Andy Murray gave some interesting insights into Ivan Lendl this week, sharing his time between talking about the clay-court season, grass-court season and the inner machinations of his new coach.
The Scot talked about how the former world No 1 was perceived when he was playing in the 1980s and 1990s, how his attitude was something he admired and how Lendl had been impressed by his own work ethic. It got me thinking about Lendl’s career, but not just how well he did, but how his sense of humour was sometimes lost on others, to the extent that they would go to extreme lengths, on and off court, to get under his skin.
Peter Fleming, the doubles partner of Lendl’s arch foe in the early days, John McEnroe, tells a great story about the Czech-born American and just how much he rubbed his opponents the wrong way, at times. According to Fleming, Lendl was often not content to just win; sometimes he would love nothing more than to beat his opponents as badly as he possibly could. In the 1984 Rotterdam final, Lendl took on Jimmy Connors, a man who won their first eight meetings and who, according to Fleming, used to enjoy humiliating Lendl if he possibly could.
By the time they met in Rotterdam, Lendl was approaching his peak years while Connors, though still a formidable competitor, was 32 and not quite the force of old. Going into the match, Lendl had won four of their seven most recent battles and in Rotterdam, he was on fire, roaring to a 6-0, 1-0 lead. It was at this time that the match was stopped because the Ahoy Arena had received an anonymous telephone saying there was a bomb in the building. According to reports at the time, Connors might have been willing to resume but “Lendl did not want to take any risks” but Fleming recalls it differently. “If you ask Lendl, even to this day, he still thinks someone from Jimmy’s team made the phone call”. We stress, just in case Jimmy is reading this, that there is no evidence whatsoever to prove the claim.
According to the UPI report at the time, a request by Lendl that the prize money for the final, $50,000 to the winner and $25,000 for the runner-up, be put in a vault until the match could be completed, was accepted by tournament organizers. The Tennis Space is looking into what happened to that money in the end. Usually, the prize money for an unfinished final is shared, but in their head to head record, Connors is listed as the winner, which is rather strange.
That final is by no means the only unfinished final in ATP history and Connors was involved in another, in the final at Monte Carlo in 1981. Playing Guillermo Vilas, the Argentine who was at his best on clay, the scores were level at 5-5 when rain forced them off and washed out the rest of the day.
The 1973 final at Queen’s was washed out, denying the Flying Dutchman, Tom Okker, the chance to take the title against Clark Graebner. Okker had beaten Rod Laver in the semi-finals, so it was particularly cruel on him.
The Kitzbuhel finals of 1971 and 1973 were washed out, too. The ATP site gives Raul Ramires the title in 1971 but the official website says the title was shared. And in 1973, the match between Graebner and Manuel Orantes was rained off at 4-4 in the fifth and final set.
Connors also missed out on the chance to win the Nottingham title in 1976, again because of rain, but the ATP credits that as one of his record total of 109 titles. Perhaps he would have loved the chance to have replayed the Monte Carlo or Rotterdam finals at a later date.
That happened in the 1968 Boston US pro final between Rod Laver and John Newcombe after the June final was washed out, only to be replayed in September, when Laver won in straight sets.