Wilander brings tennis clinic to Four Seasons

A spinning serve by Raj Wadehra of Wilton landed short in the service box on Court 16 at Four Seasons Racquet Club, kicking wide. Mats Wilander, former world number one and holder of seven Grand Slam singles titles, scrambled right and hit the return — out.

“Nice second serve,” Wilander said.

“That’s going on the Facebook page,” quipped Charles Hattenbach, like Wadehra a Wiltonian who plays at Four Seasons.

It was all part of the entertainment last Thursday, when the Swede, who was on the tour for 16 years, brought his Wilander on Wheels program to Four Seasons Racquet Club on Route 7 in Wilton.

Wilander and his teaching partner, Cameron Lickle, a former captain of the U.S. Naval Academy’s tennis team, held two clinics. One was with 3.5 and 4.0 rated players — solid club players — and the second with players 4.5 rated and above, a group that included Wilton High School star Noah Farrell, the two-time Connecticut Class L state champion, and Tommy Knortz, a Ridgefield High School player.

Both clinics were limited to eight players, with Wilander and Lickle leading drills and then playing some doubles with the students and offering comments.

“It’s a great shot — bad luck — but maybe unnecessary,” Wilander said when one of the 4.5 hotshots got a little over-ambitious.

He’s easy going, but he wasn’t going easy on the 4.5s.

“I’m not afraid to tell people to move, or to be critical,” he said before sitting down to eat, poolside at Four Seasons, after the clinic.

“It’s the truth, and people like to hear it,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean I’m right, or Cameron is right,” he added. “We have an opinion that we believe in.”

Four Seasons Director of Tennis Greg Moran, who makes his own living teaching tennis, liked the work ethic and love of tennis that Wilander and Lickle brought to the clinics.

“It was fabulous. It was great,” he said. “We’ve done some similar events in the past, but this was head and shoulders above because the guys were so into it. You could tell both guys loved to be on the court, loved to teach. They’re great teachers.

“These guys sweat, hit a lot of balls, and gave it their all.”

The students, too, had good things to say.

“I loved it,” said Hattenbach. “They worked you, but they had fun with you.”

“I learned a lot,” said Rich Greenspan. “... incredible tennis nuggets.”

“It was awesome,” said Knortz. “Most people never get the chance to hit with a former number one player.”

What did he learn?

“A lot of moving,” he said. “How important it is — to make you a better tennis player, and hit the ball the same way every time.”

He added, “Today was fun and challenging at the same time.”

Wilander was on the tour from 1980 to 1996 and spent 20 weeks as the world’s number one ranked player after winning three of 1988’s four Grand Slam tournaments. He made $8 million as a pro — before endorsements.

What brings him out to hit with club players and high school kids?

“You see the energy? That’s what I get into,” Wilander said.

The Wilander on Wheels clinics represent a third of his tennis life these days.

He still plays on the seniors circuit — the ATP Champions Tour — though he and contemporaries such as John McEnroe are feeling the push from younger retired players who are closer to today’s power game.

“When you play with McEnroe and those guys, it’s feel,” he said. “We sometimes hit the ball hard, but it’s not power, it’s feel.”

He also does tennis commentary for Eurosport TV, with two shows: Game, Set and Mats, and Mats Point.

“When your name is Mats, and you have those programs, you can’t ever get fired,” he said.

And, there’s Wilander on Wheels.

A former Greenwich resident with a wife and four kids, Wilander lives now in Hailey, Idaho — in the Sun Valley. But he’s been teaming up with Lickle since 2009, going out on nine or 10 times a year, driving around for six-to-14-day tours in a big RV, camping out and giving clinics.

“We love the driving,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to get on an airplane, go through security, spend the night in a hotel...”

After 16 years on the tour, Wilander has had enough of airplanes and hotels. After the clinics in Wilton last Thursday, he and Lickle were heading to the tip of Long Island for more teaching.

“Tonight, we’re going out to Montauk,” he said. “We’re going to find a campground. It’s really fun. When you pull into a campground you notice: no one is wearing a watch.”

Wilander has a good time, and seems to understand that he’s lucky to be doing what he does.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to dabble in three completely different areas,” he said. “It keeps it really fun.”