This series will highlight present and former tennis players who changed the way the game is played. Whether it is a style, attitude, or a signature move, it will be discussed. Many of these individuals paved the way for the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, and many others like them.
My second installment looks at the career of Ivan Lendl, the finest player to come out of the former Czechoslovakia. Today, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are separate countries, but no male player from either has come close to matching Lendl's success.
During his career, Ivan won eight Grand Slam singles titles (three French Opens, three U.S Opens, and two Australian Opens). He took part in 19 Grand Slam finals over his career, an incredible record for male players. For 11 straight years, the Czech reached the finals of a major, another record for males.
Lendl's style revolved around power. He'd be able to hit a running forehand down the line, or cross-court, leaving his opponents helpless.
He had a devastatingly powerful serve, but inconsistent at times because of high tosses. Ivan was one of the first power hitters from the baseline, and you'd rarely see him make errors from that position.
Many taller players currently playing pro don't possess the greatest movement on the court. Lendl, however, was able to move extremely fast and track down balls.
The 1984 French Open witnessed Ivan's first Grand Slam singles victory. He was down two sets-to-love, and came back to defeat John McEnroe in what may be his most memorable victory.
The two became rivals for many years, and McEnroe still mentions Ivan at times during his broadcasting. That year's U.S Open saw John get some payback with a straight-sets victory over Lendl. At the 1985 U.S Open, both men squared off again, and this time it was Ivan emerging in straight sets.
Lendl won three consecutive U.S Opens from 1985-87, and appeared in eight straight U.S Open Finals from 1982-89. Two consecutive French Open titles were added to his resume in 1986-87.
In 1989, "Ivan the Terrible" won his first Australian Open title, and defended it successfully in 1990. Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam tournament that eluded him in his illustrious career. He came close, reaching the semifinals in 1983 and 1984, and lost in the finals twice (1986, 1987).
Lendl trained continuously to improve his game on grass. After reaching the semifinals again for three straight years (1988-90), he never again made it that far. Ivan won 90 percent of his matches in four different years—a record no male player has ever been able to match.
In the end, Ivan won 222 Grand Slam singles matches—third all-time behind Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi. From the 1982 U.S Open to the 1991 Open, Lendl made the semifinals in 27 of the 34 Grand Slam tournaments he participated in.
For 11 straight years, he made at least one Grand Slam final, and on four occasions finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world.
He's one of only five players to finish the year as number-one for three consecutive years, and to hold the first spot every week of a year. Ivan also made the second most consecutive Grand Slam semifinal and quarterfinal appearances with 10 and 14 respectively. Only Roger Federer has beaten both of these records.
His constant intensive training, physical condition, unusual preparation for games, and an incredible desire to do whatever it took to win, contributed to Ivan's great tennis career. The announcement of his retirement came on Dec. 21, 1994, due to chronic back pain.
It's a shame that the man who had such great fitness had to end his career because of health issues. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001.
1) Bjorn Borg