Tennis Prose



Sneak Peak: Facing Guillermo Vilas Book

On a whim two years ago in Miami I decided to ask some players for their memories of Facing Guillermo Vilas. The only intention was to create a feature for this site about what it was like to play the former champion of Forest Hills and Roland Garros, who many believe was the world’s best player in 1977.

The project has evolved from a web site feature into a book. The stories and anecdotes about Vilas are just too good, too colorful, too fascinating to stop the project. I feel energized and compelled to keep going and pursuing Vilas stories because they keep getting better and better the more people I talk with.

Part of the motivation to do this project was the sense of friendship I feel with Vilas from having met and interviewed him about five times at the US Open. He was as down to earth and engaging as any sports champion I ever met. He actually made you feel like a friend in just a few minutes. We talked about his love of boxing, we did a Biofile interview, we talked about Marcelo Rios, and his best comeback, his worst blown lead and the times he felt almost perfect and in the zone on the court. No matter what I asked him, he always has a fascinating, thoughtful answer.

I want to share with you some excerpts of my tenth tennis book “Facing Guillermo Vilas” which is planned to be published in the first half of 2020…

Facing Guillermo Vilas: Symposium of a Champion Book Excerpt

By Scoop Malinowski

Virginia Ruzici: “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!”

John McEnroe: “That same year we went down to Buenos Aires to play our first round Davis Cup tie against Argentina and I lost both my singles matches. After Jose Luis Clerc beat me in five tough sets in the first, I went flat as a pancake against Vilas, who came from 2-4 down in the first set to win the next fifteen games in a row against me. I’d never been steamrolled like that before. Maybe it was why I was able to crack one of my first jokes every in a tight situation, a rarity that produced an even greater rarity – an on court laugh from captain Arthur Ashe. Down 46 06 05, I walked over to Arthur and asked, ‘What should I do now?'”

Gilad Bloom:  “Vilas was a hero for me. I have three stories about Vilas. I had the chance to see him when I was in South Africa when I was 12. I was there for a junior tournament, he was there too for a pro tournament. I had the chance to go see him practice one morning and all I saw him do was hit backhand overheads for an hour and a half. He was in the corner and his coach fed him lobs and he kept hitting backhand overheads over and over. It showed his great attention to detail. Another story I was told by his coach and manager Ion Tiriac. When Bjorn Borg had his island, I think it was in the Caribbean or maybe in Europe, Borg was down there training for one of the majors. And one day Borg and Vilas played all day, they played nineteen sets in one day.”

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  • catherine · October 21, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    Where did you get that magazine cover Scoop ? When I was just beginning around tennis, Tennis World was the big opposition to our mag and we grabbed it each month to see what stories they had that we didn’t.
    Vilas was the big pin-up.

    The price, 30p, is from another world 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 21, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    Found it on ebay Catherine. I’m surprised by what a popular beloved figure Vilas was during his career, all over the world fans absolutely adored him. He was even cheered for more than ntConnors in the Forest Hills final. The book will probably not be a big money maker (unless I can sell rights in Argentina) but it will be a fun, fascinating, entertaining read.

  • catherine · October 22, 2019 at 5:04 am

    Guillermo never could hack it at Wimbledon. Other clay court champions did but not Vilas. That’s one of the things separating him from Borg.

    Curry Kirkpatrick wrote a good article on Vilas in SI long ago which would be available in an archive somewhere I imagine. Probably the best piece I read about him.

  • Dan Markowitz · October 22, 2019 at 5:35 am

    Vilas was a great interview, very engaging, seemingly down to earth. I remember doing a World According To article on him for Tennis Magazine and I think he was 50 at the time and I remember him saying that the difference between being 50 and 25 was when he was 25, he’d play tennis, go lift weights, maybe swim in the ocean and then go back and play tennis again. When he was 50, he said, he could only do one thing in a day, play tennis or lift weights, but not do multiple activities in one day.

    I was supposed to write a book with Vilas. He was supposed to show me his poems, but he only gave me the one poem which was actually I think a Muhammad Ali poem, something like, “I am Me…” I can’t remember it now. He never produced the poems I asked him for, but nice guy. What a body, probably I think the best body ever in the history of pro tennis.

    I also remember talking to him after he’d played Connors at the Westchester Country Club in Connors’s Senior Tour event. He’d lost because Connors beat everyone back then. And Vilas wasn’t too happy about it. I was about to play Connors for an article I was writing for the New York Times and I asked Vilas how to play Connors and he said, “He pushes everything. He doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to break an egg. All he does is use your pace and push the ball back.”

    Then during one point (Connors’s manager set up a doubles match when it was supposed to be singles), Connors’s whizzed a backhand return down the line shot by me at the net on the deuce court and I thought of what Vilas told me and I thought, “Well, he certainly hit that one.”



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