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Sunday, June 19, 2011

the Man who possessed everything but never won at Wimbledon - Ivan Lendl

In Sports, as in life, if you don’t keep pace – you are left behind.  The Wimbledon is about to begin and names of the players look many new.  Do you know the top 8 seeds in Mens’ and the top 4 in Women. 

My memory runs back to the days of first Sunday in July 1987, which left me feeling desolate and crying.  The requirements to be a Winner could be good skills, exceptional training, supreme match fitness, great serve, stamina, passion to win, steely resolve and icy resilence.  If  you think that the qualities are sure to make a winner – on that day my immensely talented favourite lost the finals to Pat Cash – he did everything in gunning for the title and despite reaching the Semis in 1988, 1989 and 1990, he never again reached the final.  He first attained the World No. 1 ranking on February 28, 1983 and bolstered his claim to the top spot when he defeated John McEnroe in the 1984 French Open final.  For much of the next five years, Lendl was the top ranked player until August 1990  !!!!

The Roland Garros – the French Open, a premier clay court tournament is just over and Wimbledon starts in end June to culminate on the first Sunday of July. Wimbledon 2011 will be the 125th time that The All England Lawn Tennis Club will have hosted The Championships since the first tournament in 1877. Wimbledon is a purist’s delight, famed for its green grass, white clothing and the Club colours of purple and green;  it is  proud of its traditions. Its sporting heritage combines the best of the old with innovative solutions designed to meet the demands of the modern game.  Wimbledon’s rich history is well recorded on paper, captured in photos and on film, and presented through objects, memorabilia and interactive displays in the Museum.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which is responsible for staging the world's leading tennis tournament, is a private Club founded in 1868, originally as 'The All England Croquet Club'. Its first ground was situated off Worple Road, Wimbledon and lawn tennis was introduced in 1875.  Only Gentlemen’s Singles was held in 1877 which was won by Spencer Gore from a field of 22. 

The most important of the matches happen at the Centre Court where Nobles and other assemble to watch the game.    The 1980s were the era of the icon Bjorn Borg of Sweden who went on to become  the first player to win the Gentlemen's Singles five times; a feat replicated by Roger Federer between 2003 and 2007.  It was the magnetic John Mcenroe who challenged Borg with his acrobatic returns and great serves.  In 1985 it was a teenager – Boris Becker at 17, who won as the first unseeded player.  The year 1987 saw the iron lady  Martina Navratilova of the United States becoming the first player to win the Ladies' Singles six times in succession and in 1990 she attained the all-time record of nine victories in the event.

Some track was lost at that stage and years later, Pete Sampras of the USA registered his seventh win in 2000 and in 2001, Goran Ivanisevic became the first wildcard to win the Gentlemen's Singles. In 2009, Roger Federer surpassed Sampras's record of 15 Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon, defeating Andy Roddick to win his sixth Wimbledon title, and 16th Grand Slam singles title. In 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut contested the longest tennis match in history, eventually ending 70-68 in the fifth set after 138 games, and 11 hours and five minutes over three days. Ironically, the same Isner and Mahut are to contest again the first round of Wimbledon this year too. 

When Borg had sort of waned, the icon was Ivan Lendl (1960) of Czechoslovakia  – one of the most dominant players who perhaps changed the way the game was played.  He went on to capture 8 Grand slam singles.  . He competed in 19 Grand Slam singles finals, a record at that period of time.  He reached at least one Grand Slam final for 11 consecutive years, a record shared with Pete Sampras. He won 2 WCT Finals titles and a record 5 Masters Grand Prix titles, tied with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. He also won a record 22 Championship Series titles (1980–89) the precursors to the current ATP Masters 1000. Lendl first attained the World No. 1 ranking on February 28, 1983 and bolstered his claim to the top spot when he defeated John McEnroe in the 1984 French Open final. For much of the next five years, Lendl was the top ranked player until August 1990 (with a break from September 1988 to January 1989 when Mats Wilander was at the top). He finished four years ranked as the world's top player (1985–1987 and 1989) and was ranked No. 1 for a total of 270 weeks and set a new record, which however stands broken now. 

He was a strong but basically a topspin player from baseline.  In that era, when I was closely following him, Lendl’s winning percentage was greater than 90%.  But with all the greatness and the more I wanted him to win,  Lendl, however, remained defeated at the Wimbledon, which made him remark ‘grass is for cows’ statement with contempt.  1989 was another very strong year for Lendl. He started the year by capturing his first Australian Open title with a straight sets final victory over Miloslav Mečíř and went on to claim 10 titles out of 17 tournaments he entered. Lendl successfully defended his Australian Open title in 1990.

Wimbledon eluded him and everyone else seemingly had a purple patch there.  He reached the Semis in 1983 and 1984 – those days I would tremble to open the penultimate page of ‘the Hindu’ fearing to read the news of his loss and sure it would be in volumes as to how he fought valiantly and appeared to win for sure but did not.  In the year 1986, thought he would boulderdash the german Boris Becker but lost in straight sets.
In 1987, Lendl was playing ruthlessly and had pulverized his opponents and had put in intense efforts honing his game on grass.  He would look like a monk without revealing any of his emotions and would stand tall and powerful on the baseline.  His opponent in the finals was Patrick Cash who was injury prone and thought Lendl had the golden choice.  The final’s blues got struck and Lendl lost again in straight sets….

Lendl did reach  the Wimbledon semifinals again in 1988, 1989 and 1990; but the thoughts that he might never win had been deeply implanted in the mind, which made is more melancholic. Can’t still reason out what made me love Lendl so much, but it only hurt the mind more all the days and perhaps could feel the bitterness even today when one thinks back of that era. 

Lendl  -  story of a Man possessing everything, still never could win the coveted trophy  at Wimbledon. 

In July 1983, Lendl played three exhibition matches (against Johan Kriek, Kevin Curren, Jimmy Connors) in Sun City, in the apartheid-era. The Czechoslovak Sport Federation (ČSTV), controlled by the Communist Party, expelled him from the Czechoslovak Davis Cup team and fined him $150,000.  Lendl disagreed with the punishment and fine. In  addition, the publication of his name and results in the Czechoslovak media was prohibited. The ban was extended not only to Lendl, but to anything about world tennis.  The appearance in this exhibition in Sun City and Lendl's Americanized living style ignited a long-lasting dispute between Lendl and the Czechoslovak communist authorities, which was never settled and resulted in his decision to apply for a green card in 1987 and later on for U.S. citizenship.
The top seeds in Mens are : Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Thomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Andy Roddick.  In Womens, it is -  Caroline Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Li Na, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Schiavone………

This piece should sure evince some response from tennis lovers, who are a bit grey.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar. 

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