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US Open Q&A: Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl works with Andy Murray during the 2012 US Open. (Getty Images)
Photo by:  (Getty Images)

Ivan Lendl is one of the US Open’s great champions. He won three titles in succession, from 1985 to 1987, and reached the final every year from 1982 to 1989 – a run of eight championship matches in a row that is tied with Bill Tilden (1918-25) for the most by any player, man or woman, in U.S. Championships/US Open history. Moreover, Lendl reached the US Open semifinals in 1991 and the quarterfinals on three other occasions, finishing his career with 73 match victories (fifth all-time among men) and an .849 winning percentage (fifth-best among men in the Open era).

The eight-time Grand Slam winner and Hall of Famer recently took time to talk with about his most meaningful US Open title, the 2016 US Open chances of his pupil Andy Murray and how his meticulous planning helped pave the way for his remarkable run of success at Flushing Meadows. You are the only man in the Open era to reach eight consecutive US Open men’s singles finals. What was it about coming to New York that brought out your best tennis?

Ivan Lendl: I got to stay at my home in Greenwich (in southern Connecticut), so that was really nice. I didn’t have to stay in a hotel. And in my off days I didn’t even go into Flushing Meadows; I practiced on my home court. I think you save a lot of mental energy doing that. You always made sure your practice court and the US Open courts were very similar?

Lendl: It was not very similar, it was totally identical. The same crew which resurfaced center court (then Louis Armstrong Stadium) came to my house the next day and resurfaced my court. The amount of sand on the top layer determines the speed of the court, and who has a better feel for that than the crew who did it just yesterday? Of your three US Open titles, is there one that stands out as the most memorable or most special to you?

Lendl: It’s always the first one. No matter what, when you do it the first time it’s always, I don’t want to say it’s more special, but in some ways it is more special – because you’re never sure you can achieve something like that, and once you do, it’s very rewarding. And when you do it a second time or a third time in this case, yes, they’re fantastic as well. But that first one – it’s special. And of the five title match losses, is there one that stings more than the others?

Lendl: They all sting/stink – with a “g” and with a “k.” In those eight finals, you played a who's who of 1980s tennis – Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker. Who was your toughest opponent at the US Open?

Lendl: Connors was very tough early on, but you named it, they have moved through the 80s, from Connors and McEnroe to Wilander and Becker. I played Edberg a couple of times at the Open as well, and he was pretty tough, too. They were all great players and all very difficult to beat. You coached Andy Murray to his first Grand Slam title at the 2012 US Open, and you guys are now working together again. What will it take for Andy to add a second Open crown in 2016?

Lendl: I think health is one thing. A player must stay healthy, not only so he can compete in the event but so he can prepare for the event properly. There is always a little bit of luck involved there. The right draw can have a lot of influence on the outcome of tournaments. Then, just having a consistent year and working well on certain things. And as everybody knows, the biggest obstacle for anyone to win a major now is Novak. Speaking of Novak Djokovic, he has reached the semis or better for nine consecutive years at the US Open, and has won four straight Grand Slam tournaments and six of the last eight. How do you put into context what he's accomplishing right now?

Lendl: Only three times has it been done in the men’s game where someone has held all four majors. Don Budge did it (in 1938) and Rod Laver did it twice (1962 and 1969), so you have to look at it as something which is probably not that easy. That said, neither Novak nor even Roger Federer have never advanced to eight consecutive US Open finals. Do you think anyone will ever again duplicate that mark?

Lendl: Never say never. When you look at other sports, there are records and achievements which people think will never be reached, and they are. Is somebody going to make 10 straight finals? Probably. Is it going to be in the next decade or 70 years from now? Who knows?