After struggling for two sets with Jimmy Connors' surprising serve-and-volley game in the final of the Lipton International Players Championships, Mats Wilander showed he had a solution.
After splitting the first two sets, in which Wilander had lost five of his 10 service games, Connors opened the third set by holding serve.In danger of losing control of the match, Wilander fired three aces to open the second game of the third set, then won the game at love with a delicate drop shot. With his serve working, Wilander was back in control and on his way to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Connors in the finals of the two-week, $2.1 million tournament.
In the third set, Wilander served seven of the 10 aces he fired Sunday on the hardcourt of the International Tennis Center, including two games with three aces each. Though Connors continued to fight tenaciously on each point, Wilander's confidence was growing.
"I must admit I had my strategy made up before the match and I kept it," the 23-year-old Swede said of his baseline game. "I didn't know what else to do. I guess for a while, I felt a little bit helpless."
His service game helped to stop the foundering. Wilander, who won his third Australian Open title in January, earned $112,500 for the win, while Connors took home $56,250 despite losing in the final match of a tournament for the 11th straight time.
His last tournament title came at the Tokyo Indoor on Oct. 21, 1984. Connors rushed the net 111 times during Sunday's three hour and 38-minute match, winning points 61 percent of the time.
"I think (his serve) was obviously the biggest difference in the match," said Wilander, who won nine of 10 service games in the third and fourth sets. "He served well, but I got more free points on my serve and in the end I got more confidence and I think he was frustrated because he had to work so hard on his service game and I won a few at love."
Connors, 35, a five-time U.S. Open champion and two-time Wimbledon winner, now measures his success not in victories, but how he believes he plays against the "young guys." He vows to play as long as he can be competitive and earn money, but said he would not be an athlete who hangs on too long or attempts ill-advised comebacks.