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Applez
01-26-2006, 09:04 PM
Wilander has the dirt on Federer: get under his skin
By Rohit Brijnath
January 27, 2006

JUST exchanging strokes on a tennis court against Roger Federer is not going to cut it. It's time, says Mats Wilander, for the Swiss champion's contemporaries to crawl into his head and slip under his skin, to not swallow defeat with a resigned shrug of the shoulders, to discover (perhaps even invent) some part of him that is mildly annoying, and be driven by it.

To find an edge, they need to stir themselves. No man is invincible and, at this tournament, Federer has occasionally struggled, but in the larger picture he has for two years mostly controlled his peers.

And while Federer's mental muscularity is intimidating, says Wilander, he believes the Swiss is helped by the fact that "the other guys are actually not that sorry to lose to him, which I kind of miss a little bit".

"I think they are sorry but they're not doing everything within the rules to disturb him, like talk to him, or nudge him, or get in his head," says Wilander.

"Can you imagine John McEnroe not getting into Roger's head? No. Jimmy Connors? No. Boris Becker? No.

"I have to say, he wins a lot of matches in the first 40 minutes and it just looks like, 'Oh, well, he's too good'. I think there's fire in players to beat him because he's a great player but there's no fire to beat him because they don't like him."

Despite appearing as a player of conspicuous cool, Wilander, a seven-time grand slam champion, admits that within his mind he sought this advantage himself.

"I've played a lot of matches where I don't care if he's a great player, I just don't like you," wilander explains. "I don't dislike [you], but I can find something in you that I don't like to fuel me. And I think maybe you've got find something to fuel you against Roger Federer, because it ain't enough to just play tennis."

Of course, it might be easier if Federer presented himself as a hateful figure, but he appears an affable fellow - so was Wilander - seemingly reluctant to intimidate with anything else but his game, advertising his pleasure to be on court. Wilander, in fact, sees this as proof that domination does not need aloofness and arrogance. "They used to say there were no nice No.1s, that you couldn't be a nice guy. But I think it's great in tennis most of them are really nice guys outside as well, like an [Andre] Agassi or a Pete [Sampras] or Jim Courier. "They're great guys, they're great players, they're not playing head games, they're just playing. I think Roger is just enjoying so much to be on court feeling that good because that's hard to repeat in the rest of your life."

World No.1 in 1988, a year in which he won every grand slam tournament except Wimbledon, the Swede has an agile mind and articulates it well, and while he cannot burrow his way into Federer's brain, he can at least bring some clarity to the mental mechanics of a world No.1.

"I think that the advantage Federer has is that he's not worried about how he's playing," says Wilander. "When you're No.1, when you feel like you're the best player in the world, you are not worried about how you are playing.

"It doesn't boil down to the tennis anyway, it boils down to the mental side, that's why you're No.1. It's not suddenly that your serve is much better or your forehand is much better, I think it's just that your whole game raises because your mind is so much stronger. "Mentally you're there all the time, you're focused every shot, every moment, every second, and there's no doubt in your mind that you're doing the right thing. Even if you're losing there's no doubt you are doing the right thing There's no fear when you are playing that well, there are no options but to win." To be the best in the world is to no longer need your hand to be held, insists Wilander; when confidence brews within the player, he is certain of himself.

"Roger wears it [the No.1 ranking] better than anyone I've seen in a long time," he said.