Tennis Prose



Book Excerpt: Facing Guillermo Vilas

I remember when I decided to start working on a Facing Guillermo Vilas project – Miami Open at the Key Biscayne site, just outside the main stadium. Two years ago. I remember it was morning, early in the day.

Gosh, the memories of just being on the grounds at Crandon Park are uplifting. What a venue for pro tennis it was.

The first player I talked with was Gustavo Giussani from Argentina, who played his idol in the later 80s in a Challenger in Egypt and won in three sets. I kept on going- Sammy Giammalva, Johan Kriek, Andres Gomez, Brian Gottfried, Ronald Agenor, his former coach Ernesto Ruiz-Bry. The stories were astounding.

Vilas was a fascinating character, to put it mildly. He did not live an ordinary life. He dated a princess, published a book of poetry, jammed with Pink Floyd, and was so obsessed with perfection, he would practice for twelve hours a day or play 19 sets in a day, while consuming 24 bottles of Coca Cola.

So you can imagine how colorful some of the Vilas memories in this book are. Here are a few excerpts. The book is available at amazon for $9.99

Virginia Ruzici: “I knew Guillermo pretty well as Ion Tiriac was his manager and coach and he was my manager too … so we were good friends! Therefore we had many moments all together during tournaments like Kitzbuhel, Gstaad or the Grand Slams. And Guillermo liked to joke and laugh a lot, but on the court he was hungry like a wolf.”

“His biggest ambition was to beat Borg! Guillermo was a very hard worker and I’ve seen him practice up to eight hours a day. In Australia, on grass, him and Ion were the first ones to arrive at the club … and the last ones to leave. Impressive!”

“We were all residents in Monte Carlo and spent time in Paris too, where Tiriac built a tennis club, called VITIS.(from Vilas,Tiriac, Sturdza). Guillermo had a little obsession about losing weight and one year at the club in Paris, he was on a pineapple diet. That meant eating only pineapple every day for one month. We were laughing hard as Guillermo was having the pineapple prepared in different ways …soup, juice, cut in pieces, etc. After a while his lips were soooo destroyed…but did not give up and lost some weight. What an endurance!”

“In those days in late seventies, there were only two weeks between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, so I had the chance to practice together with them on grass for two weeks. I remember that once we made the trip together by car, in Guillermo’s Bentley, as he liked beautiful, classy cars. It was the year when he lost unexpectedly to Mats Wilander in the finals of Roland Garros. In those days, he was going out with Princess Caroline de Monaco. And a big party was already awaiting, prepared by Ion, as nobody imagined that he could lose that final. Well… Mats destroyed Guillermo in that match – and the much expected party too, as it got cancelled! Too hard to take the loss by Guillermo.”

“Once in London, I had to get up early every day to get my practice too, with Ion first, and then Ion and I against Guillermo. He was serving for hours and i was happy to be able to return his serve. Thanks to Ion, I had also a chance to hit with Boris Becker a couple of times, on clay in Monaco… but I could not touch his first serve!”

“In conclusion, i must say that I was privileged to have a chance to learn from him and to befriend him. He is a huge example for me and an inspiration!”

Mats Wilander: “The year (1982) I won the French Open I played Vilas in the final. I was seventeen, unseeded. At the time Borg was taking a break, he had won six French Opens. In the fourth round I beat Lendl, then I beat Vitas Gerulaitis and Jose Luis Clerc in the semi. The draw in terms of their ranking was extremely difficult. They were all sort of top five in the world. And I was just playing, I was running, I was just trying not to miss. So I didn’t miss much. I had a good attitude. And I think they all choked because they thought this is their chance to win the French Open.”

“So I go into the final against Vilas and I’m literally only thinking about winning games. Because five sets against him…he was a big, strong, kind of the Rafa Nadal of our time. And I obviously had no chance to win at all. So I won a game in the first set. I was actually happy. At least I won a game. I’m sitting there during the changeovers. I remember seeing him change his socks. And I’m like, Wow, he must be getting tired. And he started to talk to his coach Ion Tiriac. And they started to nearly scream at each other. And I’m like, Wow, something is really happening. My strength was to be aware of my surroundings, especially my opponent. And he just went down after that…”

I’m thrilled with how the book completed itself. There were many highlights – interviewing John McEnroe at a senior exo in Tampa last April, interviewing Guillermo Salatino who played Vilas in doubles when he was ten and also covered most of his career as a TV radio journalist, interviewing Virginia Ruzici, Gene Mayer, Jimmy Arias, Hans Gildemeister, Gilad Bloom.

The book was a joy to work on and finally complete after two years of interview collecting.

Cover art by Karin Billings, a Sarasota, FL based artist who also won a silver medal at the 1972 Olympics in Equestrian.

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