This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 23.
He would commute every day from his home in Connecticut. He seemed to reach peak efficiency more often than he did at any other major. He grew to love competing in a tournament that suited him to the hilt. Ivan Lendl was tailor-made for the US Open, and the US Open was the perfect fit for Ivan Lendl.
Lendl’s reign of excellence in New York started in 1982. He cut down defending champion John McEnroe in a straight-sets semifinal and then lost to Jimmy Connors in the final. Connors defeated Lendl once more in the 1983 final. In 1984, Lendl was a crucial part of an unsurpassable day. On Super Saturday, Sept. 8, Lendl saved a match point in a five-set dandy against Pat Cash. Martina Navratilova followed by coming from behind to oust Chris Evert in the women’s final, and McEnroe halted Connors in the second men’s semifinal. The following afternoon, McEnroe scaled the heights of his game to defeat Lendl in the final.
From 1985-87, Lendl was invincible at the US Open. He crushed McEnroe in the 1985 final for his first title, took his second a year later by beating Miloslav Mecir, and made it three in a row for a “hat trick” in 1987 with a courageous triumph over Mats Wilander, overcoming the Swede despite a stomach ailment that could have ruined his chances.
On to 1988. Lendl enjoyed another terrific tournament, only to lose against Wilander in a top-notch, five-set final. Finally, in 1989, Lendl defeated Jim Courier and Andre Agassi en route to the final, where he fell in a fourth-set tiebreak to Boris Becker. That was his eighth final consecutively. Not since Bill Tilden in the 1920s had any man realized that feat. To this day, too many tennis fans take that achievement for granted.
For sheer consistency, for enduring greatness, Lendl’s eight-year run is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in the history of the Open. Roger Federer managed six finals in a row from 2004-09, but Novak Djokovic stopped the Swiss in a five-set semifinal classic in 2010, and that was that.
Lendl seemed likely to extend his streak even longer when he moved into the quarterfinals of the 1990 US Open. But, despite a gallant comeback from two sets down all the way into a fifth set, Lendl came up short against the eventual champion Pete Sampras in an absorbing clash. The streak was over, but Lendl had gone down in style against a great player.
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