The time is the present. The subject is the future. The place is a tennis court somewhere in the world. The cast, part of it, has been on stage since the drama began; in order of appearance: Austin, McEnroe and Jaeger—i.e., the Yanks. Now the second act is under way, and the Czechs have made their entrance. The man is Ivan Lendl of Ostrava, 20 years old, 6'2" and still filling out. She's Hana Mandlikova of Prague, 18, 5'8" and just right. He's a baseliner with a forehand that's second only to Bjorn Borg's and a volley that's better. She's an attacker, a serve-and-volleyer in the mold of her countrywoman, Martina Navratilova, with the athletic grace of Evonne Goolagong. A year ago, unless you were a follower of international junior tennis, you probably hadn't heard of either of them. Today he's the sixth-ranked man in the world and she's the fifth-ranked woman.
Lendl has beaten Borg twice this past year, and in December he led Czechoslovakia to its first Davis Cup victory, the first Davis Cup ever won by an Eastern-bloc country. Mandlikova has beaten Chris Evert Lloyd once, Navratilova twice and Andrea Jaeger three times. The two young Czechs haven't conquered McEnroe, Connors and Austin as yet, but it's only a matter of time, and each has plenty of that.
The question—to be resolved in the third act—is: How long will the old folks of tennis hang around? Borg is 24 now and married. He has won five straight Wimbledons, and last year, according to a conservative but informed estimate, he made between $6 million and $7 million. It's possible, even probable, that he'll be running short of motivation before long. He played only 14 tournaments in 1980. Lendl, by contrast, at 20 still very hungry, played 32, plus three Davis Cup rounds.
Evert Lloyd, 26, seems also to be on the brink of change. She regained her No. 1 world ranking in 1980, taking revenge on the upstart Tracy Austin, who'd beaten her three times in 11 days last winter. But having done that and also now being happily married, where does she go next? What can she possibly do for her 11th encore?
Last January, Borg was asked to cite the most promising newcomers in tennis. He named Lendl, Johan Kriek, the expatriate South African, and Yannick Noah of France. Now, a year later, Noah is No. 23, Kriek is No. 18 and Lendl is No. 6. Asked if he was surprised that Lendl had progressed so rapidly, Borg said, "No, absolutely not. I predicted it." In a Grand Prix tournament in Basel, Switzerland last October, Lendl beat Borg in five sets in the final. Afterward Borg said, "Ivan played very, very well. He was steadier than I was at the backcourt."
Steadier than Borg from the back-court? Can it be?
"You can count on one hand the players who can make points from the back-court," says Corrado Barazzutti, the No. 2 singles man on the Italian Davis Cup team. "Borg, Connors, Vilas. Now add Lendl to that list. He has such great strength in his strokes, he anticipates so intelligently the reactions of his opponents, that he puts the game at the baseline and keeps it there."
In early October, Lendl launched a winning streak that made all the flattering predictions seem conservative. In the space of six weeks he won five Volvo Grand Prix tournaments, beating Guillermo Vilas in Barcelona, getting that victory over Borg in Basel and defeating Eliot Teltscher in Tokyo, as well as winning back-to-back tournaments over Brian Teacher in Taipei and Hong Kong. "At Barcelona I played well," says Adriano Panatta of Italy. "But I was beaten [6-1, 6-1] by Lendl in the semifinal. What do you want me to say? He played perfectly. I had the feeling I was hitting against a wall."
"When I am serving well, I can do anything," Lendl has said. "When I'm not, I get into trouble." The same can be said of his passing shots. If his awesome forehand is at its best and he is serving well, he is unbeatable, as Harold Solomon discovered in the fourth round of the U.S. Open in September. Lendl lost the first game of the first set and that was it. He beat Solomon 6-1, 6-0, 6-0.
Lendl is a prudent, professional player. On the other hand, Mandlikova (pronounced mand-LEEK-o-va in Czechoslovakia, but mand-lee-KO-va in the U.S. by fiat of Hana's advisers here who feel the real pronounciation may be too tough for Americans to handle), lives flamboyantly at the other end of the spectrum, sometimes to her disadvantage. British tennis writer Rex Bellamy wrote in World Tennis, "Mandlikova walks tightropes. Lendl builds bridges." Mandlikova has all the strokes, great speed, agility, natural athleticism. "She has probably the best serve of anyone I've ever played," said Jaeger after losing to her in the final of the Volvo Women's Cup in August. "Virginia Wade and Martina, if it's deuce or close, just try to get the serve in. Hana will go for the ace. Usually, she'll get it."