Match Stats/Report - Wilander vs McEnroe, French Open semi-final, 1985


Hall of Fame
Mats Wilander beat John McEnroe 6-1, 7-5, 7-5 in the French Open semi-final, 1985 on clay

Wilander would go onto beat defending champion Ivan Lendl in the final to claim the second of his 3 titles at the event

Wilander won 129 points, McEnroe 104

McEnroe serve-volleyed off most first serves and rarely off seconds

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (90/127) 71%
- 1st serve points won (56/90) 62%
- 2nd serve points won (19/37) 51%
- Aces 1, Service Winners 1
- Double Faults 1
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (23/127) 18%

- 1st serve percentage (49/106) 46%
- 1st serve points won (28/49) 57%
- 2nd serve points won (25/57) 44%
- Aces 5, Service Winners 1
- Double Faults 2
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (15/106) 14%

Serve Patterns
Wilander served...
- to FH 27%
- to BH 70%
- to Body 3%

McEnroe served...
- to FH 38%
- to BH 50%
- to Body 12%

Return Stats
Wilander made...
- 89 (44 FH, 45 BH), including 10 runaround FHs
- 1 Winner (1 BH)
- 9 Errors, comprising...
- 1 Unforced (1 FH)
- 8 Forced (5 FH, 3 BH)
- Return Rate (89/104) 86%

McEnroe made...
- 103 (38 FH, 65 BH), including 9 runaround FHs & 24 return-approaches
- 2 Winners (1 FH), including 1 runaround FH (a charge)
- 21 Errors, comprising...
- 12 Unforced (3 FH, 9 BH), including 3 runaround FHs & 2 return-approach attempts
- 9 Forced (3 FH, 6 BH)
- Return Rate (103/126) 82%

Break Points
Wilander 7/14 (9 games)
McEnroe 2/15 (8 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Wilander 32 (15 FH, 8 BH, 4 FHV, 3 BHV, 2 OH)
McEnroe 47 (5 FH, 10 BH, 16 FHV, 13 BHV, 2 OH, 1 BHOH)

Wilander's FH passes - 5 cc, 5 dtl and 3 inside-out
- regular FHs - 1 inside-out and 1 first 'volley' at net off a serve-volley point
- BH passes - 2 cc, 2 dtl, 1 inside-in return and 2 lobs
- regular BH - 1 cc

- 1 FHV was a swinging shot and 1 BHV was played net-to-net

McEnroe had 13 from serve-volley points -
- 8 first 'volleys' (1 FHV, 5 BHV, 2 BH at net)… 1 BH at net was a drop shot
- 5 second volleys (4 BHV, 2 OH)

- 7 from return-approach points (6 FHV, 1 BHV)

- 1 other FHV was hit net-to-net and 1 was hit from no-man's land and has not been marked a net point

- FHs - 1 cc pass, 1 dtl pass, 1 runaround inside-out return, 1 inside-in and 1 drop shot
- BHs - 4 cc (1 pass, 1 charge return) and 4 dtl (1 pass)

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Wilander 41
- 13 Unforced (8 FH, 4 BH, 1 FHV)… including 1 FH pass and a non-net FHV
- 28 Forced (14 FH, 12 BH, 1 FH1/2V, 1 BHV)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 47.7

McEnroe 72
- 33 Unforced (9 FH, 18 BH, 2 FHV, 3 BHV, 1 OH)
- 39 Forced (11 FH, 14 BH, 6 FHV, 3 FH1/2V, 3 BHV, 2 BH1/2V)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 50

(Note 1: All 1/2 volleys refer to such shots played at net. 1/2 volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke numbers)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Wilander was...
- 35/45 (78%) at net, including...
- 3/3 (100%) serve-volleying, all 1st serves
- 0/1 forced back

McEnroe was...
- 63/112 (56%) at net, including...
- 23/42 (55%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 18/35 (51%) off 1st serve and...
- 5/7 (71%) off 2nd serve
- 14/24 (58%) return-approaching
- 0/4 forced back/retreated

Match Report
Its an exaggeration to say the match could have gone either way but a statement of the obvious to say that the last two sets could have. In fact, you'd back them to have so done.

In second set, McEnroe has 8 break points in 4 games to Wilander's 0 as he steps up to serve to take the match into a tiebreak. 4 points later, the set is over - possibly the worst service game McEnroe had in his career (3 third ball UEs - 1 volley and 2 regulation BH cc's to open court - and a double fault). Wilander served 64 points in the set, McEnroe exactly half that amount

In third set, McEnroe leads 5-1, before Wilander, for the second time in the match, wins 6 games in a row to take it

Close shaves aside, this is one of the most interesting and subtle matches you'll see. Summarizing -

a) Wilander serves above average (high percentage, not too strong but cranks it up on occasion usually at important points), McEnroe returns not well (mostly overaggressively)…. mostly discredit Mac
b) McEnroe serves not well (low percentage), Wilander returns superbly and cleverly (very high return rate, and placing the ball where he wants)…. mostly credit Wilander
c) McEnroe volleys reasonably, Wilander passes superbly... overwhelming credit Wilander
d) Wilander volleys reasonably, McEnroe passes poorly.... even credit Wilander and discredit Mac (his ground game in the match didn't promise good passing)
e) Baseline to baseline - Wilander big advantage due to greater consistency, Mac more damaging
f) Baseline leading to approach - covered by points c) and d), with the caveat Mac's strategy was questionable, related to point a)
g) Clutching & Choking - some of the former by Wilander, some of the latter by Mac... more Wilander clutching than Mac choking

Serve, Return & Strategy
Wilander's serve is what it is - not powerful. He does serve at 71%, which I imagine is normal for him? Maybe even low. He does adjust it well according to situation

Having saved 13/15 break points in 6/8 games he faced them, there's plenty of times where he needed something extra. He tends to find an extra strong serve (though rarely, possibly never, overwhelmingly so) at such times. Clutch play from him at such times is more about coming to net (more on that later)

His second serve is up from its innocuous norm. McEnroe attacks it relentlessly with charge-returns and chip-charges and charge-chip-charges etc... and Wilander puts a bit more on the seconds than I've seen from him. Not much mind you, but a bit

McEnroe's returning is a bit off. For starters, he misses a few regulation first serve returns that are anything but unreturnable. Not a big deal, you can't make 'em all... but with a hair separating the players in two sets, its enough to lose him the match. More than that, he returns with balls-to-the-walls aggression. Even first serves are chip-charged regularly and second serves are savagely attacked

I like the way Mac attacks first serves. Its common for players who like to chip-charge returns to desist from doing so against first serves.... even if the first serve is soft enough to not justify it. No such qualms from Mac. He was apt to chip-charge Ivan Lendl's first serve on fast courts round about this period... Wilander's serve was unlikely to not get the same treatment

However, he's not particularly successful with the attacking returns. Note the 12 UEs (Wilander has 1)… most are attacking, many to the point of being wild, shot choices

Strategically, it was not justified. Chip-charging with abandon is a good ploy when your out of your league baseline-to-baseline. In that case, its a good idea to find the net as soon as possible. Other than the first set, this was not the case here. Mac holds up reasonably well with Wilander from the baseline, with Wilander's greater consistency (i.e. not making UEs) not extending to being so bossy that it was hard for Mac to find the net from rallies. An alternative to wild return-approaching (and the loss of points trying it) was to return normally and find the net from rallying

Had he done so, I imagine Wilander would have shifted gears too, so anything could have happened. Still, I think Mac erred in being so hasty to get to net when there were safer options for achieving the same result

Mac serves at just 46%, which hampers him. But Wilander's returning is fantastic, though subtle

First, there's the consistency that's great even by his dozily high standard. 86% return rate against John McEnroe, even on clay, must be rare. One of the freakiest stats is McEnroe with FHV winner from serve-volley points (he has 9 BHVs by contrast). That's not to say Mac never got a return on his FHV... but it does indicate the extraordinary control Wilander had of where he was directing his returns

Towards the end of the match, Wilander adds an extra layer to his returning and starts getting them in error forcingly low or/and wide with a bit extra power. Mac loses enough points serve-volleying that he desists from doing so a number of times towards the end and looks to come in off third balls. Great returning and great, quick adjustment from Mac (not that it works too well, but it was a good move)
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Hall of Fame
Baseline, Rallying to Net & Passing
First set is the most commanding I've yet seen of Wilander from the baseline as he pushes Mac back and around with heavy groundstrokes. He targets Mac's BH with FH cc's... and Mac hits his BH feebly. Still, he resists making errors of the BH and most he makes are attacking FH ones (somewhat desperate escape attempts). Mac's low first serve in count for the set - 9/19 - means most of the action starts from the baseline and Mats beats Mac down, winning 7 straight games including 3 breaks after Mac holds at the start

Rest of the match, Mac steps up his baseline game. He's still far behind Wilander, but its no pushover contest. Wilander isn't able to beat him down, rather they rally neutrally and Mac loses points making regulation UEs along the lines of his natural rate, with a few attacking ones thrown in. Wilander remains typically iron clad solid. 13 UEs from Wilander - all baseline shots (1 a volley) - to 27 from Mac

Mac does win a chunk of points by hitting winners and forcing errors baseline-to-baseline, too. More so than Wilander, who rarely attacks from the baseline. BH cc is Mac's most effective groundie for the match (probably also the most error prone)

That's less than half the battle though. Both players come in to net from rallying frequently. Wilander wins a very high 32/42 @ 76%, Mac can only manage 26/46 @ 57%

I would primarily credit Wilander's quality passing for the above figures. Note Mac with 15 FEs in the forecourt (1 was a groundstroke) to just 2 for Mats. There's plenty of craft to Wilander's passing... far from being just pure power based. Some passes are low, some wide, some extra powerful or some combination of the 3. Towards the end, when he's coming back from a 1-5 scoreline, he ups the power and really gives Mac a torrid time up front. Its not just single passes either... there are frequent 1-2s, usually with the return being the '1', where he draws a weak volley from and then hammers the second pass away. Early on, 2-4 times he whacks passes to force wide FHVs, then dispatches the rejoinder FH cc... it looks like a well constructed baseline 1-2 and its very rare to see such a pattern executed by a passer

Mac's not at his best on the volley, but 6 UEs is still low. He certainly isn't bad. Making allowance for facing stronger passes, he probably still volleyed better than Wilander and at least as well. Mats volleys solidly but he meets little resistance. Mac can scarcely get a pass attempt in play and when he does, its usually a weak one. Mats' approaches weren't so strong as to justify this... just not good passing from Mac

Early in the third set, as Mac is racing away to a 5-1 lead, his aggressive approaching tactics and returns are successful to the point that it seems to rattle Wilander, who responds with more attacking ground game than he'd shown. Not enough to turn the tide - he makes a few more errors but can't finish points, or stop Mac's flow. Its coming to net that does that... with a bit of help from Mac

Clutching? or Choking?
On clay in particular, where the serve doesn't do much damage and points tend to be 50-50 affairs, you don't expect to see a player make just 2/15 break points as Mac does. Does he choke? Does Wilander clutch?

The break points Mac fails to convert in games that Wilander goes on to hold end as follows -

1) FE BH pass
2) UE BH winner attempt
3) FE FH lob
4) FE BH pass
5) FE BH pass
6) Return UE BH (attacking return attempt)
7) FE BH
8) Winner FH dtl pass (return-approach point)
9) Winner BH cc pass
10) Return FE BH (serve-volley point)
11) Return FE BH (serve-volley point)

... that is 2 Wilander winners, 5 FEs, 2 Return FEs... and just 2 UEs - 1 an attacking return, the kind of shot that had got him to break points in the first place and the second, a winner attempt
Note also Mats taking net on 6 points (2 of them serve volleys)… and the 2 passes he hits are brilliants shots both, 1 from a defensive position

I think its clear that its mostly about Wilander clutching, not Mac choking

Mac does make some bad shots to get broken though... so there is some 'choking' involved. The final game of set 2 is as bad a game as you'll see, short of 4 double faults. and he misses an OH down break point serving for the third set

Summing up, very tough match for a straight setter. Wilander is rock solid of the ground, superb on the pass and return (against quality opposition) and able to step up to net when needed. Mac pushes him hard though with his usual serve-volleying and abnormally aggressive returning but is thwarted by high level clutch play. He probably overdoes the attempted aggressive returning and might have fared better rallying his way to the front more safely