A year earlier, Mats Wilander had won the Roland Garros junior title. Now it was the middle Sunday of the 1982 men’s championships, the 17-year-old Wilander in the round of 16 versus the previous year’s runner-up, second-seeded Ivan Lendl. Lendl coming into this match had won 92 of his last 95 matches.
Lendl won the first set 6-4, served for the second at 5-4 – and then went up 30-love. “I never though I would win,” said Wilander afterwards. “I just hoped I could take a set off him.” That’s exactly what happened next, Wilander breaking Lendl and soon enough leveling the match. The 17-year-old Swede then took the third. And though Lendl won the fourth to put Wilander in a fifth set for the first time in his career, by then it was a clear another great Swede had arrived on the tennis scene.
Bjorn Borg, the holder and six-time Roland Garros champion, had begun the exile that would lead to his retirement. In his place had stepped Wilander. Years later, in a 2015 CNN interview, Wilander reflected on the 1982 version of himself. “I wasn’t physically tired. That all came from Borg. His game was never missing, never getting tired and never showing any emotions. It was easy to copy.”
Wilander won the decider from Lendl, 6-2. He’d go on to upset three more seeds – Vitas Gerulaitis, Jose-Luis Clerc and Guillermo Vilas – to earn his first of three Roland Garros titles. “I also didn’t really put any pressure on myself to do more than I could,” Wilander told CNN. “When you’re younger, you just do your thing.”
(with thanks to Randy Walker and Mikki Singh for their app, On This Day in Tennis History)
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