French Open Flashbacks: John McEnroe v Ivan Lendl 1984 Final

With the French Open meant to have taken place this summer, Last Word on Tennis decided to fill the void by revisiting some famous matches at Roland Garros.

Our first trip down memory lane is to the 1984 final between John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

Background

John McEnroe

McEnroe came into the match in the middle of what would be a record breaking season, the American finishing with a calendar year record of 82-3 for the highest single-season win rate in the Open era. 

It was clear this would be an outstanding year as he began with 42 straight wins, winning six titles. 

The outspoken star had already shown his prowess on grass with Wimbledon triumphs in 1981 and 1983 as well as three successive US Open titles from 1979. 

However, he had never quite conquered the clay in Paris, losing to Wilander in the quarter-finals the previous year. 

Ivan Lendl

In contrast, Lendl had yet to get over that Grand Slam hurdle, never mind win the French Open. 

The Czech had reached the final in Paris in 1981 but lost in five sets to Bjorn Borg and the following year he was defeated in the US Open showpiece by Jimmy Connors.

He reached his maiden Australian Open final in 1983 but was comfortably seen off by Wilander before losing again to Connors at Flushing Meadows. 

Despite the lack of Slam trophies, Lendl was a clear threat and had consistently shown his class outside of the majors, having won 39 titles to date. 

Head to head

Throughout their careers their rivalry was keenly fought since it started in 1980 with McEnroe victorious in the opening two meetings but Lendl promptly won the next seven. 

However, the American had appeared to figure out the Czech’s game and came into the final having won seven of their last eight matches.  

Part of his 1984 winning streak had included four final victories over Lendl with two on clay as it seemed he was finally imposing his game on the surface.  

Route to the final

Unsurprisingly, given his form, McEnroe came to Paris as the world No. 1 and he eased to the fourth round without dropping a set.

He then beat 12th seed José Higueras in four sets to set up a quarter-final clash with fellow American Jimmy Arias. 

McEnroe won in straight sets and met another compatriot Jimmy Connors in the last-four. 

This would be their first meeting at the French Open with both players looking for their maiden final at Roland Garros. 

In a one-sided affair, McEnroe triumphed 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to earn a final spot against Lendl who himself had a three-set victory, over Mats Wilander. 

The Final

With McEnroe’s form and Lendl’s record in Slam finals, it was perhaps no surprise when the American won the first two sets 6-3, 6-2 playing outstandingly. 

It seemed a formality that McEnroe would win and Lendl’s unwanted record would be extended until an incident swung the momentum. 

The score was 1-1, and 0-30 on the Lendl serve, McEnroe was distracted by a cameraman and remonstrated with him. 

With world No.1 distracted, Lendl survived and gained confidence as a topsy-turvy set went in his favour 6-4. 

Unruffled, McEnroe looked in control with a 4-2 lead in the fourth set but his usually reliable serve was becoming a weakness as Lendl levelled. 

After breaking again, the Czech eventually claimed the fourth set, 7-5.

Despite being in the ascendancy, history was against the second seed as only three times in the past had the champion come from 0-2 down to win in five sets.

With McEnroe’s abrasive nature and the way the contest had swung, the crowd, who had given him a rapturous reception as he had arrived on court, were now backing Lendl.  

The deciding set was an even contest until the sixth game of the set when McEnroe had break point opportunities but could not convert.

Just like the third set, Lendl grew in confidence and despite seeing a match point saved, simply earned another one.

This time McEnroe skewed a volley wide and an improbable comeback was complete, handing Lendl his first Slam in the most dramatic circumstances.

In a breathtaking spectacle there was no doubt who they were now backing as McEnroe declined to address them due to their support of Lendl.

This was met with a chorus of boos which only intensified as the American went off court in contrast to his arrival over four hours earlier. 

What happened next

This match still haunts McEnroe to this day but he recovered to win the remaining two Slams that year at Wimbledon and the US Open where he beat Lendl in straight sets.

Despite playing for another nine years, McEnroe would not win another one or even make another final.

Lendl would win a further seven majors including at Roland Garros in 1986 and 1987. 

 

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