February 5, 1985: Ivan Lendl wins the strangest match of his career


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February 5, 1985: Ivan Lendl wins the strangest match of his career

The 1985 Lipton International Players Championships provided a significant change in the ATP calendar and it was the predecessor of what would become Miami Masters 1000 event in 1990. Butch Buchholz established the tournament and the first edition was held at Laver's International Tennis Resort in Delray Beach, gathering world's leading players (Connors and McEnroe were not there, though) in what had been the closest draw to Grand Slam events, with 128 players and best-of-five matches from the quarter-final round, including the mixed doubles draw as well!

The tournament was full of surprises, with no top-eight seeds passing the fourth round and Tim Mayotte who won the title, coming from two sets to love down against Scott Davis to lift his maiden ATP crown. Nonetheless, the most memorable moment occurred on the very first day (a crowd of 12,928 entered the gates that Tuesday) when Ivan Lendl played Larry Stefanki in the night session.

Lendl toppled his opponent to score a 6-2 6-0 triumph and that would not have been that interesting by itself if they didn't play the last two games without an umpire and the linesmen! Ivan was marching towards the finish line when he hit a questionable ace at 40-15 in the fourth game of the second set, with both him and Larry admitting that it went out.

Stefanki came to talk with the chair umpire Luigi Brambilla from Italy, simply asking if the ball was good, but Brambilla was not in the mood for any explanations, giving Larry a point penalty for delaying the action. Brambilla stepped aside to discuss his decision with the other officials and that brought Lendl into the story, saying Stefanki did nothing wrong and that the game should start from the beginning.

Brambilla and the linesmen left the court although Ivan and Larry decided to take the match into their own hands and continue without them, making the calls and asking someone from the press to keep calling out the score.

They reached deuce in the fifth game when Brambilla returned to the court, although that made no differences on the court among the players, as Lendl and Stefanki resumed where they were before which forced the Italian to leave the court once again, this time permanently.

Both the players and the crowd enjoyed the entire episode and the match was over a few minutes later when Lendl held in game six to score one of the strangest wins of his illustrious career. After the encounter, a Chief of Supervisors Ken Farrar started an investigation that brought no radical moves, with the result accepted as legal and no further penalties for either Ivan or Larry.

Still, Brambilla couldn't escape like that nothing happened, serving as the linesman for the rest of the tournament since he allowed the situation to slip out from his hands. Lendl defeated John Sadri and Victor Pecci before losing in straight sets to Stefan Edberg in the fourth round, failing to reach the final at only three tournaments in 1985, including Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

"Lendl said we should play while they are talking it over," said Stefanki. "Tennis is entertainment and the fans loved it. When the umpire said we should start, we were already at deuce and told him that. I was getting ready to serve and I just asked him one simple question.

It was already 4-0 and I was getting thrashed. All I wanted was to hear the umpire say something. I wanted to see if he was paying attention. That's basically what happened. We kept playing and the umpire left. Lendl and I made our own calls and somebody in the press box kept calling out the score.

We were having fun and it was totally in control. The match wasn’t close and we just wanted to have some fun." "I`ve played a few times when the umpire didn`t know the score but never when the umpire walked off," Lendl said.

"It was ridiculous. Stefanki is one of the nicest guys on the Tour. He just asked a question and deserved an answer. I told the umpire we would play at love-love."