The Greatest in the 80s- McEnroe, Lendl, or Wilander?

AP/Ron Frehm, file

The Greatest in the 80s- McEnroe, Lendl, or Wilander?

There are three men that dominated the majority of the 1980s on the ATP Tour. Those three men are McEnroe, Lendl and Wilander. They won more Grand Slams during the 80s than players like Edberg, Becker, Borg, and Connors. All three had healthy rivalries with each other, disputing major titles throughout the 80s. How do they stack against each other? Who’s the King of the 80s? Let’s look at the numbers.

Mats Wilander: 7 Grand Slams, finished number one in 1988. 7 Grand Prix Super Series tournament wins, and 7 top ten finishes in the 80s.

Ivan Lendl: 7 Grand Slams, finished number one four times; 85, 86, 87, and 89. 22 Grand Prix Super Series tournaments, and 10 top-ten finishes in the 80s. Captured Masters Grand Prix Year-end championships five times.

John McEnroe: 6 Grand Slams, finished number one four times; 81, 82, 83, and 84. 19 Grand Prix Super Series tournaments, and 8 top-ten finishes. Captured Masters Grand Prix Year-end championships four times.

The above stats indicate that Lendl is the clear winner among these three. However, let’s investigate their head-to-head records to see if we see any trends that favor any one player over the other.

Wilander vs. Lendl

They played a total of 22 times, and Lendl holds the overall edge of 15 to 7. However, Mats has an edge over Lendl where it matters. In Grand Slam Finals Mats holds a 3-2 edge over Lendl. Their last encounter in a Grand Slam was the 1988 US Open.

Wilander vs. McEnroe

McEnroe, like Lendl leads the head-to-head 7 to 6. However, much like with Lendl, in Grand Slams he holds an edge of 3-2. It’s important to point out that unlike with Lendl, Wilander did not dispute any Grand Slam finals with McEnroe. That being said, they were important matches in the semifinals or quarterfinals of Grand Slams.

McEnroe vs. Lendl

Lendl holds the 21 to 15 edge in this rivalry, and also the Grand Slam meetings head-to-head. 7-3. It’s clear Lendl held the edge in this rivalry, even though McEnroe had the better of Lendl at the beginning of the decade.

When looking at all the stats above from a surface level, one may be inclined to pick Lendl as the greatest player of the 1980s. Not so fast though, it seems that Wilander had both McEnroe and Lendl’s number where it counted, at Grand Slams. Is Wilander the best of the 80s?

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Comments: 4

  1. Tom

    I think you shorted Lendl a slam. French 3 US Open 3 Australian 2.

    • Alan Brazil

      Lendl won his last major, in 1990, at The Australian Open.

  2. Alan Brazil

    I think your analysis has some shortcomings. Lendl was 5-4 in majors against Wilander. 0-1 Australian. 2-2 French. 3-1 US. Wilander never made the Wimbledon final or even the semifinal. Ivan made two finals. Wilander had not advanced to the semifinals of the US until 1985, when he lost in five sets to McEnroe. Lendl made US Open finals in a row, beating Wilander on the way in 1982 (4R) and 1983 (QF) in straight sets.

    Lendl beat McEnroe seven times in a row from 1981-83, including at the 1981 French (QF) in straight sets, the 1981 Davis Cup QF at Flushing Meadow in straight sets, the 1982 Masters SF, 1982 US (SF) in straight sets and the 1983 Masters (F) in straight sets. McEnroe went 10-2 in 1983-84, including wins at 1983 Wimbledon (SF), 1984 US (F) as well back to back straights sets wins in 1984 (end of 1983 season) and 1985 (end of 1984 season). The major interruption in that dominance being Lendl’s breakthrough win at the 1984 French (F) from two sets down. After Lendl defeated McEnroe at the 1985 US (F), he dominated McEnroe the rest of their careers from 1985 on, including wins at the 1987 US (QF), 1988 French (4R), 1989 Australian (QF) and 1989 Masters (RR).

  3. ttango22000

    No, Lendl’s Australian Open title was in 1990, which doesn’t count for this discussion because the writer specified the 1980s. It’s a terrific statistical argument, similar to my analysis of the Washington Bullets of the 1970s, a team that reached the NBA Finals four times in that decade but only won one title. But still they reached the Finals more than Boston–twice–Seattle–twice–Los Angeles–three times–or New York–three times. I also just looked at Wilander’s 1988 US Open win over Lendl, and he dominated Lendl, which was ridiculous since Lendl should have dominated Wilander by going to the net, but wouldn’t! Wilander also seemed to be able to play McEnroe better than Borg because of a slight difference in his backhand. But the article makes its point:Wilander has to be considered with McEnroe and Lendl in any discussion of the best player of the 1980s.