Classic Rivalries: McEnroe vs Lendl

Classic Rivalries: McEnroe vs Lendl

During the 80s, rivalries at the top of men’s tennis were plenty. McEnroe vs. Lendl was one of the most entertaining to watch. There are two acts in this rivalry. McEnroe dominated in the first half of the 80s while Lendl dominated in the second half of the 80s, stopping McEnroe’s reign in the process.

It is well known that McEnroe would comment that he had more tennis talent in his pinky finger than Lendl had in his entire body. There’s some truth to that. Things did not come as naturally to Lendl as they did to McEnroe. In order to take the reigns from McEnroe Lendl had to put in years of hard work. And work hard he did! Although McEnroe was only one year older than him, Ivan Lendl won 7 of his 8 Grand Slams after the age of 25. Compare that to McEnroe’s inability to win a Grand Slam after the age of 25. Let’s break the rivalry down.

McEnroe and Lendl met a total of 36 times from 1980 to 1992. Lendl holds a 21-15 edge on this rivalry. However, it’s the meetings in Grand Slam finals that really showcase this rivalry and shed light on the transition of dominance from McEnroe to Lendl. McEnroe and Lendl contested three Grand Slam finals between 1984 and 1985.

Let’s start with 1984. This was the best year McEnroe had as a professional, going 83-3, and capturing Wimbledon and the US Open along the way. However, there is a big blemish on this exquisite record – the 1984 French Open final.

At the 1984 French Open, McEnroe was at his best making it all the way to the final, where he would meet Ivan Lendl, whom was still looking to capture his first Grand Slam at 24 years of age. McEnroe already held five Grand Slam titles to his name and had finished the year ranked number 1 three years in a row. Although Lendl was magnificent on the clay, McEnroe was clearly the favorite. McEnroe cruised through the first two sets, and it looked as though he would take the title in three sets. It was not to be, Lendl would take the third set and win it in five. McEnroe states he still has nightmares about this final. And rightly so, as he would never have another chance at winning the French Open, and Lendl would finally get the Grand Slam monkey off his back.

Fortunately for McEnroe, Lendl did not spook him enough to beat him at the 1984 US Open. Having captured Wimbledon a few months earlier, McEnroe came in as confident as ever on his home turf and beat Lendl easily in three straight sets to claim his fourth and final US Open.

In 1985 they would meet again at the 1985 US Open final. McEnroe would be the number one seed again, and Lendl the number two seed. This time around it would be Lendl winning in straight sets. Lendl would finish 1985 as the number one player and would never look back. He would finish number one four additional times in the late 80s. John McEnroe would take a break from tennis in 1986, and would struggle to regain his form for the rest of his career.

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