John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were the leaders of the new generation of players born in the late 50s and early 60s, forging their way towards the ATP Tour in the final years of the seventies and battling against each other for the first time in Milan 1980 semi-final.
The American claimed that one in three sets and the quarter-final clash at the US Open later that season but it was all about the Czech in the next seven matches between Roland Garros 1981 and the Masters Cup in January 1983.
Starting from Philadelphia 1983, John had the upper hand over a great rival until the Masters Cup in January 1985, rattling off ten out of 12 wins (Ivan prevailed in the famous Roland Garros final in 1984 to soften the deficit) before Lendl retook charge, prevailing in 12 of the last 15 encounters to deliver 21 wins in 36 matches against McEnroe.
Stratton Mountain final from 1987 stayed unfinished and they had played 37 official meetings on the Tour (many more in unofficial events and exhibitions), forging the greatest rivalry in the ATP world until the emerging of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who have all played against each other more than John and Ivan did.
On July 24, 1992, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe played their last official match, with the Czech scoring a 6-2, 6-4 win in an hour and 21 minutes in the quarter-final of Canada Masters 1000 event. Both players were well past their prime but Lendl was still the force to be reckoned with that summer, reaching the final of both Canada and Cincinnati, the semi-final in New Haven, the title match of Long Island and the quarters at the US Open where he lost to Stefan Edberg in the deciding tie break.
Ivan proved to be too hard to handle for McEnroe on that day, losing just 11 points on serve and suffering one break from the only break chance offered to the American. On the other hand, McEnroe lost almost 50% of the points behind the initial shot, suffering four breaks from eight opportunities and allowing Lendl to control the scoreboard all the time.
The Czech broke in the very first game of the match and held at love in game four with a forehand winner for a 3-1 advantage. John lost his serve again in game five after a great return from Lendl who moved 5-1 ahead following a backhand down the line winner, sealing the opening set with four winners in game eight after less than 30 minutes!
A return winner from Ivan gave him a break at love at the beginning of the second set, confirming it in game two to cement the lead and move closer to the finish line. McEnroe was yet to find the rhythm on serve and Lendl grabbed another break in game three following a backhand down the line winner before giving serve away in game four after a double fault to keep the rival in contention.
A service winner at 1-3 kept John within one break deficit and it was time for some of his famous tantrums in game six when Lendl held with a service winner for a 4-2. The next game proved to be the longest of the match and McEnroe brought it home with two winners to stay in touch, hoping for another break that would have brought him back to the positive side of the scoreboard.
He failed to do that in game eight after a forehand winner from Lendl who jumped into a 5-3 lead, forcing John to serve to stay in the match. A smash and a service winner delivered the hold for the American although that was all he could do, with Ivan wrapping up the triumph with a forehand winner in game ten to sail through and reach the semis, never facing John McEnroe again by the end of his career.