New American in familiar game Lendl now serving in his adopted home

July 16, 1992|By Ashley McGeachy | Ashley McGeachy,Staff Writer

The newest American on the men's professional tennis tour is an old name in the game -- Ivan Lendl.

Lendl, a native Czechoslovakian who has played tennis professionally since 1978, became a U.S. citizen last week after living in Greenwich, Conn., for seven years. He overpowered Jared Palmer yesterday, 6-4, 6-1, in 103-degree heat in the second round of the NationsBank Classic in Washington -- Lendl's first victory as an American.

"It's always nice to win a match," said Lendl, who downplayed his becoming an American.

"I don't think about it at all, but you guys [the media] think about it."

Often characterized as unemotional and machine-like in the past, firing aces past his opponents during his reign at No. 1 from 1985 to 1989, Lendl appears to have softened in the past few years. Four reasons might be his wife, Samantha, and his three daughters, 2-year-old Marika and 11-month-old twins, Caroline and Isabelle.

The twins were expected last year during a tournament Lendl was playing in Toronto.

Expecting news from his wife at any moment, Lendl carried a portable phone with him and had a plane chartered to take him to Connecticut if nature called.

It didn't during the tournament, and Lendl lost in the semifinals to Andrei Chesnokov.

Lendl has had a tough year this year, losing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Stefan Edberg and in the second round of the French Open to Jaime Oncins. He injured a back muscle, which forced him to withdraw from his fourth-round Wimbledon match against Goran Ivanisevic.

"That is terribly painful," said Lendl, who has never won Wimbledon despite concentrated efforts. "I was certainly surprised to see [Andre Agassi] win it. I didn't think he had a chance."

In Washington, Lendl is trying to get some practice on the hard courts after taking close to two weeks off to heal. The U.S. Open, a tournament he has won three times, is in his sights.

"I just tried to keep the ball in play," said Lendl, who served seven aces, the fastest of which went 110 mph.

"I want to get some play and, hopefully, start winning some matches to prepare for the Open."

Lendl was too strong for Palmer, who turned pro last year after his sophomore year at Stanford. Also, Lendl's presence on the court altered Palmer's play.

"He's a great player, and I was definitely aware of who I was playing and it affected my shots," said Palmer, who practiced with Lendl three years ago.

"If you don't create something, he tends to do all the forcing and drives the ball through you."

Like John McEnroe, Lendl is skeptical of Bjorn Borg's return to professional tennis.

Borg, who retired 11 years ago at age 25, lost in Washington on Tuesday night to Thomas Hogstedt, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

"I can't see it work out," said Lendl, who said he was playing golf during Borg's match.

"It would be nice if it could. But if you are away from the game for 10 years, not only do you slip, but let's say he came back at the same level he left the game, the game has improved so much.

"So not only he has to make up how much he slipped, but he has to make up for the other players. That makes about 20 years he has to catch up."

Lendl, 33, says he is not ready to split from tennis.

"As long as my body holds up and I enjoy it, that's good," he said.

"If I don't enjoy it and my body doesn't hold up, it's very simple.

"As long as I don't hurt, I enjoy it."

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