If he has often shown his limits, the Masters group system - in effect since the creation of the event in 1971 - has resisted everything. And even the Lendl "controversy" in 1980...

Often criticized, but never completely discarded. If it has often shown his limits, the Masters group system - in effect since the creation of the event in 1971 - has resisted everything. Even the Lendl "controversy" in 1980...

 

If you had the choice, who you would prefer to face in the semi-finals? Novak Djokovic or Tomas Berdych? It’s this type of false dilemma that Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors faced during the final day of the group stage at the 1980 Masters in New York. Flashback: the Czechoslovak and American retrospectively defeated Harold Solomon and Guillermo Vilas in the first two group matches, before confronting on the Friday evening for the first place of the group.  Two important clarifications: 1/ the winner of this Connors vs. Lendl would have to face the following day in semi-finals the monster Björn Borg, world number 1, who had a whopping 1980 season with zero defeats between January and early September. 2/ The loser, on his part, would have to face him the friendly Gene Mayer. The American who played with both hands on both sides took advantage of the huge battle fought by John McEnroe and Björn Borg (6/4 6/7 7/6 victory of the latter) to pick up the two stars with a spoon and finish top of a group... in pieces.

 

Connors called Lendl a «wimp»

 

Result: Ivan Lendl, 20, winner of his first seven titles in 1980 and who had just defeated Björn Borg in five sets in final of the Basel tournament, didn't really play the game. After a close first set where he missed two set points, the Czechoslovak seemed absent in the second, that he lost (if even played?) in minutes, 6/1. Defeated past midnight, Lendl chose not to come at the press conference. It was only the next day, while Jimmy Connors had already called a "wimp", a remark that made history, that Ivan tried to set the record straight with the press. "-I played the game! I only changed tactics. - Yes, but it was better for you to lose in order to avoid playing against Borg! - No, it would have been better for me to win to play my semi-final second because we finished at one in the morning." Nobody believed him. And especially not Connors, defeated in three sets by Borg on the Saturday after the easy victory of Lendl over Mayer. A successful strategy to reach the final then, but not to win since Borg eventually crushed him 6/4 6/2 6/2.

 

From 8 to 16 players…

 

If the match of shame at the 1982 football World Cup between Austrian and German cousins - who agreed to play a non-match to rule out the dangerous Algeria - prompted FIFA to play the last group matches at same time to avoid any interested calculation, the attitude of Lendl, pushed the organizers to create a knockout format in 1983: twelve players first, then sixteen at the 1986 Masters, last tournament before the inevitable return to Round Robin. If calling into question the group stage system has fizzled  (the debate is long gone), the "Lendl controversy" has mainly resulted in complicating his relationship with Connors, and incidentally to transform the clashes between the two men in fabulous games. The final of the 1982 US Open (Victory of Connors in four sets) fought with the fresh memory of the "wimp" remains a monument of the 80s. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t all that bad...

 

By Julien Pichené