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Ivan Lendl

Born 7 March 1960 à Ostrava (Czech Republic)

Along with Swede Mats Wilander, who also won three titles, the Czech-turned-American was the other main man at Roland-Garros during the 1980s. In between his records at the US Open (eight finals in a row from 1982 – 1989) and being the nearly man at Wimbledon (the only major he never managed to take home), his relationship with Roland-Garros was an important one as it featured the two most significant matches of his career. The first against John McEnroe in 1984 ushered in the legend that was Lendl, while the second announced the beginning of the end, in 1989 against Michael Chang. Having won the juniors in 1978, Lendl already made the final "proper" in 1981, only to end up being the last victim of six-time winner Björn Borg… but also the first man since 1976 to take the Swede to five sets. A fine achievement, but not one that would help him cast off the image of the eternal bridesmaid. Despite physical and mental training that were second to none at the time, Lendl knew only defeat in Grand Slam finals in the early days (apart from Roland-Garros in 1981, he also lost the Australian Open in 1983 and the US Open in 1982 and 1983).

It would be in Paris, and during "McEnroe’s year", that he would finally right this wrong, and fittingly he did it with one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of tennis. Just as his American nemesis, who was on a 42-match win streak at the time, was wiping the floor with him, Lendl decided to take some advice from a spectator who quoted a popular song at the time and shouted from the stands: "Prove that you exist!" The Czech duly came back from two sets down, overcame a break in the fourth and then saved two more break points at 3-3 in the decider, before exulting in joy and deliverance just before the clock struck eight at the end of his 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. John McEnroe kept his head down during the trophy ceremony and disappeared off-court as quickly as he could, rather than watch Lendl hold his first Slam silverware aloft in what would become a familiar scene in Paris and around the world for the rest of the decade. Despite losing in the final in 1985 to Mats Wilander, Lendl got his hands back on the trophy the following two years, including a dose of revenge on Wilander in the 1987 final. The Swede made a mistake in opting for serve-and-volley, rather than following the example of his compatriot Joakim Nyström who was the only player of that era to be able to throw Lendl off his rhythm, driving the Czech mad with moonballs.

This ended up being the recipe, with an added dash of cheek in the form of an underarm service, that worked for Chang against the then world No.1 in the Round of 16 in 1989. Lendl was deeply affected by this defeat, which ushered in a downward spiral that saw him beaten in the first round in his last two appearances at Roland-Garros, in 1993 and 1994. In 1993, he even gave an unknown Frenchman by the name of Stéphane Huet (ranked No.297) his day in the sun, in one of the biggest upsets the tournament has ever seen.

Ivan Lendl’s record at Roland-Garros:

• 53 wins, 12 defeats.
• Three titles (1984, 1986 and 1987) and two finals (1981 and 1985). Ivan Lendl also won the Australian Open twice (1989 and 1990) and the US Open three times (1985, 1986 and 1987). He never won Wimbledon, his best results being two appearances in the final (1986 and 1987).
• 15 participations (the first in 1978, the year of his boys’ singles title, the last in 1994, at the age of 34).
• 38 matches played on Centre Court (the first in 1979 against Vitas Gerulaitis).
• Notable wins over José Luis Clerc (semi-final in 1981), John McEnroe (quarter-final in 1981, 1984 final and Round of 16 in 1988), Mats Wilander (semi-final in 1984 and 1987 final), Jimmy Connors (semi-final in 1985).