John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were the leaders of the new generation of players born in the late 50s and early 60s, 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.
However, it was all about the Czech in the next seven encounters 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 victories (Ivan prevailed in the famous Roland Garros final in 1984 to soften the deficit).
After that, Lendl took charge, overpowering John in 12 of the last 15 encounters to earn 21 wins in 36 matches against the American. Stratton Mountain final from 1987 stayed unfinished and they had played 37 official clashes 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.
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 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, losing to Stefan Edberg in the deciding tie break.
Ivan proved to be too hard to handle for McEnroe on that day, dropping just 11 points on serve and suffering one break from the only 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 first game of the match, holding at love in game four for a 3-1 advantage.
John lost his serve again in game five after a deep 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.
He gave serve away in game four after a double fault to keep the rival within one break deficit. The Czech hit an ace for a 4-2 advantage, causing tantrums from McEnroe like in good old times. The next game proved to be the longest of the encounter and McEnroe brought it home with two winners to stay in touch, hoping for another break that would bring 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, as Ivan wrapped 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 a career.