Winning the first two legs of tennis' Grand Slam this year has given Mats Wilander a new feeling as he prepares for Wimbledon next week.
"I never felt confident before when I went into Wimbledon. Now I'm approaching it a lot more confidently," Wilander said after putting in some practice on a croquet-lawn-turned-tennis-court at Trinity College.The All-England Club has been an insurmountable hurdle for Wilander until now. The Swedish star said the aura of Centre Court had a lot to do with that.
"To me it's always been Wimbledon more than the grass as the problem," he said. "The whole atmosphere, the scene, is hard to forget. ... The whole tradition holds you back."
On Monday, Wilander was seeded No. 2 behind the world's No. 1 player, Ivan Lendl, for the start of Wimbledon next Monday.
"I never felt that I should have been No. 2 before; I feel I should be No. 2 now," Wilander said. "It's very exciting. I don't feel real nervous. It should be a lot of fun."
Wilander's victory over Frenchman Henri Leconte 10 days ago on the clay courts of Paris won the Swede his third French Open title. In January, Wilander edged Australian Pat Cash to win his third Australian Open crown at Melbourne.
"He's confident. He knows he can play well in the big tournaments," Jan-Anders Sjogren, Wilander's long-time coach, said.
"I know I have the game to play well on clay, hard and grass," Wilander said.
But Wimbledon's grass courts have always tripped up Wilander. His best Wimbledon showing was last year's quarterfinal loss to Cash.
"I was always hoping to get a good draw," Wilander, 23, said. "I was not even looking past the first, second or third rounds because I knew every match was so risky.
"I'm still hoping to get a good draw, but in my mind, I'm looking past the first couple of rounds now into the quarters to see if (Pat) Cash or McEnroe is in my quarter."
The Wimbledon hex for Wilander is simple yet puzzling.
With his baseline groundstroke game Wilander has won 18 of his 26 career singles titles in tournaments played on clay. But in winning the Australian Open in 1983 and 1984, Wilander has found a winning grass court formula against formidable opposition. In successive matches in 1983, he beat McEnroe and Lendl. The following year he beat grass-court specialist Kevin Curren.
Wilander feels now he has found the key to unlock the puzzle.
"Playing on Centre Court is such a special occasion that you just go out and play and you never get into the match," he said. "It doesn't let you fight out there. It is hard to get pumped up out there. ... I'm ready to break that barrier."