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September 14, 1987: Lendl edges Wilander in an epic for his 3rd US Open

September 14, 1987: Lendl edges Wilander in an epic for his 3rd US Open

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by Jovica Ilic

Just like in the previous two years, Ivan Lendl played a great season in 1987 as well (that Roland Garros crown he won in 1984 really changed his career completely). He lost in the semi-final of Australian Open and Wimbledon final to Pat Cash, but he lifted the trophy at Roland Garros and US Open (the first player since 1969 who reached the semis of all 4 Majors within a season), his third and final in New York. Ivan came to New York in a great shape, winning the titles in Washington, Stratton Mountain, and Montreal, and he will advance to the final with 6 commanding wins, never losing a set and losing more than 4 games in only 1 set! In the opening round, Lendl wrote history, becoming the first player in the history of the tournament who scored a triple bagel, demolishing Barry Moir 6-0 6-0 6-0 in 71 minutes! In the quarter-final and semi-final, Czech defeated his old rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who stood on his way towards even more success at this tournament when he was younger.

Thus, he booked the place in his 6th straight US Open final, an unreachable feat for anyone after Bill Tilden in the 20's. In the final of the Roland Garros, Ivan took down Mats Wilander by 7-5 6-2 3-6 7-6 in 4 hours and 17 minutes, but the final of the US Open played on September 14 (the match was moved to Monday due to rain, for the first time since that historic 1969 final) lasted even longer, with Lendl prevailing by 6-7(7) 6-0 7-6(4) 6-4 in sluggish 4 hours and 47 minutes, and all that with one bagel! They played 302 points in total, many of which hit 20 or 30 strokes, and this looked more like a game of chess instead of a Major final on the hard court.

Lendl took the second set in style, losing just 5 points, but it was an open war in the remaining 3. The first set lasted 90 minutes and the third was even longer, requiring an hour and 40 minutes to be completed, surreal numbers for this of the surface.

This encounter stood as the longest 4-setter in the Open era for 20 more years, passed by Rafael Nadal and Paul-Henri Mathieu at Roland Garros in 2006. They had a similar number of service winners (32 to 29 for Mats) and it was Lendl who had the edge in the points, hitting much more winners than his rival, knowing he has to control the rallies against the opponent who is capable of sending the balls back whole day long.

There were 30 break points in total, Lendl saved 12 out of 16, showing the clutch in the right moments, and he broke Mats 8 times from 14 opportunities to wrap up this marathon match in 4 sets. Swede drew first blood with a break in game 5 but he lost the lead when Lendl broke back in game 8, and the marathon opener had to be decided in the tie break.

Czech wasted a set point at 7-6 and Wilander claimed the last 3 points to steal the first set from Lendl at the US Open after 25 consecutive he won! After this titanic battle came the second set, which was completely the opposite, lasting only 28 minutes and with Lendl in full control, winning 25 out of the 30 points played.

Mats reached deuce in his opening service game but that was pretty much all he could do, taking another 2 points by the end of the set. The third set was a 106-point marathon, lasting an hour and 40 minutes, with Lendl saving 2 set points in game 12.

They traded 6 breaks in the first 8 games (Mats came from a break down 3 times) and Ivan fends off those set points at 5-6 with an ace and a forehand volley winner, to set up another tie break. Wilander came back from a 4-0 down but Lendl grabbed the last 2 points to clinch the breaker by 7-4 and take 2 sets to 1 lead.

In the final set, they held in the first 9 games and Wilander had a game point for 5-5. He failed to convert it and Ivan scored a crucial break a few minutes later with a backhand passing shot, ending this amazing match, maybe not that much in terms of quality but certainly for such a fearless battle in 3 sets that lasted almost an hour and a half on the average.

Lendl served at mediocre 50% and he had the strong flu for a few days, mighty releaved that final was moved to Monday. Between 1985-87, there were 11 Grand Slam events and Ivan advanced to the semis 10 times, with 8 finals and 5 titles, as by far the most consistent player in the world.

From the US Open 1985, he won all big titles played outside the grass (3 US Open, 2 Roland Garros and 2 Masters Cup) for the clear domination in men's tennis, that will come to its end in 1988 mainly thanks to Wilander.

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