Mats Wilander was one of the best in tennis. Rafael Nadal can now become the greatest of all time. A conversation about records, Alexander Zverev’s chances and future number one.
As a seven-time Grand Slam winner, Mats Wilander is one of the greats in tennis. The Swede experienced his best season in 1988, when he won all Grand Slam titles with the exception of Wimbledon (Wilander failed in the quarter-finals against the later Czech Olympic champion Miloslav Mecir).
He won the French Open three times: in 1982, 1985 and one last time in 1988. In 1996, the former number one resigned and ended his career. Wilander has been working as an expert for the TV broadcaster Eurosport since 2006 – including at the French Open this year.
At t-online.de the Swede talks about the tournament in Paris that starts on Sunday. The 56-year-old talks about his favorites, Alexander Zverev’s chances and a potential future number one.
t-online: Mr. Wilander, who are your favorites to win in Paris?
Mats Wilander (56): Last year’s champions, Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek. I think Iga has a good chance of defending the title, which is unbelievable considering her age (19 years, editor’s note). She’s as big a favorite as Rafa – maybe more so than that. I was a little worried about him lately because of his condition. But of course he goes into the tournament as a top favorite.
What makes you so confident that Iga Swiatek will defend her title?
She has shown that she can handle the pressure by recently winning the Masters in Rome. In a way, you already defend your French Open title as soon as you start playing on clay after the hard court season. With her title in Rome, she signaled: “Look here, I’m ready to defend the title and the best clay court player in the world.” She has proven that impressively.
In your eyes, is she a future number one?
I think so. As the current number one, Ash Barty is not easy to overtake because she is now good on every surface and adapts to the style of her opponents. If Barty has one weakness it’s the two-handed backhand, but she has proven she can overcome that too. So if Barty stays healthy it will be difficult. But if I compare Iga Swiatek with the other players, then she has great potential to improve dramatically, especially in the fast places – and that at only 19. If she can do that, number one is an absolutely realistic goal.
Meanwhile, Rafa Nadal is about to become the first male player to win 21 Grand Slam titles. What would such a record mean for tennis?
If he wins his 14th title at Roland Garros, that would be an incredible record that will never be beaten. If he comes to 21 in total, there is most likely only one person who has the chance to overtake him – and that is Novak Djokovic.
Mats Wilander: The former tennis professional has been working for the TV station Eurosport for years and analyzes the matches as an expert. (Source: Eurosport / Discovery)
That was also said of Pete Sampras, who won his 14th Grand Slam title at the 2002 US Open …
Yes, but now we’re on a definite no. There won’t be an 18 year old suddenly popping up and beating everyone. Never say never but I don’t think it will happen As the game develops, with stronger and stronger clubs and serves. It’s just going to be impossible to play that consistently. So Rafa has a great opportunity to make history.
Sascha Zverev last won in Madrid – and also defeated Nadal on the way to the title. Is he strong enough to challenge Nadal in five sets in Paris?
From its basic level: yes. As for five-set matches, no. At Grand Slams, Zverev is not on the same level as Nadal or Djokovic. It will be interesting to see how much and whether the final defeat against Thiem at the US Open 2020 will affect him when one day he is on the verge of winning his first Grand Slam title. That defeat did something to him.
But you do not doubt that he will ever win a Grand Slam title?
No. He’ll do it. Sascha is a very, very slow learner and if I were his trainer I would prefer that because it means he is still consistent. Believe me: Sascha will win a Grand Slam – but it could take a few years.
Alexander Zverev: The 24-year-old won the Masters in Madrid at the beginning of May. (Source: Paul Zimmer / imago images)
At some point in television you started showing the dots from different angles. In doing so, we can make the game more attractive by designing the experience on the screen so that it is more like what you see live on site.
What do you mean by that specifically?
I have never met anyone who has watched a tennis match live on location and has not been overwhelmed by how tough and fast the game is compared to what can be seen on a screen. So I think how the sport is presented on TV is really important.
And it’s not just about repeating a point from a different point of view, but maybe about showing the full rally and the full power and speed of this sport.
The new generation is more athletic than ever.
Absolutely. All the Zverevs, Tsitsipas’ and Berrettinis. You are strong and powerful. And that strength has to be seen on television.