Ivan Lendl: A Tennis All Time Great

Ivan Lendl

Lendl was born into a tennis family in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). His parents were top players in Czechoslovakia, and his mother Olga, born Jeništová, was at one point ranked the No. 2 female player in the country.

Lendl first came to the tennis world’s attention as a junior player. In 1978, he won the boys’ singles titles at both the French Open and Wimbledon and was the world No. 1 ranked junior player.

Lendl turned professional in 1978. After reaching his first top-level singles final in 1979, he won seven singles titles in 1980, including three tournament wins in three consecutive weeks. Lendl was part of Czechoslovakia’s Davis Cup-winning team that year. He was the driving force behind the country’s team in the first half of the 1980s and was also part of the Czechoslovak team that won the World Team Cup in 1981 and was runner-up in 1984 and 1985. However, he stopped playing in these events after he moved to the United States in 1986 because Czechoslovakia’s Tennis Association viewed him as an “illegal defector” from their country.

The success continued in 1981, as he won ten titles, including his first season-ending Masters Grand Prix tour title, defeating Vitas Gerulaitis in five sets. He relocated to the United States in 1981, first living at the home of mentor and friend, Wojtek Fibak.

In 1982, he won 15 of the 23 singles tournaments he entered and had a 44-match winning streak.

Lendl competed on the World Championship Tennis (WCT) tour, where he won all ten tournaments he entered, including his first WCT Finals, where he defeated John McEnroe in straight sets. He faced McEnroe again in the Masters Grand Prix final and won in straight sets to claim his second season-ending championship of the WCT.

In an era when tournament prize money was rising sharply due to the competition between two circuits (Grand Prix and WCT), Lendl’s title victories quickly made him the highest-earning tennis player of all time.

Lendl won another seven tournaments in 1983; however, he did not win any Grand Slam titles in the early years of his career. He reached his first Grand Slam final at the French Open in 1981, where he lost in five sets to Björn Borg. Lendl’s second came at the US Open in 1982, where he was defeated by Jimmy Connors. In 1983, he was the runner-up at both the Australian Open and the US Open.

In July 1983, Lendl played three exhibition matches (against Johan Kriek, Kevin Curren, and Jimmy Connors) in Sun City, South Africa, in the apartheid-era bantustan of Bophuthatswana.[11] The Czechoslovak Sports Federation (ČSTV), controlled by the Communist Party, expelled him from the Czechoslovak Davis Cup team and fined him $150,000. Lendl disputed the punishment and the fine.

He won French Open titles in 1986 and 1987, as well as the season-ending 1986 and 1987 Masters Grand Prix championship titles, where he defeated Becker (1986) in straight sets and Wilander (1987) in three sets. This took him to his fifth and last Grand Prix year-end tour title.

In each year from 1985 through 1987, Lendl’s match-winning percentage was over 90%. This record was equaled by Roger Federer in 2004–2006, but Lendl remains the only male tennis player with over 90% match wins in five different years (1982 was the first, 1989 the last). From the 1985 US Open to the 1988 Australian Open, Lendl reached ten consecutive Grand Slam singles semifinals — a record that was broken by Federer at the 2007 Australian Open.

Lendl was well known for his meticulous and intensive training and physical conditioning regime, and his scientific approach to preparation and playing. As part of his preparations for the US Open, he hired the same workers who laid the hardcourt surfaces at Flushing Meadows each year to install an exact copy on the grounds of his home in Greenwich, Connecticut.

He created an entirely different technique for tennis; his forehand was the focal point of his game and was struck hard and with a lot of topspin. His accomplishment is credited with being a major factor in the rise of aggressive baseline power tennis, which is now very popular.

Lendl announced his retirement from professional tennis on December 21, 1994, aged 34, due to chronic back pain. His last professional match before that had been his defeat in the second round of the US Open in 1994, three and a half months earlier.

On April 10, 2010, Lendl returned to play in the Caesars Tennis Classic exhibition match in Atlantic City, New Jersey, against his rival from the late 1980s, Mats Wilander, his first tournament since his retirement in 1994. He lost the one-set match 3–6.

On February 28, 2011, Lendl returned to the court again in an exhibition match against McEnroe at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was planned to be a one-set, first-to-eight event. However, McEnroe, leading 6–3, injured his ankle and had to retire from the match.

In May 2012, Lendl played in Prague in the 2012 Sparta Prague Open tournament. He defeated fellow Czech Jiří Novák in the exhibition match.

Lendl was the International Tennis Federation’s World Champion on four occasions (1985, 1986, 1987, 1990) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Player of The Year three times (1985, 1986, 1987). Earlier in his career, he was also named ATP Most Improved Player, in 1981.

Lendl won a career total of 94 ATP singles titles (plus 57 other non-ATP tournaments, a total of 151 singles titles) and 6 doubles titles, and his career total prize money of U.S. $21,262,417 was a record at the time. In 2001, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

On September 16, 1989, six days after competing in the final of the US Open versus Boris Becker, Lendl married Samantha Frankel and they have five daughters Due to his achievements, Lendl is often considered among the greatest tennis players in the sport’s history.

After finishing his tennis career in 1994, Lendl took up golf, reaching a handicap of 0 and achieving a win on the Celebrity Tour. Lendl has played in the Gary Player Invitational charity Program several times and organized a charity competition in 2004 called the Ivan Lendl Celebrity Golf Tournament. Still competitive at the mini-tour levels, Lendl now spends much of his time managing his daughters’ golfing careers.

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