Mats Wilander did a bumper Q&A with the media this week ahead of the French Open.
Here is the transcript.
How do you see both the men and women tournaments? What are the main key points you would like to underline regarding the coming French Open?
I see RG the same way as the Italian Open. Obviously Serena will be the favourite even if it’s on clay and even if she has only won two French Opens. I think that with the confidence that she has now and the way she won Rome, she is the clear favourite. Obviously Maria Sharapova is a danger throughout the tournament because of her confidence but we all know what has happened in the past between Williams and Sharapova. So Serena is the big favourite to me for the women’s side.
For the men, because Nadal has been losing to Almagro, Ferrer and now Djokovic in three sets in Rome I think Djokovic is the obvious favourite. To me, he has been the favourite for the last two years at the French Open but has not beaten Nadal. So this year I think he is the favourite. Djokovic has to survive the first week. If he does I believe he is going to be very difficult to beat until we see a very windy hot dry day in Paris and suddenly Nadal will most probably become the favourite in a potential final. But it depends on the weather. Otherwise Djokovic.
Any possible surprises?
It’s very difficult to say these days because, again, the last eight years the men’s side has been so dominated by the three Federer, Nadal and Djokovic... Obviously everybody thinks that they have a better chance this year because Nadal has been losing to some players. We’ve seen Djokovic a little more fragile in some matches. He obviously lost to Wawrinka in Australia, Federer in Dubai. There is a little bit of confidence for the players who played have against him. But 5 sets on clay against two super human beings like Nadal and Djokovic, it’s very difficult.
I can tell you 10 players that I think have a better chance to beat them than before, but to win the whole tournament it’s another story. It’s going to be one of the two unless something really strange happens. On the women’s side Serena is really a very heavy favourite. It’s again one of those tournaments that will be great. But the winner again will be somebody familiar I think.
How much do you think Andy Murray's indifferent form this season is down to his split from Lendl and is it a major concern if, as looks likely, he doesn't have a new coach in place by the French Open?
Any separation, generally speaking, can have an effect. I’m not sure if it’s the effect of him and Ivan Lendl not working together or if it’s the effect of trying to come back from back surgery, the effect of searching for that intensity that he had last year during Wimbledon or during the Olympics or the US Open that he won. I think that the combination of those three things probably won’t make him lose intensity, or possibly just make him lose it a little bit, but at the same time the upside will be that maybe there is less pressure, and with less pressure I think that is his chance of beating or doing really well at the French Open. You’re going to a clay court tournament when you’re not that comfortable on clay and you’re going with no pressure, that is a positive thing. I’m not saying that it is a positive thing for the grass court season or the hard court season… But I think for the clay court season, in many ways he’s kicking away and sort of shooting from the hip and I hope that he does well, and if he doesn’t then there is always that bonus of being better prepared for the grass court season. For the French, I’m not sure it will make a big difference not having Ivan around. For tennis overall, yes I think it has an effect for sure.
What do you think about Dominic Thiem?
I haven’t seen him play that much. So I won’t be able to give you conclusive thoughts on him. I’ve heard he is very talented. I’ve heard people talk about him. I would not be able to predict anything with him. I know that he is mature. I know that he is dangerous. We have to wait until the next two or three years if we have enough… We had David Goffin from Belgium who is very talented and who we saw a couple of years ago. It’s too difficult today to predict somebody being a superstar. The young players overall need to show a little bit more maturity and young players sometimes need to show the best players in the world that they are ready, that they are willing to suffer the same way Nadal and Djokovic do for every single second they spend on a tennis court. I’m not sure Thiem is that person yet. To say who is going to make it is impossible to say.
Do you think Agnieszka Radwanska can win Roland Garros? This year, or ever?
The last ten years, the winner of the women’s has been a powerful player with big shots, except Francesca Schiavone of course who won with finesse. Sara Errani made the final with a little more finesse. Schiavone made another final with also a little more finesse. Li Na did not think that she could play on clay at all, and then she won the French Open. So I think for Agnieszka, I know she does not necessarily like clay. And I believe it has to do with the movements. She does not move very well on clay. Nobody really does. But at the same time, if she plays the right player during the right conditions, like if it’s wet and heavy she needs to play a certain player and if it’s fast, dry and hot, then again if she plays the right player, I think yes. When you look at her game, of course she has a really good chance to win the French Open.
With the game she has, she is always depending on how well her opponent played. If they played really well, I still see that Agnieszka on clay most probably has a little bit of a bigger problem because she doesn’t have the power, but to me, she has the game, the finesse thing. And I think that she would be able to make her opponent play worse with the game she has. So I am surprised that she hasn’t done better. And I will be expecting her to do really well one time at the French Open. Maybe this is the year.
Why do the German men have so much trouble to get back among the world's best (compared to Becker and Stich in the past)? And who do you see as the German player with the most potential to reach the Top 10 in the world in the future (Alexander Zverev?)?
I have seen Alexander Zverev play quite a bit. He has potential. I think that club culture, the German federations and tournaments in Germany, the social system of the government, I mean the social status, I think this is all good to bring out juniors. It’s the next step, that we can make in Sweden, that Germany hasn’t been able to make and America is struggling to mak;, that’s between 18 years old and 21 years old. I have no idea what the secret is. I think in Germany after you had super stars like Becker and Graf you need another player to come up and assume the responsibility and say ‘OK I am the person who can win your next Grand Slam’. I don’t think it is that easy to take over after Boris and Steffi. Certainly in Sweden, it has been a problem. I think France might be suffering a little bit. They have good players but I think nobody is really willing to step up and say ‘OK I’m going to be the one. I’m going to win a Grand Slam for you’. And then, I think Germany maybe is suffering from the same thing. It doesn’t matter what the players do; no one is happy. No one is happy until they win a Grand Slam. Sometimes as a player that is hard to deal with but they are doing well and often. Kolschreiber is back up and down but he has a great game when he plays well. Tommy Haas is a little old maybe to win the French Open in 5 straight sets but he’s still there. Maybe Alexander Zverev, I’m not sure. The junior thing is really difficult today to hope for or predict. Obviously he is a good junior, he has a good future but there are so many things that have to go right from now on for him.
The answer to me would be on the women’s side, you have so many good women today and they’re high up in the ranking. They all have good games. Lisicki did well at Wimbledon. I see somebody like Julia Goerges who can maybe cause an upset at the French Open in some ways. Andrea Petkovic is dangerous and Angelique Kerber is very solid. So I think with a nice draw, one of them, that’s where we’re looking for the next German Grand Slam winner now for the women’s side.
Wawrinka won the title in Monte Carlo, Nadal won it in Madrid and Djokovic won in Rome… Is this the tightest Roland Garros of the last few years?
I think last year it was pretty open because of Rafa coming back. Last year, after winning all the tournaments he won when he came back maybe I thought that he was going to be a little tired when he came to the French Open. But obviously he wasn’t. And he won it again. So this year I think yes, Almagro has beaten Rafa, Ferrer has beaten Rafa, Novak obviously. And Novak has lost to some players. Wawrinka has a great outside chance but I’m not sure if he is steady enough to go on to win the French Open. If I was a player this would be a year when I’m thinking ‘OK I could beat these two, these three, these top four players. Can I win the tournament? I’m not sure but I would certainly beat one of them’. That’s what I’m looking for this year. It’s going to be very difficult to see if someone else can step up and beat the best players. So it’s more open than the last ten years I guess.
I was wondering if men’s tennis was getting a little bit boring compared to the women’s, where there is much more competition. (Same winners over & over again)
You have to go back and say ‘why does Serena lose?’ Every time she loses she seems a little bit injured or she’s not prepared. In that way, I think that maybe the men have a top two guys that would pretty much win everything and some other players sometimes. I think the difference is that the men are competitive from the first round and the women are maybe not so competitive in the first round, and women are also not so competitive with certain matches, they think ‘OK this is never going to work’ ‘for sure this winner…’. In the men’s side, they have tougher competition going through the tournament. Once they win one match or two, then it’s the same on both the women’s side and the men’s side. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. It’s good to have great champions. I like Nadal and Djokovic and Roger. I think we shouldn’t blame them or tennis; I think what we’re missing is two or three more new players, not necessarily obviously Ferrer and Berdych. They are great for the game but it would be nice to have some new guys like Dimitrov or Nishikori that we could trust and hope and rely on them that they could win a Grand Slam in the next year or two years. It’s the young players that I’m a little concerned about, that they’re not showing up as often as they should.
Is it really different compared to 10 or 20 years ago? It seems like younger players have more troubles getting through to the top 10 or the top 5 than they used to …
It is a combination of a couple of things. The difference is that Novak, Rafa and, to a certain degree Andy, the last few years, and Roger of course, they are showing up to play 100% every single match the whole year, their whole career. They are always physically ready. They are always mentally ready. And if you go back and look at what happened in the eighties or the nineties I can tell you from personal experience I was not ready to win every single match the whole year. To us, the four big grand slams, obviously some other tournaments, they were more important than other tournaments. It seems to me that Rafa and Novak, every single match they play is important, the Grand Slams, quarter finals, semi-finals. At least, that’s what it looks like and that’s what other players are staking. I think they are amazing in their preparation, and their professionalism in trying to win every match. If you can’t beat them in a normal tournament, you cannot beat them in a Grand Slam. That’s for sure. The younger players are not quite ready to take on the best players in the world on their own. The younger players have been very dependent on having a coach on the tennis courts since they were very young. On the contrary Boris Becker, the maturity he had in matches was incredible. I think Lleyton Hewitt’s maturity when he was young was incredible. Michael Chang was mature. I think today we don’t have the same match temperament in a 19-year-old as we used to have and it is not their fault. I think that the system is breeding players to develop later in life. They are just not ready to win the matches on the big four against the best players at 19 years old like they used to be. So it’s a combination of both.
The Swedish school of tennis: players previously and coaches today
We have good coaches in Sweden because most guys were all good players. They were good players because they work hard and they have a good attitude. It was very simple to Magnus Norman: work hard, good attitude and be professional. Same every day. The same with Stefan. Personally, I coached Marat Safin before I coached Paul-Henri Mathieu. You cannot compare the coaches on the tour with players in Sweden now. That’s two completely different situations. We will have good players in Sweden. In three or four years, we’ll have some good players because of Magnus Norman’s work with Wawrinka and his work at home, because of a lot of Swedish coaches, former players that are doing their job in Sweden.
What do you think about Fabio Fognini?
He is very dangerous. I don’t see any reasons why he should not cause an upset at the French Open. I think he can beat anyone. I think everybody is afraid of him. He has a good chance against any player. But I think Fabio Fognini is similar to some other talented players, like maybe Marat Safin where you cannot show your opponent how you feel all the time because they will really love it. It may be important to Fognini to get it out of his system, but to Nadal and Djokovic, they look at him like they would have looked at Marat Safin maybe or maybe Andy Murray in the past. They look at him and say ‘OK, this guy is angry,, I’m not going to go haywire, I’m going to try and try and try and eventually maybe I’ll have a chance to win because he’s too emotional’. With Fognini, what would you do? Try to get him to be playing poker, not tennis, with his expressions, and then he has a really good chance of being a great player. He’s a good player and when he plays well, he plays, but when he’s showing his emotions too much it’s not a good thing against the best players in the world.
Who would be the best players in the top four to coach? Which one would you choose?
This question doesn’t really have an answer to be honest. If I would choose I would choose somebody who is 17 years old who has two or three really good friends and is willing to work really hard and you can help them develop their game. Roger Federer and Edberg to get together… We are hoping and wishing and we are excited because no one is perfect, not even Roger Federer and with Edberg’s help he can be perfect, maybe. With Andy Murray, when he had Lendl as coach, that was great, it was close to perfect. Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker seems to be working. So, I wouldn’t really do anything to them. I wouldn’t want to because the better they get the less chance of young faces there is. I would hope that some young player comes up and has a great coach. I don’t think it’s me at the moment, I’m too busy with other things. I have coached before.
What do you think about the size of tennis players. What do you think of Raonic?
I don’t think tennis players will ever be one size. The players that are 185 to 198 cm today are better movers and they can play better on every surface because the serve is big on any surface. If you compare to the ‘80s and ‘90s, today the bigger players are better athletes but I do not think that the next champion cannot be the size of David Ferrer or Lleyon Hewitt. You will never have the perfect tennis player, whether the serve is bigger than somebody’s heart… I can never be the judge. I doubt it. I think with good attitude and passion and quick feet and obviously good hands I think you can have small, short champions, you can also have big, tall champions in the future. Milos Raonic has a chance, I think he will win a Grand Slam title one day for sure, as well as Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikor, but I don’t see any one particular player that is going to win. Tennis is too many things and details that have to be right for somebody to win a Grand Slam. It’s not size or age. It’s more complicated than that.
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