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Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer: An Evolution of Ivan Lendl

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland (L) and Rafael Nadal of Spain (R) pose on court before their men's final during the ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 28, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Dimitri KayCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2010

It is a shame that Ivan “The Terminator” Lendl does not get more praise for what he achieved in tennis. He is hardly, if ever, mentioned in the same breath of some of the tennis greats.

However, looking closer to what Ivan Lendl did for tennis, and how he played, the evolution from him to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is noticeable.

Athleticism

Although Bjorn Borg was a great athlete with great stamina, Lendl took it to a whole new level. His dedication to conditioning helped him become extremely fit, superseding any other tennis player before him. He used a scientific approach in order to prepare himself for a tennis match.

Nadal and Federer have been the fittest guys on tour for the past seven years. The former has proved this many times by the amount of hours spent on the court alone, and the amounts of tournaments he plays back-to-back. He has also shown his fitness in the way he heals from an injury and comes back stronger.

Federer on the other hand has never retired from a match, and has played 80 or more matches in five different seasons. He has also played many tournaments back-to-back.

Competitiveness

Lendl was always known to be a fiery competitor and mentally very strong. Very rarely would he get flustered on the court, and he would never give up. In fact, he hated losing; he once stated, “It’s a miserable feeling. I hate it. I hate losing.”

This competitiveness caused him to train extremely hard for hours on end. As one of his contemporaries once said,

“...nobody in the sport has ever worked as hard as he did.” – McEnroe

Nadal and Federer are without a doubt the best competitors the game may ever see. The Spaniard always states that whatever he does, he has to do it at 100 percent; furthermore, on the court he is mentally unflappable, whatever may happen during a match.

As for the Swiss, it has been said many times that he is not as good a competitor as Nadal. Really? Would that explain the 16 Grand Slams and countless other titles? At 29 years old he is still trying to prove he is at the top of the men’s game.

Consistency

Many records that Roger Federer claim today once belonged to the Czech’s. Grand Slam semi-finals streak, most Grand Slam final appearances, most tournament finals won in a row, and the list goes on. “The Terminators’” consistency was unparalleled.

Lendl was always talked about as being like a machine, because of the perfect consistency he had through each year, and through each tournament (he once won three tournaments, in three weeks, on three different surfaces). Additionally, each and every one of his shots looked exactly the same every time he hit them.

Nadal‘s consistency first came through the clay court season, where he managed to accumulate 81 consecutive clay court match wins. The number is dazzling considering how many clay-courters there are on tour nowadays.

What’s more, he has administered some of this consistency on to other surfaces throughout the years too; four Wimbledon finals in 5 years is no small feat.

We all know about Federer’s consistency. Ten straight Grand Slam finals and 23 consecutive semi-finals, plus 237 successive weeks as world number one just say’s it all. Lendl’s consistency was considered impossible to match. What do we say about Federer’s?

Tactics and Forehand

The thing that stood out more than anything and made Ivan Lendl one of the greatest players of all time was his favorite shot: the running forehand.

The way that both Nadal and Federer play today is an evolution, or ‘upgrade’ if you like, of the way Lendl played.

The latter knew that his backhand was not as strong as his forehand, so he purposely stood more on the left side of the court (ad side). He would do this for two reasons:

1st – it would be easier for him to run around his backhand thus hitting his more favored forehand.

2nd – because of the open court he left on his right side (deuce side), his opponents were tempted to hit there. However this would mean hitting to Lendl’s forehand side hence letting the Czech rip his famous running forehand to distressing effect.

Of course Ivan Lendl was not the first person to do this, but because of his extreme levels of stamina and consistent hitting, he used this tactic every single time he stepped on the court. He helped this style of play gain prominence.

After getting to hit his forehand, he would then dominate the rallies with this trustworthy shot, by adding large amounts topspin (for those days) to stay in control.

Today’s no. 1 and 2 seeds both play in the exact same way. Because of their far more superior, stamina, consistency and forehands, they are able to execute this tactic to an even devastating effect than Lendl, plus ripping winners from anywhere on the court.

So, although Ivan Lendl may not be talked about much on how he revolutionized the tennis athlete and game; remember that he lives through the highly upgraded versions: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

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