Class of 2001
World No. 1 (1983)
Grand Slam Results
8-time major champion, 11-time finalist
Overall Record: 1258-383
Singles Record: 1071-243
Doubles Record: 187-140
Member of the Czech Davis Cup Team 1978-1985
Member of the Championship Team 1980
Overall Record: 22-15
Singles Record: 18-11
Doubles Record: 4-4
No matter what you believed about Ivan Lendl – half of tennis fans saw him as a steely, unemotional, and mechanical player, the other half saw him as a dedicated, focused, and supremely talented athlete – there’s no disputing that the eight-time major singles champion was a major presence on worldwide tennis courts in the 1980s.
Lendl told Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated that, “my mission is not for personal satisfaction, it’s not to try to make anyone happy. My mission is to win.”
And win he did.
From 1985, when he swept John McEnroe, 7–6, 6–3, 6–4, to win the US Open to the 1988 US Open, which he lost to Mats Wilander, 6–4, 4–6, 6–3, 5–7, 6–4, Lendl was the No. 1 world ranked player for 157 straight weeks, three weeks shy of Jimmy Connors’s record. Cumulatively, Lendl spent 270 weeks atop the mountain as the best player in the world during a championship-laden 13-year span (1980-92). For eight straight years (1982-89), tennis fans couldn’t tune into a US Open men’s singles championship match without seeing the adidas-clad Lendl as one of the two finalists. He reached 19 major singles finals (third best all-time), won eight of them, captured 94 ATP singles titles in 144 opportunities, and tacked on another 49 victories in non-ATP events for 144 career singles titles. He compiled a phenomenal 1,071-243 (81.65%) record. His total number of matches played (1,314) and matches won (1,071) is second best all-time, after Connors.
In its September 15, 1986 edition, shortly after Lendl defeated Czech Miloslav Mecir, 6–4, 6–2, 6–0, to win his second straight US Open, Sports Illustrated ran the headline on its cover, “The Champ That Nobody Cares About,” but the fact was, if you were starting a tennis team, Lendl might have been your top choice. In the majors he was a finalist and semifinalist 47 times. The numbers are eyebrow-raising when you count all ATP tournaments he entered, where Lendl was a finalist or semifinalist 334 times in his career.
When asked who the next up-and-comer was at the time, the equally stoic and unattached Björn Borg offered Lendl’s name. Lendl was going to be an extreme challenger, but in the 1981 French Open final, Borg defeated the Czech for his fourth straight title in five highly entertaining sets, 6–1, 4–6, 6–2, 3–6, 6–1.
The 6-foot-2, 175 pound Lendl had a strong tennis heritage, his father Jiri was a top-ranked player in his native Czechoslovakia. Lendl was a terrific junior player, winning the boys' singles titles at both the French Open and Wimbledon in 1978, a feat that earned him the world No. 1 junior ranking. As a professional Lendl’s strength and power was the difference maker. It was earned by a fanatical work ethic, countless hours bashing balls on the tennis court, and even more hours pumping iron in the weight room. Despite his size, Lendl never fancied the serve-and-volley game, though he used it effectively when necessary. He was a punishing baseliner, hitting a heavy topspin forehand – though tight and flat compared to high and looping – and he had one of the most aggressive, relentless backcourt games that tennis has ever seen. His fitness was beyond reproach. Lendl needed 4 hours and 47 minutes to defeat Mats Wilander, 6–7, 6–0, 7–6, 6–4, in the 1987 US Open final – and when the match was completed Lendl looked like he could have played another four hours. His running one-handed forehand, his bread and butter shot, was particularly potent against Wilander that afternoon. He used it frequently, and under pressure situations, to win the championship. Many of those running drives blazed down the line or at acute crosscourt angles for winners. New York fans recognize good tennis and Lendl’s athletic shot making drew raucous applause from the capacity crowd inside Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“Nobody likes to see the ball coming back at you faster than you deliver it,” quipped Jimmy Connors after defeating Lendl in the 1982 US Open final for the second consecutive year.
Lendl won the first of his eight major singles titles in 1984 when he defeated John McEnroe at tightly contested French Open, 3–6, 2–6, 6–4, 7–5, 7–5. Lendl not only rallied from 2-0 sets down, but he trailed 4-2 in the third set before roaring back. He won at Roland Garros twice more, in 1986 over Mikael Pernfors, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4, and in 1987 over Wilander, 7–5, 6–2, 3–6, 7–6. He compiled a 53-12 record in Paris.
Lendl’s eight consecutive appearances in the US Open final equaled Bill Tilden’s record (1918-25), though he won three fewer than the elder statesman. Lendl overpowered McEnroe in 1985 and pounded Mecir, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 in 1986. His 1987 victory over Wilander, 6-7, 6-0, 7-6, 6-4, showcased his durability and stamina. He played 86 matches at Flushing Meadows, registering a 73-13 record. Lendl won back-to-back Australian Opens in 1989 and 1990. Mecir was dispatched in straight sets in 1989 (6–2, 6–2, 6–2) and Lendl captured the 1990 title after Edberg retired in the third set. He was 48-10 all-time in Melbourne. Lendl was a Wimbledon finalist twice with a straight sets loss to Boris Becker in 1986 (the German winning his second consecutive) and following year was felled by Pat Cash in three sets. Though he never won a title in 14-attempts at the All England Club – the grass were courts not suited for his groundstroke game – his overall record was a solid 48-14. His eight major singles titles are tied for fifth best in history.
Lendl felt he had an edge in racquet technology, being one of the first tour players to regularly customize his racquet’s string tension, balance, weight, and handle working with the innovative racquet doctor, Warren Bosworth.
Lendl was a force in the Tour Finals, the culmination of a long year battling the world’s finest players. He won the season-ending championship in 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, and added the World Championship Tennis Finals titles in 1982 and 1985.
In 1980, Lendl was perfect in seven singles and three doubles matches in leading Czechoslovakia to its only Davis Cup Championship, 4-1 over Italy, before a partisan home crowd in Prague.
Chronic back problems plagued Lendl in the latter years of his career. They flared up to such an extent, that following his second round loss at the 1994 US Open, he retired shortly thereafter at age 34.
On December 31, 2011, Lendl became Andy Murray’s coach, helping the Scot to his first two major victories at the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon Championship in 2013, which ended a 77-year-old drought for a male British tennis player to win a major. In March 2014, Lendl and Murray ended their two year coach-player relationship.
In its 40 Greatest Players of the TENNIS era, TENNIS Magazine ranked Lendl in the top ten.
Australian Open: W 1989, 1990
French Open: W 1984, 1986, 1987
Wimbledon: F 1986, 1987
US Open: W 1985, 1986, 1987