lendl in the fourth round.
In the quarterfinals he defeated Vitas Gerulaitis, the fifth seed and thereafter triumphed in the semi-final against José Luis Clerc, the fourth seed. As the semi-final match came to an end, Wilander, who was in dilemma regarding a questionable referee decision and did not want to win the game on such circumstances, made an appeal for a replay of the match ball. This gesture of Wilander earned him the ‘Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy’.
The finals saw a nail biting match of around 4 hours and 42 minutes resulting in Wilander emerging as the new champion of the 1982 ‘French Open’ singles title beating third seed Guillermo Vilas. With this achievement the 17 year, 9 months old Wilander became the youngest ever ‘Grand Slam’ singles men’s champion. This record was later broken by Boris Becker and Michael Chang.
In 1982 he won three other tournaments, earned the ‘Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal’ and attained a rank of number seven by the year end.
In 1983 ‘Australian Open’ men’s singles, he defeated the defending champion Johan Kriek in the quarterfinals and reached the final beating McEnroe in the semi-finals. He moved on to win the final defeating Ivan Lendl in straight sets to become the new ‘Australian Open’ champion and thus earning his second ‘Grand Slam’ singles title. His other achievements that year include 8 other tournament wins encompassing two ‘Grand Prix Tennis Championship Series’ titles. That year he climbed to the number 4 position.
In 1984 he successfully defended and retained his ‘Australian Open’ title, won his third ‘Grand Prix Tennis Championship Series’ title and retained his number 4 ranking.
His winning spree continued and in 1985 he won his second ‘French Open’ singles title and with that he became a holder of four ‘Grand Slam’ titles that he achieved in four consecutive years.
Although he failed to win any of the ‘Grand Slam’ singles titles in 1986, he achieved a ranking of number 2 on April 28 that year and by the year end he finished at number 3. That year he won ‘Wimbledon’ men’s doubles title along with Joakim Nyström, which remained the only ‘Grand Slam’ doubles title he won in his entire career. His fourth ‘Grand Prix Tennis Championship Series’ title also came that year.
He won two ‘Grand Prix Tennis Championship Series’ titles in 1987 and a total of five tournaments and finished the year with rank number 3.
His most fruitful year however was 1988 when the unstoppable Wilander reached the zenith of his career. He started off the year by winning his third ‘Australian Open’ singles title in January on the hard court first defeating two-time defending champion Stefan Edberg in the semifinals and then beating Pat Cash in the final. He then captured his third and final ‘French Open’ men's singles title defeating Henri Leconte in straight sets. Thereafter he won his only ‘US Open’ men’s singles title defeating three time defending champion Ivan Lendl. With this he achieved three ‘Grand slam’ titles in that year and a total of seven in his career. That year he also won two ‘Grand Prix Tennis Championship Series’ titles and achieved the world number 1 rank on September 12, 1988, that he held for 20 weeks.
In 1995 he was tested positive for cocaine during ‘French Open’ following which ‘ATP Tour’ imposed a 3 months suspension on him.
He took retirement in 1996. Post retirement he remained captain of the Swedish ‘Davis Cup’ team and also coached Marat Safin. He also participates in a few senior tournaments.
He coached Tatiana Golovin from July 2007 till the year end and Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2008.
He is a regular columnist for the newspaper ‘L'Equipe. Wilander’ and also hosts the ‘Eurosport’ television series, ‘Game, Set and Mats’.
Personal Life & Legacy
On January 3, 1987, he married South Africa born model Sonya Mulholland. The couple has five children are Erik, Karl, Emma, Oskar and Travis of whom Erik suffers from epidermolysis bullosa.
Wilander and Sonya have aided in raising funds for the cause of research to cure epidermolysis bullosa.
In 2009 he came up with a unique concept, ‘Wilander on Wheels’, a travelling tennis fantasy experience where people can get an opportunity of hitting with him, a Former World Number 1 player, in their backyards. For the last six years he and his partner travel the country in an RV in this pursuit.