Ivan Lendl is now very much an American having become a United States citizen in 1992, but he originated from behind the iron curtain in old Czechoslovakia. He first came to the tennis world's attention as an outstanding junior player in 1978; he won the boys' singles titles at both the French Open and Wimbledon and was ranked the World No. 1 junior player. Then he made an almost immediate impact on the men’s game the following year after turning professional. It didn’t take him long before he played in his first grand slam final at the 1981 French Open where he lost to Bjorn Borg in five sets.
It was a shame that Borg retired from tennis in 1983 otherwise Lendl and he would have played many more important matches. He became one of the game's most dominant players in the 1980s and remained a top competitor into the early 1990s. Lendl took tennis to a new level with his professional and scientific approach to the game. Lendl's game relied particularly on strength and heavy topspin from the baseline and helped usher in the modern era of "power tennis". He himself called his game as "hitting hot", a relentless all-court game that was coming to dominate in tennis.
Lendl’s matches with McEnroe were a contrast of two vastly different playing styles, Lendl’s extremely powerful ground strokes against McEnroe’s out and out serve & volley game. Often Lendl would take advantage of his ‘power’ and was infamous for trying to hit his opponents with crunching shot’s when they were at the net. There was a memorable incident in the WCT finals where he floored & winded McEnroe with a punishing forehand to the chest. This clash between the two typified the ‘no love lost’ between the pair. But not even matches between those two came close to the animosity that Lendl and Connors felt for one another. The atmosphere when these two played was that of a prize fight. It was widely accepted that the more Connors hated his opponent the better tennis he was able to play, and he was always at the very top of his game against Lendl. Many of their closely fought matches ended in confrontations and on a few occasions they had to be held back from each other.
As Lendl started to make everyone sit up and take notice of him, Adidas stepped in and signed him up on a lucrative sponsorship deal; he would remain with them for more than a decade wearing their clothing and now considered iconic lines such as the Lendl polo shirt with diamond pattern that eventually went on to spawn the official track top with Adidas and some diamond knitted jumpers from other brands that the casuals and dressers lapped up.
Lendl was never completely embraced by the general public, his stoic approach and deadpan expression never really won over the average tennis fan. He always seemed to be portrayed as the bad guy, especially when it came to playing Borg & Connors (which was unfair as it was normally Connors that misbehaved). For the second half of his career, Lendl became obsessed with trying to win Wimbledon and would revolve his whole year around trying to achieve this dream. Back in the eighties the grass was very different at Wimbledon. It was quicker than today and year after year he would change his natural style of play and try and attempt to become a grass court player. But much to Lendl’s disappointment this never worked for him and he was never ever able to call himself Wimbledon champion.
It wasn’t always disappointment for Lendl though as he captured eight Grand Slam singles titles. He competed in 19 Grand Slam singles finals, a record only surpassed by Roger Federer in 2009 and he also reached at least one Grand Slam final for 11 consecutive years, a record shared with Pete Sampras. These days Lendl is the coach of Andy Murray.
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