Ivan Lendl is one of the great players of the Open-era. He was world No.1 for 270 weeks, was a winner of eight majors, was a two-time finalist at Wimbledon and won 94 career titles. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In more recent times when everyone is still at home not able to do much in tennis the subject of greatest of all time GOAT has been a topic of discussion all over again.
I spoke with Ivan who I have been close friends with for 30+ years about his thoughts on the matter.
This is part two of our chat on who is the greatest of all time.
CRAIG GABRIEL: So, if you had to break it down and go for the greatest, for you it would be Rocket and Roger, is that right?
IVAN LENDL: Definitely Laver, no doubt about it, and yeah, you have to go with Roger right now but, but, I’m not closing the book on that, it’s far from finished. Roger is 39 this year and Novak and Rafa are much younger and they will pay a bit longer, so that is going to be one hell of a race to follow.
GABRIEL: That’s the thing, they have age on their side and Novak is more injury free than Rafa and Novak’s prime goal is to be in that position because he knows he is never going to overtake Roger and Rafa in the affection of the public.
LENDL: Affection of the public should not be in the equation. Who is the most popular is one thing but who is the greatest is not being judged by popularity. That’s why the Wimbledon finals last year was so fascinating with Roger losing from two match points up because if he moved to 21 and Novak stayed at 16, that’s five difference, now its just three. It’s much harder to win five than three.
When I watched it I saw both players were extremely nervous and I strongly believe this is why they were so nervous because they both knew if Roger jumped to a five lead it would be very difficult to catch him.
GABRIEL: You have said Pete was the best player you played against because of his athleticism but how do you compare him to the guys now?
LENDL: That’s not a fair comparison, the training methods are different, the recovery methods are different, the nutrition methods are different – it’s like comparing wooden racquets to today’s racquets. You can’t do that. If you start comparing 1980’s to 2020, then just look at times in track and field and swimming and you will stop in a hurry.
GABRIEL: But then doesn’t that go back to what I was saying near the start about racquets, courts, training etc making it more difficult to create a list of greatest of all time in the sport?
LENDL: That’s why you have to judge it by results and not by times, not by performance. You have to judge it by major titles … Lave winning two grand slams. If someone was to win a grand slam these days, even if he had one or two major titles less than someone else, I maybe be winning to put him ahead.
GABRIEL: Would you say it’s the same criteria for the women’s game or is that slightly different?
LENDL: I think it’s the same. You have to look at pre-Open which is Margaret Court even though she won her Grand Slam and share of titles after the sport opened up, and then you look at Open-era only in my mind and you look at Steffi, Martina and Serena.
GABRIEL: Pre-Open era, you say Margaret Court but what about someone like Maureen Connolly, the first woman to win the Grand Slam.
LENDL: I have to admit, other than her winning the Grand Slam, I’m not familiar with how many other titles she won (she won nine majors), and Margaret Court won 24.
GABRIEL: But isn’t it awkward to put Margaret down for 24 if you are putting her into the pre-Open era because not all 24 were at that time?
LENDL: I think we covered that with Laver. With the women it was a little different because they didn’t turn pro as much as the men. Again, I am very reluctant to discuss something where I am not that familiar with the records. It’s unfair to be voicing opinions on something you’re not familiar with and you can be unfair and you can also have someone say what is this guy talking about, he doesn’t have his facts right, and they would be correct.
GABRIEL: Do you think it is a fascinating topic to discuss as someone who has been in the mix, or is a bit of ho hum?
LENDL: I think it is very fascinating to discuss and I have thought about it long and hard before I came to the conclusion about Rod Laver because at that time came to the conclusion that Roger Federer was the best of the Open-era however Novak and Rafa are giving him a run for his money. I don’t think it is ho hum, I think it is a fascinating topic to discuss or follow and watch now and I consider myself very fortunate to have seen guys like this, like Pete and Roger and Rafa and Novak play and coach against them.
I’m also very fortunate to have been playing the same time when Steffi won her Golden Slam in 1988 and I don’t know if we will ever see that again. I’m very fortunate to see that and you realise how very special that is.
I’m fortunate to have watched Jack Nicklaus play and Tiger Woods play and Anneke Sörenstam play, also somebody like Wayne Gretzky. To be able to watch the best in some of these sports is a privilege.
GABRIEL: Just one thing on the women’s side with Steff and Serena and I guess Martina to a degree but the concentration is on Steffi and Serena, Steffi with 22 majors and Serena on 23, as we were just saying about the Golden Slam and what Graf achieved, would you put her slightly ahead of Serena, but then again Serena’s career is not done and could go further, but what Steffi achieved and what Serena has achieved, what would be your thoughts there?
LENDL: First of all, what they both achieved is incredible, it is absolutely amazing and phenomenal. Secondly, I do not like judging something which is still a moving target. When Serena is done and retired, I might sit down and think about it, till then I’m just going to let the movie play and watch.