Classic Rivalries: Connors vs. Lendl

AP/G. Paul Burnett, file

Classic Rivalries: Connors vs. Lendl

An interesting rivalry that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough is Connors vs. Lendl. There are three acts in this rivalry.
In Act 1, Connors, seven years older than Lendl, is at the top of the tennis world while Lendl is the young upstart. As such, Lendl would lose the first eight matches against Connors. In Act 2, Connors was still at the top of his game, while Lendl was establishing himself at the top – this is where the meat of the rivalry resides with Connors edging Lendl 5-4. In Act 3, it’s all Lendl – winning 17 straight matches to close out the rivalry. In total they met 35 times with Lendl winning 22 times and Connors 13 times.

Let’s forget about Act 1 and Act 3 for a moment, and revel in the big time matches that happened in Act 2. This part of their rivalry took place between 1982-1984 and counted with two classic matches at the US Open and one at Wimbledon. Let’s take a closer look at these three matches –coincidentally, all Connors wins!

1982 US Open Final

1982 was a revival year for Jimmy Connors. It had been four years since his last Grand Slam. He first beat McEnroe in a five-set classic at Wimbledon. He would continue his fine form into the US Open, where he would meet Ivan Lendl, who was playing only his second Grand Slam final. Lendl had dispatched the number one seed, John McEnroe in straight sets in the semifinal, and seemed poised to win his first Grand Slam title. Unfortunately for Lendl, he would have to wait until 1984 to raise his first Grand Slam. Connors prevailed in four sets to win his fourth US Open – 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

1983 US Open Final

Lendl tore through the draw with no mercy, beating all comers in straight sets to make it to the 1983 US Open Final. Connors only dropped one set on his way to the final. Both men were playing phenomenally. Unfortunately for Lendl, now playing his fourth Grand Slam final without lifting a trophy, he would lose again. This time it was a little closer than 1982, with Connors prevailing in four hard fought sets which included a tiebreaker and a bagel! This final will be famously remembered for Lendl melting down after having set point on his serve in the third set. Instead, he double faulted, and then lost 10 games in a row – 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 6-0.

1984 Wimbledon Semifinals

Wimbledon is the tournament Lendl badly wanted, but never won. In the end, he would participate in five semifinals and two finals during the 80s. The second semifinal he would ever contest would be against Jimmy Connors, who was attempting to make another storied run at Wimbledon. Lendl started strong, taking the first set in a tiebreaker. Connors would be too good in the end though, taking the next two sets, and then cruising in the final set to make his sixth Wimbledon final – 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-1. Unfortunately for Connors, McEnroe would play a flawless final and let him win only four games.

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