After growing up watching Bjorn Borg win Wimbledon in 1980 when i was 11 you could imagine my despair when i heard of the rather premature retirement of the great man less than 5 years later , i was devastated.
So what do you do when your biggest influence on your favorite sport disappears from the radar ? You find someone else to inspire you . I believe that it was in 1982 when i turned the tv on late at night and found a televised match of the Italian Open in Rome between a long haired 17 year old Swedish player called Mats Wilander and Czechoslovakian player Thomas Smid . I had heard that Wilander was being compared to Borg so naturally i was curious .
My first impression of Mats was that he had an appeal about him , not unlike his famous countryman Borg , a casual walk , long curly hair , a magnificent two handed backhand and an ability to run every ball down . I remember vividly watching Mats and Thomas walk into the arena with Mats wearing a black v neck jumper , the sort that you go to the pub in , and a hairstyle that fitted the typical trend of Scandinavia . I was looking forward to seeing this kid play .
In the warm up i could see similarities between Mats and Borg and his two hander was also strikingly similar to his more famous predecessor , he let go of the right hand on impact .You don't see too many double handers now days with a two handed strike but a one handed follow through such as the 5 time Wimbledon Champ's. Borg's was a shot in a million , never to be replicated , however Wilander's was similar, but not as defined , a brilliant shot none the less. I recall one of the commentators offering his views on who would win , he picked the more experienced Czech , i picked Mats , i liked his style from the first hit.
This match was one of those tennis matches that has stuck with me forever . I didn't even have to look the score up , it was a demolition of epic proportions , not one that i expected yet i hoped that the outcome was in favor of the 'New Borg' as i was desperate for a new hero , Borg was gone and wasn't coming back. I found this match just recently on You Tube , couldn't believe my luck as it was the match that got my interest going again as a kid, the disappointment of Borg's retirement was all but forgotten when i first saw this battle in Rome. To me it was almost like watching a ghost from the past play and it gave me what i needed to hit against my garage wall for some days up to 4 hours and it was myself as Mats vs anyone . If i hit it 20 times against the wall in a row it was my point , 5 sets was a regular event, but i wasn't just playing for myself , it was for my new hero .
My memory for the Quarter Final in Rome in '82 is as fresh as yesterday's weather forecast and i believe that it started an era of tennis knowledge for me that i will look upon as both educational and life changing. When i played tennis in Queensland for 18 months in the late 80's my nickname was of course 'Mats' .
Quarter Final Rome 1982 Mats Wilander defeated Thomas Smid 6-1, 6-1, don't bother checking the score , i guarantee you 'Mats' is 100 percent correct.......