Saturday, April 12, 2008

1984 French Open final: Lendl def. McEnroe

Lendl def. McEnroe: 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
Classic: Yes
Rating: 90

The Plot:
McEnroe had not lost a match all year and was the prohibitive favourite in this French Open final against Lendl, who was still seeking his first Grand Slam title at the age of 24. On this day in Paris, Lendl staged a remarkable comeback to hand McEnroe a bitter defeat, and proved that he had the caliber of a Grand Slam champion.

The Match: McEnroe is irate from the onset, but his tennis is on fire in the 1st two sets and Lendl seems a little tentative or even nervous. McEnroe breaks for 4-2 in the first set and holds on to take it. The 2nd set is even more one sided, as McEnroe displays great form and imposes his game to take the set 6-2 with two breaks of serve. Everything is going McEnroe's way until the beginning of the 3rd set, when at 1-1, 0-30 against Lendl, McEnroe gets upset with noise coming from the headset of a camera man, and he walks over to scream something into the headset. Excitement builds at 2-2. when Lendl breaks McEnroe, only to be broken back a few games later. Eventually this see-saw, but well-played set goes to Lendl 6-4.

In the beginning of the 4th set McEnroe has a great opportunity after he breaks and takes a 4-2 lead. However, his 1st serve is letting him down badly and Lendl gets back to 4-4. After an extended game at 6-5, Lendl secures the 4th set. The 5th set is an exciting affair, as McEnroe holds breakpoints against Lendl in the 6th game, but can't convert. Lendl seems to grow in strength after this, and McEnroe is looking ever more tired at this point in the match. Eventually McEnroe goes down 15-40 when serving 5-6. He saves one match point, but then pushes a very makable volley just wide on the 2nd to hand Lendl the match.

The bottom line: This match has a special status in tennis legend. McEnroe's apparent melt-down at 1-1 in the 3rd set is an oft-told story at many a tennis gathering. However, reliving this moment I don't find it all that dramatic, nor that it has such a great impact on the match. It is the missed opportunity at 4-2 in the 4th set that is of real interest in my opinion. At this point, the match becomes very much alike the later Chang-Edberg final of 1989, since McEnroe, like Edberg, simply runs out of gas and is unable to hold on to any lead from then on. That being said, and while the match has a very exciting storyline, it is tennis-wise not of the highest level, and in particular, there are only few moments where both players play well at the same time. There are many fine points and strokes, but it is the drama that pulls this match into the 90+ category, and makes this a classic match. For that it is recommended, but for the quality of tennis other matches are better.

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