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When We Spoke To Mikael

1.    What is your funniest incident you remember from your career? 

When you get to the final of one of the majors as a tennis player, you are realising the ambition of any tennis player really, and probably, for a few days, you start to think you’re a pretty big deal. In 1986 I got to the final of the French Open against Lendl, and the very next day get asked to a party Jean-Paul Belmondo is throwing for his girlfriend’s birthday. Which, in my mind, is definitely confirming I’ve arrived. Anyhow, I’m chatting away to Simon Le Bon at the party over a glass of finest champagne, and I tell him that, whilst I personally never much liked Duran Duran, my brother was a huge fan. Le Bon looks at me, not smiling a whole lot, and says, “And so what is it you do?”  I never quite worked our whether I’d annoyed him by not liking his music, or whether he didn’t have the faintest idea that I’d played in the French final the previous day. Either way, he certainly pricked my balloon that night!

2.    Of all your opponents:

Who had the best serve?

The one I definitely struggled most with was Boris Becker. Apart from being just a great serve, which he seemed to be able to put anywhere we wanted, it was incredibly hard to read. Agassi has been telling everyone he could read it by looking at Becker’s tongue  but he definitely must have better eyesight than I ever did, as it was a completely mystery to me where the ball was going to land!

Who had the best backhand?

I always thought my best shot was my forehand to someone else’s backhand. But it just didn’t seem to work again Mats Wilander. Not only did he have a backhand that was fantastic - both offensively and defensively - he had a great slice, and he could drop and lob brilliantly off the backhand too.

Who had the best forehand?

Lendl without doubt. Not only did he hit a huge powerful ball, he seemed to have so many choices of what he did with it. Wherever I put it, he seemed to be able to get his forehand onto my backhand at will.

Who had the strongest mentality?

Mentality is really all about how you play under pressure, and how you play when you get tired. Mats Wilander just never got tired. Ever. He told me once he had never ever been tired. I don’t know what he ate to keep his strength up, but it sure worked. And it’s a whole lot easier going into a fifth set - or playing out long rally after long rally - if you know you can keep going longer than your opponent.

Who did you most dread playing?

In general, I never liked playing lefties, but the man I really didn’t like to play was actually right-handed. There were a couple of guys I played a few times that I never beat– Connors and Yannick Noah – but with them I always felt I was in with a chance. I never felt that with Ivan Lendl. It was like playing a machine: he just kept on playing the same way, never got frustrated, and – sadly for me – never got tired of winning!

3.    Is there a great story you could share about a prominent player of the Golden Age?

Mats and I were due to play in Dubai, and to get there we had to go via London. We had a six-hour stopover, so we went and had a round of golf. Then we got on the plane and had more than a few beers to pass the time. When we get to Dubai, we go out and play another 36 holes. Anyhow, we finally get to dinner in the evening, and I can see him nodding off at the table. So I decide to leave him until we need to order, and all of a sudden he leaps up from the table and yells at me, “I told you it was Gate 42.” And there’s no calming him down. It took me about three minutes to get him back in his seat. This is Mats Wilander we’re talking about: quiet, always calm, never gets tired. That’s not what the people in the restaurant thought I can tell you.

4.    Apart from yourself, of course, who did you think was the most stylish dresser of the Golden Age? 

Some of the Maggia clothing Gerulaitis wore was fantastic, and he definitely gave a lot of thought to what he wore and how he looked. But, for me, it’s got to be Borg. His Fila clothing was just beautiful, and (annoyingly) he had the perfect body to wear it.

5.    Do you think tennis clothes today have the same panache and style as those in the past?

Definitely not. I look at the clothes today and it just looks like people are running out of ideas and trying too hard. I love colour, but it’s got to be right. Too wild - or too dark - just detracts from the game and the player. For me the base colour for tennis is white, and the great clothes of that era managed to keep to this but used colour to graft on style and personality.

6.    Why did you want to agree to become an ambassador for GAOT?

Without taking anything away from the great players of the sixties, tennis as a worldwide spectator sport really took off with the likes of Borg, Connors, McEnroe and Vilas. They almost rose above the sport to become rock stars, and the clothing became part and parcel with the whole deal. It’s great to be part of something that celebrates that great time of style and class.