Although he'd been a prodigious winner for four years, it was not until the French final of 1984 that Ivan Lendl began to really stake his claim to greatness. Then, from two sets down to the year's leading player, John McEnroe, Lendl battled back to win in five sets, seizing the first of his eight major singles (of 19 finals). He won two other French (1986-87), two Australian (1989, '90), and three U.S. (1985, '86, '87). Until 1984, at 24, his competitive zeal in big finals had been questioned, particularly after his U.S. Open finals losses to Jimmy Connors of 1982-83. But Lendl dispelled all that, and won in 1985 over McEnroe, in 1986 over Miloslav Mecir and 1987 over Mats Wilander. Ivan's two other French titles were banged out in 1986 and 1987 over Swedes Mikael Pernfors and Wilander.
In Australia, after falling in the 1983 final to Wilander, he bounced back to win in 1989 over Mecir and 1990 over Edberg in an injury walkover. His 1985 U.S. Open conquest of McEnroe hoisted him past the New Yorker to No. 1 in the world, a position he held until losing the Open in 1988 to Wilander - 156 straight weeks, four short of Jimmy Connors's record at the time. He returned to No. 1 for 1989 and spent a total 270 weeks at the peak during 13 seasons in the Top 10 between 1980 and 1992. Lendl's Flushing Meadow time has been spectacular: Appearing in eight successive finals (from 1982), he equalled the record of Big Bill Tilden (1918-25). His loss of the 1988 final to Wilander halted a 27-match winning streak in the U.S. championship, second only to Tilden's string of 42 between 1920 and the quarters of 1926.
Born March 7, 1960, at Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, and reared there, he has an excellent tennis bloodline. His mother, Olga Lendlova, was a Top Ten player in their homeland, ranking as high as No. 2. His father, Jiri Lendl, also was a fine player, ranking as high as No. 15, and who, in 1990, became president of the Czechoslovak Tennis Federation. Unlike countrywoman Martina Navratilova, he did not announce his defection, but left no doubt when he settled in the U.S. in 1984, and declined to play further Davis Cup after 1985. In 1992, he became a U.S. citizen.
In 1980, Lendl, unbeaten in seven singles and three doubles, led Czechoslovakia to its lone Davis Cup. Before an uproarious final round crowd in Prague, he anchored the 4-1 triumph over Italy. He won both his singles on the first day and, with Tomas Smid, clinched with a stirring doubles decision over Adriano Panatta and Paolo Bertolucci.
A 6-foot-2, 175-pound, right-handed paragon of hard work and fitness, he amassed stunning numbers campaigning tirelessly between 1980 and 1983, when he won 36 of 101 tournaments. He played 32 in 1980, winning three on a 113-29 match record, and won 15 of 23 in 1982 on 107-9. He won 11 of 17 in 1985 on 84-7. His last big production year was 1989: 10 of 17 on 79-7. His 92nd pro singles title in 1992 left him second only to Connors' 109 in the open era. In 1982 he put together the third longest winning streak of the open era, 44 straight matches, two shy of Guillermo Vilas' 1977 record.
A basher from the baseline, relying on strength and heavy topspin, Lendl wasn't particularly stylish but got the job done with an intimidating will and appetite for victory. His anticipation and speed afoot were often overlooked. Ivan's pursuit of the one prize beyond him, Wimbledon, was Jobian. He played 14 times at the Big W but, strain and try as he did to become a serve-and-volleyer, and as close as he came - final-round losses to Boris Becker in 1986 and Pat Cash in 1987 - grass was his no-no. That may be unfair to say about a man who batted .774 there, was also thrice a semi-finalist, but he joined Ken Rosewall and Pancho Gonzalez as the greatest never to win the Big W. An aching back didn't help as, seeded seventh, he lost his last attempt, in 1993, to Arnaud Boetsch in the second round.
The damaged back caused him to default in the third set of his second-rounder against Bernd Karbacher at the 1994 U.S. Open. He would not play again, and announced his retirement shortly after that at age 34, ranked No. 30. His last title, Tokyo (indoor) in 1993, was a 6-4, 6-4 win over Todd Martin, and his last final, Sydney 1994, was a loss to Pete Sampras. Lendl's was a hefty pro career of 17 years: 94 singles titles, six doubles titles, and a 1,279-274 singles W-L record (.805), topped only by Connors. He was the all-time prize money champ with $21,282,417 when he quit. An avid golfer, he lives in Connecticut.
Ivan was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001.
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