Not only a great clay court player, Guillermo Vilas is also the official inventor of the "Grand Willy", a move which consists of returning the ball to the opponent between the legs, with one’s back to the net; a shot that can be seen every year or so on Roland Garros' highlights reel; a move broken down here by its inventor for the Mag.
How did you get the idea of the "Grand Willy"?
On rainy days, when we couldn't practice, I liked to play small games, like footballers juggling the ball. I tried to find different ways to hit the ball, to hit it with the edge of the racket... And it amused me to hit it backwards. Whenever I did it in training, I won the point. I was inspired by a commercial for whisky in which the polo player Juan Carlos Harriott could be seen doing a "backhander" (note: a backwards mallet shot, on the side of the horse or between its legs)
Do you remember the first time you did it during a match?
I was playing an exhibition tournament in a basketball hall in Buenos Aires against the Frenchman Wanaro N'Godrella. He was three points away from winning the match. During the exchange, he lobbed me and I had to run to the back of the court. There, I saw that if I continued my run to return the ball normally, I would collide into backboard at full pace, so I decided to hit the ball between my legs like this (note: he gets up and plays his move with enthusiasm) I didn't see where the ball had gone, but it fell on the other side of the net and I won the point.
How did the public react?
There were just three hundred people. It was a small basketball arena. People stood up and wouldn't stop clapping. They were going crazy! I did it again during the Munich tournament in 1975, this time while lobbing my rival. The next day, it made the front pages of the local newspapers. I also did it against Manuel Orantes in the Buenos Aires tournament and I sent it directly into his chest. He knelt. There are some memorable photos of that point too. I managed to do it seven or eight times in a row, including once against Bolivia, in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, again after having been lobbed on the previous shot. Then, one day, I missed it at Wimbledon and never did it again afterwards. The good run was over.
What does this move require?
You need to know how to manage the force required; otherwise you can break your wrist, especially if you have a fairly heavy racket like mine… You need to give a sharp blow, always maintaining control of your wrist. The ball goes straight (note: he mimes it) Phew!
We imagine that this is a source of real pride to have invented and named a move that remains in tennis history?
It is an Argentine journalist named Carlos Marcelo Thiery who gave it that name. At the beginning of my career, he asked me to show him a new move during a workout and when I showed this to him, he said: “This is the Grand Willy!” Referring to the “wheeling” Now players do it to show off... But, at first, I did it to save myself! Federer made a wonderful one at the U.S. Open a few years ago (note: in 2009, the Swiss considers this point as the best of his career.) Yannick (Editor's note: Noah) also made a tremendous one at the Madison Square Garden, which crossed the court diagonally!
Interview by Florent Torchut, at Buenos Aires