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Mats Wilander Covers French Open from Sun Valley
Thursday, October 8, 2020



By the time most of us pry open an eye to ready the coffee pot this morning, tennis great Mats Wilander will be providing commentary for Eurosport for the French Open.

But he won’t be in the stands or even hobnobbing with players in the locker rooms. He’ll do it all from a studio in Hailey 5,014 miles from Paris.

“Due to COVID we’re not allowed to be on site this year. I was in London for a few days shooting from a studio there. But I started not feeling well and, with all the COVID, if someone’s not feeling well they send them home. So, I thought, why not do it from home?” said Wilander, who lives in Hailey where he co-owns Gravity Fitness and Tennis Club.

 Wilander gave Hailey photographer Tim Brown, who has taken video and stills of Wilander for eight years, a week to get a top-notch camera, mic and green screen in place in the basement studio in his home.

“It’s fun to work with the latest technology. If COVID hadn’t happened, they wouldn’t have called a guy in Hailey to do a show in Europe,” said Brown, who will film Wilander today through Sunday during the finals of the French Open. “But it’s nerve wracking because I can’t shoot something and edit it later. Everything thing has to be right the first time. I’ve learned you prepare for something to go wrong—you have a back-up battery in place if one dies.”

Wilander laments not being on site watching a live match.

“You lose a little of the vibe when you can’t be there. But I’ve been most proud of the players. They’re sometimes accused of being entertainers. But this has shown that they don’t play for the people in the audience. They’re competitors and they don’t care if anyone is watching.”

The French Open was moved from spring to autumn this year because of the pandemic. Tennis balls spin differently in colder weather, and the weather conditions in fall favor hard-court players, Wilander noted.

But the biggest impact for those playing in the French Open is that they get only two weeks, rather than the usual six to eight, between the US Open and the French Open. That gives them less time to get used to the surface of the court they play on during the French Open.

“Normally, you might have 20 matches under your belt by competition; this year they have two.”

Wilander knows from experience. Mats Arne Olof Wilander grew up in Sweden where he became the top tennis player in the world, winning seven Grand Slam singles titles from 1982 to 1988. Three of those came at the French Open while the rest came at the Australian and US opens.

He also won one Grand Slam men’s doubles title at Wimbledon.

He was an unseeded player when he startled the tennis world by winning his first Grand Slam at the 1982 French Open on the heels of his countryman’s Bjorn Borg’s decision to quit tennis. He was the youngest man in history to win four Grand Slam titles and went on to develop a one-handed slice backhand that was considered a remarkable development for its time.

Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002, his name is cemented in the tennis history, along with that of Jimmy Conners, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi and Novak Djokvic.

He began broadcasting tennis 15 years ago, doing a half hour show called “Game Set & Mats.” His show on Eurosport is the longest standing tennis show of any on a continent where tennis is the second biggest sport in France after soccer, the second or third biggest sport in Italy and second or third in other countries, as well.

A few weeks ago he watched as Novak Djokvic lost his first tournament of the year—disqualified because he hit a ball in frustration that accidentally hit a line judge.

“That was all about bad luck. You can’t fault him for slamming the ball—it shows how much he cares,” said Wilander, who has picked Novak to win the French Open, saying he might be the best player of all time. “He’s hot now.”

Wilander created a minor controversy during this year’s French Open when he slammed 33-year-old Scottish player Andy Murray for taking a wildcard of younger players after Murray was defeated in the first round by 6-1, 6-3 and 6-2 scores.

Wilander told Eurosport fans that he loved the fact that Murray was trying to return from a career-threatening hip injury. But he added that Murray needed to figure out why he was doing it.

“Is it his right to be out there doing that? Why? I did it and I shouldn’t have. It was the biggest mistake I did in my career,” said Wilander who retired at 26 only to come back two years later and play until he was 32. “I think Andy Murray needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking about who he was.”

Wilander said he just tries to be as honest as he can.

“The game is always more important than the stars. And, while you’re playing, tennis has to be the most important thing in your life—more important than family or anything. It’s about emotional fire—you have to show you really, really, really hate losing. If you can’t, maybe other players deserve to be there.”

The controversy is reminiscent of the 2006 French Open when Wilander criticized Roger Federer and others for lacking the competitive edge to beat their rivals.

“Federer today unfortunately came out with no balls….He might have them but against Rafael Nadal they shrank to a very small size…” he said. In the aftermath, fans began using the term “Wilander” to denote the tenacity to win.

“I know it’s dangerous to go out on a limb,” Wilander said. “But I’m interested not just in the people but the etiquette of the game. Tennis has brought to us some wonderful role models—people like Arthur Ashe who challenged apartheid. People like Billie Jean King who pushed for gender equality.”

Wilander will spend the next four days doing a pre-match show on today’s tennis greats, breaking in for a few comments during the match and then offering a post-game wrap-up. Sun Valley-area residents can see snippets by visiting the Eurosports.com website.

“Americans will find see a different kind of coverage, a different take than they might be used to,” Wilander said. “And, certainly, different players. Ninety percent of players in French Open are from Europe. There’s only one American and one Argentinean from the America’s. Europe is very much the driving force in tennis.”





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