On this day: Ivan Lendl claims the first ATP title in Houston


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On this day: Ivan Lendl claims the first ATP title in Houston

After a stellar junior career, an 18-year-old Ivan Lendl made his professional debut at Roland Garros in 1978, taking just six games against Jose-Luis Clerc. In September, the youngster lost both Davis Cup ties against Mark Cox and Buster Mottram on grass in Eastbourne before reaching the semi-final in Aix-En-Provence, scoring first ATP wins before another tough loss to Clerc.

A few weeks later, Ivan reached the last four in Barcelona and it was clear he would be the one to watch on the slowest surface in the years to come. From nine ATP wins in 1978, Lendl counted to 38 in the following season, embracing a lite schedule before spring when he advanced into the last 16 at Roland Garros and the first ATP final in the next week in Brussels.

Improving his hard-court game regularly, Ivan was the semi-finalist in Montreal where Bjorn Borg halted his progress, entering the last four in Vienna and Buenos Aires by the end of the year to wrap it up just outside the top-20.

The stage was set for a breakthrough run in 1980 when the Czech competed in mind-blowing 138 matches between February and January next year (1980 Masters Cup was held in January 1981) and winning 110 of those to become one of the best players on the Tour at the age of 20!

Showing his full potential reflected in talent, iron will and physical strength, Ivan was ready to challenge the rivals from the very top on every surface and stage of the season, entering one tournament after another and becoming only the third (and last) Open era player with 110 wins in a single season.

Lendl claimed seven ATP titles and scored some epic wins that made him even more determined in the hunt for that no. 1 spot, showing his skills on different surfaces and against different types of players to secure the place at his first Masters Cup in New York, losing to Bjorn Borg in straight sets in the title match.

Nine of those 110 triumphs came at Major events, which certainly wasn't what he had hoped for, saving his best tennis for some smaller tournaments and competing for ten titles overall. Victor Amaya toppled him in the final of Washington before deep runs in Rotterdam and Milan as well, all on an indoor carpet, heading to clay and losing to world no.

1 Bjorn Borg in the second round of Monte Carlo. With no time to waste, Ivan traveled across the ocean and entered Houston as the sixth seed, defeating five rivals in dominant style to lift the maiden ATP trophy on April 13, just a few weeks after turning 20.

Lendl was the player to beat from start to finish, dropping 23 games in five encounters and starting the amazing journey that brought him 94 ATP titles overall, enough for the third place on the Open era list behind Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer.

Ivan kicked off the action with a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Peter Feigl, toppling future Wimbledon finalist Chris Lewis 6-3, 6-1 to advance into the last eight. There, he bested the top seed and defending champion Jose Higueras 6-3, 6-3, building confidence and moving into the final with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 1978 winner Brian Gottfried.

The 3rd seed Eddie Dibbs stood between Lendl and the first ATP crown and there was nothing he could do to stop the young Czech who notched a 6-1, 6-3 victory for the first trophy on the Tour. Ivan had the upper hand in the opening set and broke Gibbs at 3-3 in set number two to march towards the finish line and wrap up a perfect week.

The results were not that good in the next four months before that Montreal campaign when he grabbed the first win over Bjorn Borg.