September 15, 1986
Unleashing a barrage of stinging ground strokes that obeyed their master and hugged the lines, Ivan Lendl stood atop the tennis world in the mid-1980s for 270 weeks, longer than any other male player since the computer rankings were established in 1973. But during an era dominated by the color (and off-color) of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, there was little room on tennis's stage for a reticent Czech �migr� whose game was mechanical and methodical, and whose demeanor was so wooden as to make Al Gore look like Jerry Lewis. Even at the height of his career, Lendl was, as one irreverent magazine proclaimed on its cover, THE CHAMPION THAT NOBODY CARES ABOUT. Partly because of those words, Lendl refuses to be interviewed by SI.
Lendl's lack of Q-rating was perhaps what prevented him from being accorded superstar status. A world-beater whose success was as much a function of raw determination as raw talent, Lendl won eight Grand Slam tournaments and 94 titles overall (the second-highest men's total ever), using consistently deep strokes and stamina to outlast opponents. Though his most inspired match may have been the 1984 French Open final, in which he rallied from two sets down to beat McEnroe on clay, Lendl was at his best on hard courts, reaching the U.S. Open final eight straight years. While he fell short in his quest to win Wimbledon before a bad back forced him to retire in '94, he spent untold practice sessions on grass, valiantly attempting to adapt his baseline game to the faster surface. "I think he still has regrets about not winning Wimbledon," says his former coach Tony Roche, "but I also think tennis is now very much in the back of his mind."
Lendl rarely wields his racket these days. Instead, at 37 he has channeled his competitiveness into golf. Friends say he plays a round almost every day and has a six handicap. He was even given a wild-card spot in last year's Czech Open, though he missed the cut by 15 strokes. He lives in a sprawling mansion on an 800-acre estate in Cornwall, Conn., with his wife, Samantha, and their four young daughters. Having earned close to $100 million in prize and endorsement money, Lendl oversees a small empire that includes a sports-management company and a racket club. He also sat on the Hartford Whalers' advisory board of directors until the team announced in May that it was moving to Raleigh, N.C. "He's as happy as he's ever been," says Roche. "He has a good life in his own little corner of the world."