Wilander: “This is the year Nadal is the least favorite”

Mats Wilander (Vaxjo, Sweden, 56 years old) was number one in 1988 and won seven Grand Slams, including Roland Garros (1982, 1985 and 1988). You are now part of the team of experts at Eurosport for this edition of the Parisian tournament, which the network broadcasts in its entirety and exclusively with more than 300 hours of special programming. The legend spoke to AS about the major that starts this Sunday.

How do you see Roland Garros this year with the new roof of the Chatrier, the artificial light, in autumn, the pandemic …?

I think it will be a completely different tournament to the normal Roland Garros. It will probably be the year that Rafa Nadal is the least favorite. It will continue to be with Novak (Djokovic) and surely with Thiem, but I think it will be different for Rafa, because he has not played many games and the temperature will be lower. I think that COVID-19 and that there are fewer viewers is not going to make any difference for him or for anyone. It is more a matter of climate and that his preparation has been different. He is going to have to play a little more aggressively from the first round and he is not going to win games that easily, because there are tennis players who have played a few weeks on clay. It will be a little harder for Rafa.

How do you think the new conditions will affect Nadal?

With the lowest temperature and at night the balls do not bounce as high as Rafa likes. The few times he suffered in Paris is when it was cold. So these circumstances that he may encounter are not perfect for him. Mentally it will not be easy for him to face two tough weeks of long matches in heavy conditions. I think he can handle it. He is not going to be able to act as he normally does on clay, although he can also play flatter and stronger, he has won the US Open several times doing that. In Paris it's difficult to hit him with winners because he's so strong and he moves too well. But this time, your drive will be different and it won't help you as much. Conditions suit your rivals better.

Do you think Thiem can surprise Rafa and Novak?

I think playing cold and sometimes at night will give more hope to the players who face Rafa. They know that the ball is not going to bounce two meters when he hits it with the drive, but a meter and a half. That's fine for Thiem's, Djokovic's and many others' backhand, because they will have the chance to hit the ball below the shoulders. Nadal's shipments with such height and spin will not reach them. That will put them in a better mental situation before the games against him. When it's hot, they realize after 20 minutes that all the backhand shots have to be hit over the shoulders and that there is no physical way to beat them. Now they will believe that the conditions are better and that will make them play harder for a couple of hours. Even so, they still realize that they can't either, but they will think they have a chance.

“I see it difficult for him to win seven games and he is no longer intimidating”

About Serena Williams

Let's talk about the girls. Garbiñe Muguruza seems ready to win. Do you agree?

Unlike Rafa, I think these conditions are good for Garbiñe. They favor tall, strong players who hit the ball harder, more aggressive, even if they don't move as well or as fast. Muguruza is in the perfect situation, because she can play from the back of the court and be aggressive with every shot. Hitters, even Serena (Williams), will be favorites against girls like Halep, who is faster but less powerful.

The female team is very open …

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a new champion who hasn't won a Grand Slam before. People like the Greek Maria Sakkari have possibilities. There are many girls who can get it.

Do you think Serena can win her 24th big title?

I see it very difficult, because he has to win seven games. When she was in shape she only needed to win two or three, because the other four were so easy for her. He served very well and ten years ago nobody did better. Today, they all serve better, hit her harder, move faster … and she is older and no longer intimidating. Your best chance may be Wimbledon if you stay up and play a lot.