Tennis Prose



How McEnroe Solved The Lendl Puzzle

By Scoop Malinowski

From 1981 Roland Garros to 1982 Masters, John McEnroe lost seven matches in a row to Ivan Lendl.

Then in early 1983 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia McEnroe turned the tables and beat Lend in the final in four sets 46 75 64 63. That win sparked McEnroe to win three in a row vs Lendl and seven of their next eight matches.

In his book “You Cannot Be Serious” McEnroe revealed the tactical change came from a most unexpected source…a phone call from Don Budge. The last American to win the Grand Slam in 1938, Budge phoned McEnroe to instruct him how to play and beat his nemesis.

“You’ve got to attack him right up the middle,” said Budge. “Stop giving him the angles. He’s killing you on those angles.”

McEnroe was honored and privileged to obtain these strategic ideas from Budge and immediately implemented them. “It was simple advice but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Lendl loved to run. He could go all day. And his groundstrokes were tremendous. He liked being stretched out in the corners. If I approached up the middle, he’d be forced to lob or to hit to my volley – my strengths. I’d be taking back the angles. Suddenly, I had a gameplan against Lendl that I hadn’t had before. And it worked. I won the final in four sets. Putting Don’s counsel to work in that tournament gave me back my confidence that, despite Ivan’s tremendous power and conditioning, my game – going quickly from defense to offense, using my speed to get to net, and using the angles – could ultimately beat his game. I would win my next eight matches against him.”

Actually, McEnroe won seven of eight, he lost the San Francisco final 36 76 64 in 1983.

But then Lendl would finally figure out McEnroe and Lendl’s secret tactics at the finals of Roland Garros in 1984. McEnroe won the first two sets vs Lendl 63 62 but a rain delay contributed to changing the match dynamic and McEnroe’s bid to win his first and only Roland Garros title was thwarted as Lendl stormed back to win the final three sets 64 75 75.

McEnroe did win their next clash at US Open final 63 64 61.

Lendl won the overall head to head series vs McEnroe 21-15 including 11 of their last 12 duels – but seven of McEnroe’s wins were created – or at least generously aided – by a phone call from Don Budge.

(John McEnroe acrylic painting by Sarasota, Florida artist Karin Billings.)

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  • Andrew Miller · September 15, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    My unpopular take, for the cents it’s worth: now is the time for any and all WTA players to get their first and possibly only slam, or for here again gone again champs to increase their odds of a first ballot hall of fame entry pass.

    The Andreescu win could be like Osaka’s, a great new champion that fears no one except a few thorns in their side, whose reign ends abruptly as the demands of being a champion, such as soaking up media coverage and chasing endorsements, smother practice time etc. Maybe Osaka rights the ship with her dad in charge. Ha!

    More likely: the Andreescu win should inspire Canadian kids. Canada with the Raptors winning and now a genuinely unbelievable Cinderella story with Andreescu dominating all foes as a young champion at the US Open has made her one of Canada’s greatest fenale sports stars with the advantage being her youth. I can’t imagine a bunch of parents already haven’t told their kids “you’re playing tennis!”

    The Andreescu win should also convince some current WTA players that they may also have a slam title in them. They should look at Andreescu and say ok, let’s up my serve, go for better placement, work on a few more unpredictable shots, up my movement on court etc.

    I guarantee you – guarantee – Clijsters and Golovin aren’t making a comeback at an older age because the WTA has a dominant champion anymore. It’s because they believe that anything can happen.

    Including an Andreescu win and an Andreescu slide.

    I think primarily Golovin and Clijsters are making a comeback to show their kids what it’s like to be on tour and give them a memory of pro tennis, and then for the outside chance that their games will hold up despite the odds. If form matters then they should have a little better odds of being top 100, Clijsters moreso because of her hall of fame game and champions mentality, and having beaten champions herself.

  • Hartt · September 15, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Of course it is impossible to predict how things will go for Andreescu, especially in the near future. If she can avoid injuries, I think she will be very successful in the long run.

    But I don’t think she will get distracted by fame, endorsement deals, etc. She will enjoy the attention, but her goals are about winning Slams and getting to No.1, and I don’t see her letting other things get in the way. Her parents, although supportive, aren’t especially interested in tennis. The drive, that began when she was young (or much younger than she is now), comes entirely from her.

    This is different from Osaka, whose father has been very involved in her tennis, and it sounds like he was the driving force at the beginning.

    We talked about how the top players are a bit crazy, or have a competitive drive that is extreme even for a tennis pro. I think Bianca is in that category.

  • Andrew Miller · September 15, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Hartt, my crystal ball is broken. I’ve enjoyed seeing some new champs in the WTA. I’m trying to get over my bias for big three, Murray, StanWawrinka players on the ATP and get back to cheering for underdogs on both tours or players that haven’t got a capstone to their careers yet.

    The best thing about the WTA has been the expanding number of promising players like Andreescu as well as lesser known top hundred players with unique games like Jabeur. It almost doesn’t matter why – does it matter Osaka gets coaching from her dad and can no longer shoot straight?
    Not really – other players that are just as good take their chanc. It’s made the tour more enjoyable. Even Kerber’s Achilles heel of soft serving, bad coaching, cluelessness after losses etc has made the tour more interesting because on the other side of Kerber’s confusion is another player that took their chances and made hay.

    The WTA is now more interesting than ever. There are past champs still on tour, Serena going for and failing to grab a 24th record tying slam, ever elusive. Players like Andreescu and Barty winning their first slams. This is as healthy as the tour will ever be. You can’t predict anything but that they’ll be very good tennis.

    Anyways. I think the next big thing is the breaking up of the big three. They monopolized slams again this year, as they aren’t just the equivalent of one Serena but three Serenas which makes it tougher for players to break through and compete for big titles.

    I thought it would be here years ago. But I really don’t think it’s good for the big story on the ATP to be “total dominance by old group of players”.

  • Hartt · September 15, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    I agree that the WTA is interesting right now, with a variety of players winning the big titles and a few players showing variety in their games, instead of just bashing the ball from the baseline.

    I have been ready for a change in the ATP for some time now. I am simply bored with the Big 3 winning nearly all the big titles, because they win a lot of the Masters tourneys as well as all the Slams. Although other players winning 3 of the 7 Masters tourneys to date is at least a start.

    But, as you said, with 3 of them they create a huge barrier to the younger players. This USO was a good example. Even with Fed and Novak out relatively early, Rafa was still lurking in the final.

    I’ve been rooting for the younger players. Several of them are fun to watch, and they will start to win big tourneys at some point. I just wish that time would come soon.

  • Jon King · September 15, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    I think it is a stretch to say Bianca will not be distracted and that is why she will keep winning and using that to give her an edge over Osaka. In fact she has shown to be quite interested in the off the court stuff….posting all kinds of bikini pics captioned ‘Vegas baby” and “change of scenery”, posing, and all kinds of off the court activities, late night TV, etc.

    I think its just the opposite. Bianca is brazen, flirty, oversized personality, likely easily bored….to me she is much more likely to get caught in the trappings of fame than Osaka. Bianca seems to have the exact personality that would lend itself to getting bored with tennis and trying other things after some success.

  • Andrew Miller · September 15, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    Nadal’s example in pursuing Federer, abd Djokovic example in pursuing Federer and Nadal, are good examples for the younger players. Wawrinka’s example is good also. I think Medvedev gets it, hopefully he is happy about making the final and is addicted to the sensation of big wins.

    I could tell Andreescu likes to win and gets up for every match. That’s a good characteristic for a player. Shapovalov too, at Felix expense.

    Others that get up for a match, Goerges. Svitolina had the fire in her eyes until Serena, which was a little sad. Medvedev didn’t learn how to play Nadal, he just did whatever he was doing a little better and that turned the tables for him. He was good at weathering the Nadal onslaught also. Those are all good things.

    What players are unprepared for is how the big guys seem like completely different beasts the next time they play. That’s a specialty they have, of studying the opponent to extinguish hope.

  • Hartt · September 15, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    Those are bold statements about a young player. I have been following her career for several years, and what I’ve seen is a player who is obsessed with tennis, and who has worked very hard, without getting bored, since she started serious training at age 11. She has said very clearly that her goal is to win as many Slams as possible, and to reach No.1. I will be very surprised if that changes.

    Yes, she will enjoy some of the perks that come with success, but that does not mean she can’t focus on tennis.

    But I guess we will see over the next few years.

  • Andrew Miller · September 15, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Hartt, I have no crystal ball. I’ve seen so many good players over time, and I’ve missed a lot.

    I didn’t think Seles could top Graf in Paris in 1990 (wrong!); I didn’t think Conchita Martinez had a prayer at Wimbeldon (also, wrong!); I thought Bouchard showed a lot of heart but had some problems with her groundies falling short (I think I got lucky on this); I thought Roddick’s wanting a second slam was going to be tough (yet he was within about ten points of making it reality).

    So my judgment isn’t good on the future. I thought Osaka was going to be dominant, yet now we’re talking about a player who last time around was in the US Open qualies named Danilovic. A little over 380 days later, here she is with the title.

    Yet the sport’s unpredictability on the WTA tour is the big deal to me. The fact that every player feels they have a shot. Three years in a row, each slam with a different winner. Halep with a Wimbledon title! I mean. That’s crazy.

  • Jeff · September 15, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Stefan Kozlov with the biggest win of his career as he knocks off Sam Querrey in the semifinals in San Francisco. He plays Steve Johnson in the final. Could this be when Kozlov finally shows he is ready for the big time?

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 12:34 am

    It looks like Bianca’s win is having an effect on getting more Canadians to pick up a tennis racquet. Shapo and FAA both have said that is one of their goals as well.

    “Since Bianca’s win, we’ve been inundated with inquiries from all across the country from all ages and diverse backgrounds,” Tennis Canada chair Jennifer Bishop said. “From large cities and small communities, all wanting to know how and where they can start playing tennis.”

    Tennis Canada is hoping the boost from Andreescu’s win will help attract more funding for indoor tennis courts to be built around the country.” (

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 12:35 am

    And in Japan Kerber’s got lucky (?) and it will be Nicole Gibbs she faces not Riske. Because Gibbs got lucky too, ranked well below Alison and pulled it off in SS.

    I don’t think Simona with a Wimbledon title is crazy. It’s not as though she’s an unknown player and she’s hardly a veteran. Her win probably ‘didn’t count’ for Serena but it certainly did for the rest of us.

    I tend to agree with Hartt – I don’t see Bianca as getting too distracted. She has the focus of a potentially great player and is mature in many ways cf Osaka who seems overly interested in IGing herelf and her boyfriend at present. Cringe….

    Talking of which – Sabalenka’s fall off in singles is doubtless due to her hockey player boyfriend causing distraction. Tursunov very likely just got fed up. What is it with these girls ? What are their priorities ?

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 12:46 am

    Bianca’s more likely to twist her ankle toppling off those high heels I saw her wearing at her rally in Toronto. Please Bianca, time to get back into tennis shoes 🙂

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 1:39 am

    Catherine, yes those heels looked downright dangerous.
    Coco was at the rally, wearing pink. She is in a photo where Bianca is talking to the Prime Minister. As someone said, she did not seem impressed by the politicians.

  • Andrew Miller · September 16, 2019 at 1:50 am

    Osaka, two slams in a row. Not even Seles did that. I’m trying to express there’s more to tennis than tennis, that winning this big changes everything. And that for however “different” Andreescu is, because she’s just “so focused” and won’t get distracted (really?) isn’t it obvious that she’s gotten exactly the kind of distractions that Bouchard soaked up?

    Sorry folks. Andreescu is enjoying being famous. From qualies going nowhere to top five in the world, two Masters, a US Open title…this is a lot for a teenager.

    And she is famous now. Agents are cutting deals and she’s giving interviews everywhere.

    After winning US Open Osaka was back to work. They pushed it, she got a second slam. Then she fires Bajin, for whatever reasons personal and professional. How soon things change!

    I expect things to change further. This WTA tour is still the hunger games tour. Let’s see how indoors turns out.

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 2:08 am

    Andrew – Steffi won 4 Slams in a row ? At 18 ? Remember ? And I think we get the message that the WTA isn’t a one way street for any particular player at the moment.

    Andreescu isn’t remotely like Bouchard, whose name seems to crop up on this site with a regularity her record doesn’t warrant. I’d guess Bianca isn’t exactly dumb either.

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 6:07 am

    Andrew, yes, Bianca enjoys being famous. When asked about it she said she had never thought about being famous, but she wasn’t complaining. As far as giving interviews everywhere, she has had 1 day of interviews in NYC and 1 day in Toronto. There was the rally in Mississauga yesterday and there will be an open practice followed by an autograph session in Montreal today. This all has taken 1 week.

    If she doesn’t get back to her regular work schedule then you will be correct. But I don’t understand why you and Jon are so convinced she won’t do that.

    She had to set new goals after she won the USO and she said No.3 and making the WTA finals. I think she even mentioned winning the WTA finals. She may not reach those goals, but that is what she is thinking about, and she knows perfectly well that she won’t get there without a lot of hard work.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 16, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Andreescu has seemingly reached a point of fame that if she sneezes at a tournament it will be news. Life has changed for her totally, will be interesting to see how she handles it and if she can keep improving and play better tennis with everyone coming after her status.

  • Andrew Miller · September 16, 2019 at 9:40 am

    What Scoop said, it’s a new world for Andreescu.

    As for “why wouldn’t she…” or “What makes you think…?”, my answer is “I have no clue”. Andreescu is NOT Steffi Graf, thankfully – every player that tries to be someone else makes too many mistakes.

    What I emphasize and it’s pointless to say it, because it’s been said a lot, is that no player is immune from the response to their winning in the way Andreescu won. From qualies to champion in one year – almost unheard of! A new teenage champion – which doesn’t happen much anymore. A Canadian champion, so rare.

    The idea that she’s in some virtuous cycle or in some kind of cocoon where she’s sheltered from agents, companies, even those around her, that fame doesn’t change people, that she’s going to be facing the same thing she faced the moment before she won the US Open, I don’t believe that.

    It’s a lot for a teenager to handle. It was a lot to handle for all teenage champs including Graf, who miraculously kept it up as Catherine pointed out (I got into tennis a little after Graf’s first burst of dominance, just before Seles ripped through her French Open at age 16?).

    It was a lot for Kerber, who wasn’t a teenager at all, to handle.

    That’s why I say and I’ll say it again: let’s see how she does this autumn (or whatever season it is). I don’t think autumn is very dramatic for tennis, it’s like tennis off-season – no slam I sight, just keep your game up for the WTA or ATP finals. The game also shifts indoors, so that may favor a few players with bigger games looking to end their seasons with some good tournaments.

    I say it’s tough because Andreescu isn’t superhuman, she’s a person and the world around here has changed, possibly forever. I bring up the other Canadian because she was almost a different person before she made the Wimbledon final. And fame changed her too – it changed the world around her.

    For what it’s worth I saw Tebbutt’s Wimbledon special where he interviewed players at Wimbledon and the US Open. It was cool. He spoke to Jesse Levine in Wimbledon village, to the other Canadian as well that meets with players from her junior days for dinner every year. It’s cool.

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Andrew, of course there is no way to be certain if fame will change Bianca. You seem to think it will, and I think her main focus will remain on her tennis. But, as I said before, we will find out over the next few years.

    But I used to pay a lot of attention to Genie, and I disagree that she was almost a different person after she made the Wimby final. She always made use of her good looks and she was keen about being famous long before Wimby. She had an arrogance beyond mere confidence, that sometimes showed through in press conferences in the way she could put a reporter down.

    Bianca is very confident, in what the folks at the Tennis Podcast call “check me out.” And they love her attitude. Catherine said that when she interviewed Bianca she was poised but also respectful. I’ve never seen Bianca put someone down the way Genie did on occasion.

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Andrew – Who is ‘the other Canadian’ who meets players for dinner ? Bouchard ?

    The first loss Bianca suffers now will change her yet again – and so on, throughout her career. It’s a constant process. The world around her doesn’t change – she will.

    Angie found things difficult to handle precisely because she hadn’t had enormous success when young. It came to her when her personality was more or less formed and it wasn’t bendable. Something she said after she became No 1: ‘Job done. Platform created’. And left it there. As things turned out: not much point in having a platform if there are no trains passing through.

    I wonder if Angie will beat Nicole Gibbs. Was rather surprised Gibbs saw off Riske so easily.

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Hartt – I seem to be passing through different time zones – I never interviewed Bianca. Things get attributed to me here which I never wrote about and never actually did. I wish – the most exciting thing which happened to me this week was going to the dentist 🙂

    But I agree – Bianca in her interviews is always polite and respectful.

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Catherine, am sure if you had interviewed Bianca it would have been an excellent interview!

  • Andrew Miller · September 16, 2019 at 11:22 am

    “Is your tennis in good shape?” Always the primary question.

    As for the other Canadian, she was quite a player in 2014. Her game had freckles but it worked, it was grooved. The player looked more like a contender and more like an athlete. That’s why to my eye the 2014 Canadian is different than the 2019 version of the same person. I trust the videotape.

    The 2019 Tebbutt Wimbledon video is fun. He’s a good personality for tennis. Seems to channel some of the Bud Collins era of tennis. Fun guy that Bud!

  • catherine · September 16, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Coaching: Sumyck with Pavs ?

  • Hartt · September 16, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Here’s the link to the Tebbutt in Wimbledon video, since a certain Andrew did not share it. 🙂

    These casual interviews are fun. Tom Tebbutt and Stephanie Myles are the only Canadian journalists that I can think of who cover just tennis. Tebbutt has a weekly column (every Tuesday) on the Tennis Canada site, and a radio program, “Aces” for a few weeks each summer.

  • Andrew Miller · September 16, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    Nadal: “Every point that I play, and every ball that I hit, I do so with one intention. To bother the opponent, to find a way to damage (cause harm to) the rival. And to give me an opportunity to win the point.” – from documentary on Nadal and Federer, the Match of the Century, by L. Jon Wertheim.

    Notice the reason Nadal plays. Not normal 😉

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 17, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Andrew, Nadal’s pre point philosophy also explains his pre point rituals and habits and other stall tactics and mannerisms like sprinting to the baseline for the pre match warm up – all designed to bother the opponent 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · September 17, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Scoop, and I like Nadal a lot! I think what Medvedev did was special. It’s the equivalent of absorbing the opponent’s best punches and, just when they believe the contest is over, the match begins. That scared Nadal!

    Just shows that Nadal’s human. He does all this stuff in order to put as much distance between himself and the opponent in the scoreline, and when an opponent gets close and makes it uncomfortable anything is possible. I’ve seen it a few times now. Players can make Nadal feel afraid – one of them is Federer, another Djokovic, and Medvedev did it for stretches too. I’m convinced Nadal felt the possibility of losing. If he hadn’t ayed that 5-4 game in the fifth as well as he did, only the last few points really, we may be talking about Medvedev pulling a Del Potro ten years after Del Potro did the same to Federer.

    Nadal caught a break. Medvedev didn’t have the title in the bag at all and a player must shut the door – Nadal did that. But this was too close for comfort for Nadal, mostly because Medvedev decided he wasn’t intimidated any more by Nadal’s approach to “doing damage to the opponent”.

    Shows me too that Nadal, Federer very similar. Federer showed this before too, where the backhand or forehabd misfires wildly as an opponent got closer and closer in the scoreline. Opponents should study this. They had the hang of it in 2013 and then suddenly forgot everything.

  • Andrew Miller · September 17, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Scoop yes, Nadal uses tactics to disrupt everyone’s rhythm. At least he is very nice to the towel kids and ballboys and ballgirls. The towel stuff has been ridiculous and umpires should have been calling this stuff for the last fifteen years. Nadal wouldn’t have lost much more for the shortened time between points.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 17, 2019 at 11:55 am

    We all like Nadal he has an essence of a good hearted person who was pushed into the sport and taught to be a killer. But underneath the on court assassin persona we see, he is a kind person with a heart of gold. What he has been taught to do on the court, the stalling, the towels, the rituals, the bottles, the vicious ball striking, has all been carefully designed by his creators. Let’s hope he does not add a third towel any time soon or start putting saw dust in his pockets and start plucking his eye lashes like Lendl’s stall tactics. 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · September 17, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    Nadal, Federer ARE Lendl! They are Lendl version 2018, 2019, much as Agassi was Lendl v2001-2003.

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