Did Wilander have an under utilized serve?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by Limpinhitter, Oct 23, 2011.

  1. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I've seen Wilander play several times and I always thought that he had excellent serve technique and could really bring it when he wanted to. The problem is that he almost never wanted to.

    It's funny because, in the era that was in transition from the big game to the backcourt game, I've knew a lot of very good players who were primarily backcourt Bjorn Borg clones who could really crank their serves "when they wanted to," But, it seemed that they almost never did. I've written about this before, and I wonder to what extent their reluctance to hit the big serve and finish the point quickly was just a part of a grinder's mindset.

    It would also seem that Wilander suffered from the same grinder's mindset. Wilander was a pretty big guy at 6'1" but he played like a little guy. He had a serve that could be a big weapon, but, he rarely employed it as such. Check out this clip from his 1987 US Open QF match against Mecir in which he hits some huge service aces. Clearly, Wilander could bring the heat when he wanted to. Then listen to Mary Carillo's commentary in which she alludes to Wilander's lack of a big serve when referring to the need for a big serve to win the USO.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGlvPu-PE24&feature=related
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
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  2. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near G.O.A.T.

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    Relax folks, ...
    Wilander was 6'1''?

    I'm sure I just saw him do an interview with Sampras and he looked at least 3 inches shorter than him.. You don't lose 3 inches in peak height by his age. He was 6'1''???
     
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  3. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near G.O.A.T.

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    Relax folks, ...
    I'm finding 6 foot exactly from a variety of sources online but yeh..

    Anyway, sorry that I can't contribute more to this thread in terms of the question. When I watch the numerous highlights of Wilander on youtube I do feel that he sometimes more or less serves to start the point and that this may well indeed be linked to his tactical grinding mindset. With that, he probably didn't take as full an advantage from his serve as he could have done but then, I'm only echoing what you've already opined.
     
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  4. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    He was always listed at 6'0 from what I recall.

    I also noticed that he appears quite a bit shorter than Sampras when he interviewed him, but note that Mats tends to stand with his head slumped forward quite a bit...(sort of like pete ON court! lol). Also, though Wilanders shoulders are much lower than Pete's, his head and and neck are longer. It seems to me that if he stands himself up completely straight, he's still probably within a couple inches of Sampras, which would make perfect sense. He may have shrunk a tad, and just because he was listed as 6'0 doesn't mean he wasn't actually say...5'11 and 1/2.
     
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  5. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I could have sworn I'd seen him listed as 6'1". Oh well, I'm an inch off.

    Anyway, I don't want this to go to far askew. 6' is still plenty tall enough to hit a huge serve if you want to, and he could. But, it seems he just didn't want to very often, and I just don't understand why a champion would just leave points on the table like that.
     
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  6. pundekman

    pundekman Rookie

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    i could have swore during the 80's i remembered that he was listed as 5'10" or 5' 11" max. Mcenroe was 5'11" and connors was 5'10" while lendl was 6'2"
     
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  7. scotus

    scotus Legend

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    He is probably 6'0 on his tippy toes ... with shoes on ... right after a good night's rest.
     
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  8. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Fascinating!

    Any insight as to why he didn't bring his serve more often?
     
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  9. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    I suspect it was largely mindset Limpin.

    I recall in the late 80's when Wilander really started popping his first serve, particularly the flat one down the middle for the occasional ace. It was said he had "added" that to his game....now commentators are always making things up like that (Agassi had a "brand new" huge first serve...about a dozen times over his career....unfortunately for Andre it didn't stick around very regularly ;-). Still, it may well be that Wilander wasn't too consistent or comfortable flattening it out before.

    Also though, Mats grew up with that emphasis on grinding on clay...he was such a high percentage player...remember what he did to Leconte with serve percentages?! I also recall that in the early 90's he publicly marveled at some of the younger players....he couldn't believe how the guys would hit such an incredible shot, but then hit the next one 10 feet long. As I recall, he made a similar comment about Sampras after losing to him at the open....

    Like many players from previous eras, I think Mats had much more of a manage your serve percentages wisely mentality...I think he was of the old school of thought that you shouldn't just go after aces...heck....remember that even some of the biggest servers of the eras just before him thought that way eg. Tanner, Gonzalez!

    Mat's second serve wasn't spectatcular, so maybe he was smart to think that way...after all...he had a pretty "decent" career ;-)

    But when you saw that he could hit a pretty good heater up the middle, indeed, one wonders if he shouldn't have done that more.
     
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  10. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    But, Mats' serve technique was impeccable. It just seems to me that an athlete of his caliber could have learned to maximize the benefits of a big serve. If he could win on the soft, fast grass of Kooyong Stadium with his strokes, I imagine he could have won a Wimbledon title (with the slower, firmer, higher bouncing grass), or two if he had dared to serve big. He was a better volleyer and net player than Lendl, IMO.

    PS: As for Pancho, his serve was stunningly consistent, especially his first serve, and big at the same time. Yet, he seemed to be able pull a Sampras and serve up a game of aces to dig out of a hole when needed.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2011
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  11. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Being an european clay court born player, in the late 70´s or early 80´s, they never minded about their serves.Borg needed Nastase ( whom, along Panatta was the last big clay court european server of his era) to learn how to serve.Lendl´s serve, in 1980-81 was not the booming serve he developed when he settled himself into an indoor player, which happened from 1982-83 on...and so forth.

    It´s not they couldn´t serve well, but the serve was, for almost all of them a mere " put into play" shot.

    As I said, of all the clay court specialist of that time, the only ones with really great serves were Panatta,Pecci,Noah and later on Gomez.Even US players like Dibbs,Arias,Krickstein,Teltscher,Solomon had weak serves.... were they small? yes, they were pretty small, but in the 1990´s, guys like Chang or Rios, samll too, had a much better serve.Menthality is wwhat counts.
     
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  12. pundekman

    pundekman Rookie

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    i remembered him serving like 100% first serves for a whole set! i think i saw it twice in French final and in the US Open final in 88. And he had aces too!
     
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  13. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I can see Mats not wanting to exert too much effort, or waste first serves, on big serves that will be largely neutralized on red clay.
     
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  14. BeHappy

    BeHappy Hall of Fame

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    I'd say 5'10'' max.
     
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  15. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Wilander was 6' 1"!??

    You coulda fooled me. I would have guessed he was 5' 11" or six feet.

    Is this like Hoad being 5' 8" and Laver at 5' 7"?
     
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  16. Colpo

    Colpo Professional

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    The stat that puts this conversation into perspective is that Mats missed only 2 first serves the entire '88 French Open final. I'm not talking double faults, I'm talking serving only 2 second serves the whole match (he made both). The issue of potential serve bigness, in Mats's case, is apples and oranges. Not part of the game plan.
     
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  17. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Geez....I told you guys, he's a slumper. A SLUMPER. LOL

    It seems to be exacerbated now by age, he clearly cranes his neck forward a lot, looking almost like he has no neck, from the front. As a resutl, he looks smaller than Mcenroe a lot of the time now, but he was clearly taller when they played in his prime. Saying he was 5'10 max....come on...are you guys on crack?? Do you not remember Mats??

    Here, watch him shake hands with Sampras, he was NOT 5'10.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-amqDjoO2eA&feature=related
     
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  18. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Wilander could get a lot of "free points" with his serve, meaning all unreturned serves including aces.

    For example, against Lendl, who obviously had a bigger serve:


    83 AO final -- Wilander's rate of unreturned serves was 30%, Lendl's 23%

    85 RG final -- both men were at 12%

    87 USO final -- Wilander at 23%, Lendl at 18%
    (Wilander made 66% of his 1st serves)

    88 USO final -- Wilander at 14%, Lendl at 16%
    (Wilander made 87% of 1st serves)


    In that last match Wilander did not go for any big serves, so he got fewer "free points." But Lendl hardly saw any second serves. I think that's the key: Wilander got fewer free points, but that didn't matter much because his first serve, even at lower speeds, was safe from being attacked. His second serve, on the other hand, was slower and sat up more. Lendl could attack it when he could return it with a FH.

    And all it takes is for the second serve to be attacked a few times, or maybe just once, and you're broken.

    Lendl attacked Wilander's second serve very well in the '87 RG final. And he saw more second serves than usual from Wilander. We don't have the exact figure but after two sets Wilander was serving at just 57%.

    Compare that to the '85 RG final, where Wilander served at 76% and won the match.

    I do think some of Wilander's edge over Lendl in "free points" is due to the fact that Wilander had a better return of serve than Lendl (IMO). But I think the numbers show that Wilander was not just putting the ball in play.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2011
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  19. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I agree that's important, to be able to lay down some aces or service winners when you're in trouble. I think Lendl's big serve is really what won him the '87 USO final. Wilander got more free points than he did, but he had to induce return errors sometimes by coming in behind his serve. So he wasn't getting return errors merely with the skill of his serve. Sometimes it's just useful if you can put the ball past the opponent entirely and win the point outright.

    Lendl did that constantly in that match. Wilander had double set point in the third set, and Lendl put in four strong serves in a row to hold.

    Agreed that Wilander was better at net than Lendl.

    BTW during that final Newk was in the CBS booth, and he said it was strange that Wilander had never done as well at Wimbledon as he had at the AO. He thought maybe one reason was that the bounce was a little higher in Australia.

    That was due to the dry climate, as I understand it -- compared to the wet conditions in England which would make the turf soft, and bounces lower.
     
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  20. Benhur

    Benhur Hall of Fame

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    I believe in the 88 USO final Wilander went a whole set (I think the 5th) without missing a single first serve.
     
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  21. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    He missed just 1 in the second set. He missed more in the other sets, but never more than 7 in a set.

    Lendl on the other hand missed 10 straight first serves in the fifth set. He made just 6 first serves in the set. Two were aces -- big, booming aces. But maybe a higher service percentage would have been better than the aces.
     
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  22. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    what was his % in that set?
     
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  23. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Lendl - 24% (6/25)
    Wilander - 93% (38/41)
     
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  24. ahuimanu

    ahuimanu Rookie

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    I also thought the same but seems as Wilander used his service consistency/percentage as his strength, which is really playing "smart" tennis. You don't hear this much anymore but my coach used to stress that "tennis is a game of errors" and I think Wilander played the percentage game extremely well (first serve in, keep the ball in play, let the other guy make the error). :)

     
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  25. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    By pure coincidence I was just watching the second set of that 1988 match about a half an hour ago. It's one of my favorite matches ever.

    Yes I do think Mats had an underutilized serve. I think in one of his Australian Open matches against Johan Kriek in which Mats destroyed Kriek, Kriek mentioned how good Wilander's serve was on that grass or at least words to that effect.
     
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  26. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Interesting how Wilander beat Kriek three straights years at the AO, each time in straights. The second time was a wipeout. And Kriek was not bad on grass.

    http://www.atpworldtour.com/Players/Head-To-Head.aspx?pId=W023&oId=K022
     
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  27. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I think Mats was a bad matchup for Kriek. Kriek was a power player who fed off of power, but, could be erratic at times, which is what Mats fed off of.
     
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  28. pundekman

    pundekman Rookie

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    but he is still 5'10"....MAX!
     
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  29. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Would explain how Wilander went undefeated against him and barely lost sets.

    Here's Borg-Kriek, similar pattern: http://www.atpworldtour.com/Players/Head-To-Head.aspx?pId=B058&oId=K022
     
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  30. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    He's clearly the same height as Sampras from the video of their 1990 USO handshake. What that height is, is unknown since they were both world class slouchers . . . even when shaking hands.
     
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  31. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Yeah, I have no idea what people are thinking. It is clear in the video that both are pretty close in height. Sampras was probably 6 to 6'1 (he may have even grown a half an inch after that match...who knows), and Wilander is likely around 6'.

    I wrote about players exaggerating their height many times...for a long time (as I pointed out to TMF (rolls eyes)), but I do not think either Agassi or Sampras are exaggerating significantly (Agassi MIGHT be a shade under, though he looked pretty close when I saw him). IF they were, Mcenroe, Federer....well TONS of players must be as well, as they seem correct in comparison to them.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JZpov0LNZs

    Note the handshake here as well. He's was not 5'10! Though he certainly appears it now, when he's slouching around and looking shorter than Mac! That wasn't always the case:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tjFfrRu2qM&NR=1
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2011
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  32. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    Mats definitely looks a shade taller than Mac in that handshake. BTW, did you notice the big serves Mats hit in the beginning of that video? When you're serving like that, why change in mid set?
     
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  33. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Possibly the nervousness of knowing that it's match game for McEnroe.

    Also he missed a lot of first serves in that second game, compared to the previous game. Did he really make any intentional change, or did the pressure just make him less relaxed?
     
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  34. krosero

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    Anyone know what Wilander's career high in aces might be?
     
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  35. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I can see Mats responding to pressure by playing it safe. That's his mindset. But, that's the point of my thread. He had a weapon that he didn't put to full use.
     
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  36. krosero

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    I hear that, and I think it's a valid question. But just in that clip, I don't see him playing it safe in that last game. He wasn't spinning his first serves in carefully. He was faulting them, still going for them. He just appears less relaxed, thus less successful in getting hard, accurate first serves.

    I do think you can see startling differences in Wilander's serves if you compare matches from different years. His matches in '88 are probably the best example of a mindset toward getting the first ball in. Let's see, he had only 2 aces against Lendl in that long USO final. Only 1 ace in his semi against Cahill. At the AO he had just 2 aces in the five-set final. I read somewhere that he had no aces in his five-set semifinal against Edberg.

    Whereas you do see him serving big, with more aces, in matches from the mid-80s. Even as late at that Mecir match you linked to (I have him serving 10 aces in that one).
     
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  37. Zimbo

    Zimbo Semi-Pro

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    The best I ever saw Wilander serve was when he beat Edberg in the '88 finals at the ATP Cincinnati. He was serving bombs. It was a great three setter that was won in a 3rd set tie breaker. Both players were playing at a very high level. It think the score was 3-6, 7-6, 7-6. Oddly enough it was on Wilander's birthday. Not sure how many aces he hit but it was around 12-15 if my memory serves me correctly. Wilander even made a comment afterwards that there was something about Cincinnati where he appears to always serve well at that event.
     
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  38. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    He knew it was the fifth Slam, long before we did. :)
     
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  39. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Mats serve was jsut average and, certainly, the weakest if compared to the other big players of his playing days - except for Connors-.However, his returning was so steady that he could make for the lack of a big serve.If you look at his results on grass and hard, he beat big serving players at the finals.

    He also was good at teasing his opponent playing unexpected Serve and Volley by surprise.he did that against Lendl at the US Open in 88 but also other few times on clay, as I have seen live.
     
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  40. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    LOL, ha ha, good one :)
     
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  41. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    That whole fifth Slam thing, it's the greatest secret in tennis.

    Seriously here's a report on Wilander-Connors in the '86 Cincy final (6-4, 6-1).

    ***********************

    Wilander, who lost in the finals last year to Becker, had 12 aces and lost only seven points on his first serve. He is 4-0 against Connors. "He ran down a lot of balls," Connors said. "I could have been more aggressive at times, but when I was aggressive, I rushed too much." Wilander had only six unforced errors to 21 for Connors. He broke Connors' serve five times. Connors managed only one break.

    ***********************

    He also defeated Edberg in Cincy in '85 and '86 and both times he said he served well, though I can't find stats. The '85 match was 3 sets, the '86 a blowout.
     
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  42. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    And Wilander had 10 aces when he defeated Connors in 4 sets in '88 at Key Biscayne (a very enjoyable match btw).
     
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  43. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    At some point, I was doing things for a Tennis Magazine and I interviewed Wilander.I´m just 6,0 and I had the impression he was no shorter than me and possibly an inch taller.He was no less than 6 feet in any case
     
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  44. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    #44
  45. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Something that amazes me is that, from 1982-85 there were substantially 4 big names and GS candidates: Lendl,Mac,Connors and Mats.

    We´ve seen a lot, we have discussed a lot about the Lendl-Wilander, Lendl-Connors, Lendl-Mac,Mac-Connors, even Mac-Wilander rivalries...what about the very interesting match up provided by the " second stringers" mats and Jimmy? I never watched them play against each other, except for the 1984 Davis Cup Final and I think Mats has a clear lead in their Head to Head...but Connors had also some demolishing wins vs Mats...Isn´t it a very interesting match up?
     
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  46. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I think all of Jimmy's wins were in exos. In official matches Wilander leads their H2H by 5-0.

    I like watching their rallies in the '88 final at KB. But it was exhausting for Connors. He had to hit perfect shots and Wilander still got those back.
     
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  47. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    I think, in the mind of the 2 americans is that they wouldn´t expect a new Borg come in so soon, right after Bjorn´s retirement.
     
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  48. Moose Malloy

    Moose Malloy Legend

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    do you have any other stats for this match?
     
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  49. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Washington Post:

    Mats Wilander came to the net about one-third as often as Jimmy Connors, but the baseline style was effective enough to earn Wilander a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win in the men's final of the $2.1 million Lipton International Players Championships today.

    Wilander, 23, played much of the match from the baseline, content to rally and rely on his strength: ground strokes. He came to the net only 41 times and hit only five volley winners.

    Connors came to the net 111 times during the three-hour 38-minute match. He finished with 25 volley winners and won 68 points at the net.

    Chicago Sun-Times:

    Wilander overcame the 35-year-old Connors' relentless charges to the net with 10 aces and 18 service winners as he won 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

    "I didn't expect him to play this well, I have to admit that," Wilander said.

    Wilander, seeded No. 1, said he entered the match planning to hug the baseline and patiently lure Connors into errors. "That didn't work very well," Wilander said.

    Sun Sentinel:

    Connors made 72 unforced errors -- 23 forehand, 38 backhand and 11 volleys -- to 37 for Wilander.
     
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  50. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    #50

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