Mats Wilander

Great Champions

Australian Open 1983 is widely regarded as the tournament at which Swede Mats Wilander learned to volley. Played on grass at Kooyong, the baseliner's attacking play improved noticeably over the tournament fortnight and by the latter stages he was out-volleying renowned net specialists including Paul McNamee in the fourth round, defending champion Johan Kriek in the quarterfinal and John McEnroe in the semifinal.

In the final the 19-year-old faced another baseline specialist, Ivan Lendl, defeating the Czech 6-1 6-4 6-4 to claim what was his ninth title of the season. The victory made Wilander the youngest Australian Open champion since Ken Rosewall in 1953.

Wilander's grass court credentials established, he was seeded No.2 going into Australian Open 1984. This time his title campaign was more straightforward. He dropped one set in his quarterfinal against Stefan Edberg and again trampled Kriek's hopes, this time crushing the South African 6-1 6-0 6-2 in a 63-minute semifinal. The final was tougher, the Swede coming back to overcome Kevin Curren 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(3) 6-2.

Seeded No.3 behind Edberg and Lendl, and with four years since he last held the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, Wilander wasn't really viewed as a serious contender as Australian Open 1988 kicked off at its new venue, Flinders Park. Nevertheless, the Swede reached his semifinal without dropping a set and raced to a 6-3 4-1 lead in the final against Pat Cash before rain stopped play. Cash fought back, taking the second and third sets before slumping in the fourth.

The fifth set was a knock-down, drag out affair that saw Wilander save two match points before running out the winner 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 in four hours and 28-minutes. The victory made him the first man since Jimmy Connors to win Grand Slam titles on grass, clay and hard courts and the first non-Australian to win three titles at the tournament where he ultimately accumulated a 36-7 win-loss record.

In the final the 19-year-old faced another baseline specialist, Ivan Lendl, defeating the Czech 6-1 6-4 6-4 to claim what was his ninth title of the season. The victory made Wilander the youngest Australian Open champion since Ken Rosewall in 1953.