Ivan Lendl Talks Star Coaches Coaching Star Players, Golf And Playing PowerShares Series Tennis
Fresh off helping Andy Murray get back to form after back surgery at the Australian Open, Ivan Lendl is getting his own game in shape. The 54-year-old winner of eight major singles titles is set to play five events on the PowerShares Series champions tennis circuit starting February 5 in Kansas City, Missouri. The following is the transcript of the telephone news conference Lendl conducted Wednesday to promote his appearances on the 12-city circuit for champion tennis players over the age of 30.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining us today for our PowerShares Series tennis conference call with Ivan Lendl. The PowerShares Series kicks off its 2014 season next Wednesday, February 5, in Kansas City, and will visit 12 cities in all through March. Good tickets and terrific meet and greet and play-with-the-pros on-court opportunities are still available, and you can get more information on that at www.PowerSharesSeries.com
We want to thank Ivan for joining us today. He’s fresh off his trip to Australia, where he was working with Andy Murray. Ivan’s playing career is highlighted by three US Open titles, three French Open titles, and two Australian Open titles. He reached 19 major singles finals in his career. Roger Federer is the only man to play in more major singles finals, and Rafael Nadal just tied him with his result in Australia. Ivan also won 94 singles titles in his ATP career, which is 17 more than Federer and 33 more than Nadal.
Ivan will be playing in PowerShares Series events in Kansas City on February 5, Oklahoma City on February 6, Indianapolis on February 14, Nashville, Tennessee, on March 12, and Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 13.
In Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, Ivan is scheduled to face his old rival John McEnroe in the semifinals, and with that I’ll ask Ivan to kick off the call here, talk a little bit about his rivalry with John. You guys have been jabbing at each other for 35 years now, and you’re going to be playing with him in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and he’s going to be your Valentine’s Day date on February 14th in Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, we have played quite a few times starting in juniors. I think the first time we played was in Brazil in 1977. So it’s quite a long time we have played, and played a lot of matches, so that should be fun.
Q. I wanted to ask a general question if I could just about your life. You come from Czechoslovakia, had your fabulous on court career and a really great success in business and now in coaching. Aside from your family, what’s the best part of being Ivan Lendl these days?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I haven’t really thought about it much. I think staying busy and having something to do, something I like to do is always good, whether it is being in tennis and working with Andy or playing some, or playing some golf tournaments in the summer. All of that is fun.
Q. And obviously we have this trend now with great legends, great veterans working with different players. Some have worked, some have clicked, certainly you and Andy, others not to be mentioned are less so. What do you think the key is in the coach and pupil relationship on the ATP Tour?
IVAN LENDL: I think the key, especially with the older guys who have played successfully, is that, number one, what can that player or that coach offer to a practical player, and also chemistry.
Q. And what’s been the key to your chemistry with Andy? Do you think in some ways you guys are quite similar?
IVAN LENDL: Well, we had the unfortunate part we shared that both of us lost a few majors before we won the first one, and we understood each other with that quite well. I could understand how he was feeling, how frustrating it is, and so on and so on. Also I think sense of humor, and enjoyment of sports.
Q. People view you as a pretty serious character, but talk to us about your sense of humor off court.
IVAN LENDL: I would hate to ruin my reputation.
Q. I had the pleasure of talking with your daughters last year for the Southeastern Conference golf tournament
IVAN LENDL: Which one did you talk to?
Q. Daniella well, the one was at Alabama, the one was at Florida.
IVAN LENDL: Okay.
Q. Talk to me a little bit about your play of tennis and your play of golf. I get the sense that one is business and one is a pleasure/love. Am I overstating it too much?
IVAN LENDL: Well, it depends how you look at it. I enjoy both, obviously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Q. I get the sense, though, that and obviously you are deeply into tennis, but golf looks to be a real deep relationship that you’ve got with that particular sport, something that you’ve really taken hold of and really held onto.
IVAN LENDL: Well, I enjoy competing, and once I stopped playing tennis, because of my back I didn’t play for quite a while, I had really nowhere to compete, and golf filled that part of my life very well, obviously on a much lower level than when I played tennis, but I still do enjoy playing the senior state opens and tournaments and so on.
Q. Do you see either of your daughters being able to make a run in golf like you made in tennis?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I think it’s really up to them how much they want to do that or whether they want to do it at all.
Q. Could you maybe discuss whether you feel like through the years McEnroe was you had a lot of great rivalries, whether that was your number one rival, and maybe just talk about how your relationship with him has maybe changed now that you’re playing him in a different type setting.
IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know if he was my number one rival. We have played, I believe, somewhere in the mid 30s, something like that, and I have played a lot of matches with Connors. I have played quite a few matches with Wilander, Edberg and Becker, as well. I think at one time, obviously, we were number one rivals, and then I think it started shifting sort of mid ’80s to other guys, and Connors was there at the same time as McEnroe, maybe a bit longer because after ’85 he took some time off, didn’t play as much as before. I would say I had a lot of rivalries with those guys.
Q. Has your relationship sort of changed with him now that you’re playing in a different setting?
IVAN LENDL: Well, it’s obviously much less competitive than it has been when we played in the US Open finals, but I think both of us still want to play well and have fun with it.
Q. And just talk about this tournament coming to Indianapolis, the first stop since the tour here, and I know that you
IVAN LENDL: Are you from Kansas City?
Q. No, from Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: Okay.
Q. And obviously I know you came here when it was clay and had a great match with Becker when it was still clay and then back when it was hard courts. Talk about your memories of playing there in Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: The first time I came in the summer to the United States, Indianapolis was one of the places, and I could not believe how hot and humid it was. It was quite a shock. I didn’t expect that. Obviously I didn’t know much about it, otherwise I would have expected that. It was extremely hot. It was extremely difficult to play in those conditions, and I was very proud when I was able to overcome it and win there.
RANDY WALKER: Ivan and John played 36 times in their career on the ATP Tour. Ivan led the series 21-15. Only Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played more times in the open era history of the ATP Tour. Novak and Rafael have played 39 times to Ivan and John’s 36 times. The No. 3 rivalry of all time in men’s tennis in the open era was Ivan and Jimmy Connors. They played 35 times, and Ivan led the series there 22-13. And then in PowerShares Series history, John leads the series over Ivan 2-1.
Q. A lot of people say this is a little similar to the Champions Tour, or the PGA Senior Tour. What’s the fun in this? You’re not as competitive as the old days, but you obviously still want to win this match. What’s it like for a crowd to witness one of these?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been in the crowd, but I can tell you what it feels like as the players. It’s always fun to see the guys. It’s fun to interact with people more. It’s a bit lighter side of the players, but yet, as you said, it’s still competitive that the guys want to play well.
Q. And along those lines, just the atmosphere. It’s a different setting, but it sounds like it’s something that’s really picking up steam and a lot of people are having fun with it and it’s gaining more and more momentum. How do you see this moving forward the next five years or so?
IVAN LENDL: Well, wherever we have played, it’s usually very well received, and I have played in Europe, I have played in Asia, I have played in Australia, I have played obviously in the United States and Canada. It’s very well received and people seem to enjoy it very much. As far as where it’s going to go in the next five years, I don’t know. I’m not involved in the business part of it.
RANDY WALKER: You’re also playing in events in Nashville and Charlotte, and those matches are going to be the exact semifinal rematches of the Super Saturday at the US Open September 8, 1984, when you beat Pat Cash in a fifth set tiebreaker and John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors in a five-set semifinal. If you could talk a little bit about that day; you hit a pretty good forehand topspin lob down match point against Cash in the fifth set. Talk a little bit about that match and that day and rekindling your match with Pat in Nashville and Charlotte.
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, it was an extremely difficult day, obviously, when you play five sets and you have finals of the US Open coming up the next day. But I think it’s a special day in tennis. That Super Saturday was special for many, many years. They went away from it either last year or a couple years ago. But I always have nice memories of that, and I’m looking forward to recreating it as long as I don’t have to play five sets.
RANDY WALKER: It’s one set semifinals and one set finals on the PowerShares Series.
IVAN LENDL: We can start in the tiebreaker then.
Q. We are from New York, and we always see John, always practicing, and he takes tennis very seriously. He has fun, but he’s still competitive. How do you train for this PowerShares Series?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I do some conditioning. I try to do something every day for conditioning, whether it is biking or rollerblading or do some weights and so on. I play tennis about three times a week.
Q. Also something a little bit about Andy Murray because we spoke to Andy today, and he’s going to be here in New York in Madison Square Garden. He said that you had great things to say about New York. Do you remember when you played here at Madison Square Garden?
IVAN LENDL: I always enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing at Flushing Meadows, I enjoyed playing at Forest Hills, and I absolutely loved playing at Madison Square Garden. All three places at that time, I had a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, so I could stay home, which was always a big advantage, at least in my mind, that you stay home and have home cooking and stay in your own bed. I think the results showed how much I enjoyed it because when you feel comfortable somewhere, you usually play pretty well.
Q. And also, again, about Andy, coming back from back surgery, he had a pretty good run at the Australian Open. Were you guys somehow surprised how well he played? Unfortunately he lost to Roger, but what’s your assessment on that?
IVAN LENDL: I think it was sort of realistic what he achieved at the Australian Open. I think he was very close to doing better. I wish he had done better because that match was the beginning of the fourth set; anything could have happened after he served match point and Rocha was serving for the match, if Andy got ahead in the fourth I think he had an excellent chance of winning, but unfortunately he got behind.
Q. And with respect to you again, you have been a great champion, have so many fans around the world and such a pleasure that you’re going to join the PowerShares Series. How do you feel because it’s more relaxed in a way, but at the same time it’s competitive. I’m sure there’s still the love for the game out there for you, right?
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I enjoy playing, and I enjoy going to places I have never been to, and I never played in Oklahoma City, so I’m looking forward to that one.
Q. My question regards your last couple of years traveling with Andy, participating in Grand Slams and other tournaments. In addition to you imparting your wisdom and expertise to a young player like Andy, what have you gleaned from him and his play and his training, his mental challenges, if you will? I know you’ve helped him with that regard and helped him of course win Wimbledon last year. But what have you learned from him and perhaps some of the other players like Rafa and Djokovic, Roger, et cetera? What have you picked up over the last couple years that you’ve been exposed to these top global players on a regular basis?
IVAN LENDL: Well, you learn how much the game has changed, how much more complete players they are than the players in the past. You see how everybody trains and how they prepare. But most of the time you just not that you learn, but you confirm your beliefs in how things are done and what’s the best way to go about preparation and competition.
Q. Sticking with the Australian Open for just a quick second, it was a great final between Rafa and Stan. Anything that you saw that either led you to believe or surprised you in that final, especially with Stan playing so strongly that first set?
IVAN LENDL: I didn’t see the final. I was in the air from Melbourne to Los Angeles, and I learned the result when I landed in Los Angeles, and I still didn’t have time to watch it.
Q. You and Connors, great rivalry, and I know after you retired from playing on the regular tour, both you and Jimmy, it seemed like you both picked up golf. From what I can tell you’re a little more fervent about it than he may be, but have you ever considered getting on the course and reconstructing a rivalry on the course, or maybe you’ve done that and we don’t know about it?
IVAN LENDL: No, I haven’t played with Jimmy. I wasn’t even aware that he plays much. It can always be done.
Q. The Wimbledon final was incredible, and obviously
IVAN LENDL: You’re talking about 2013?
Q. Yeah, and all the pressure on Andy, obviously, and the last game to close it out. Sitting up there in the friends’ box, when he closed it out, what went through your mind?
IVAN LENDL: I was very pleased for him. I knew how much pressure Andy went through in 2012 playing Roger, and I was also aware of how much pressure there was in 2013, how much he wanted to win, how hard he worked for it, and what obstacles he had to overcome, so I was extremely pleased for him.
Q. And also at Wimbledon, Jack Nicklaus was there, and he said that tennis was tougher mentally than golf. Could you talk and just compare the mental requirements, mental toughness of the two different sports?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I think they’re both mentally tough. I think in both sports you rely on yourself and you don’t have teammates to pick up your slack where if you mess up something or if it’s not your best day, that somebody else steps up. You really get all the credit, but you also get all the blame if you want to call it that way. I think the main difference between tennis and golf is that in golf if you have a bad half hour or 45 minutes, you’re out of the tournament. In tennis you can have a bad 45 minutes and be sitting a break down and you can still win in four sets. In that part, you would have to say that maybe tennis is a little bit easier mentally because you can have little lapses and get over it, but it’s definitely tougher physically.
Q. In terms of John back in the old days, he was pretty a lot of rough edges, came at you pretty strong. Did he piss you off? What was your take on John?
IVAN LENDL: Oh, I think I could handle it all right.
Q. But did you have anger towards him, or did you view it as it was pretty much just part of
IVAN LENDL: I think if you play with anger, you don’t play with a clear mind. I think you have to play with a clear mind.
Q. And finally, if I could just ask you to just talk about pretty much the incredible history of Czech tennis. So many outstanding players and now back to back Davis Cups, but some problems recently in terms of winning Slams. Could you talk about the heritage of Czech tennis and on court the beauty of the Czech game?
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I think I have a quiz question for you then at the end if you want to talk about Czech
Q. Wait a second, all right.
IVAN LENDL: But it’s a great question. You will enjoy it. I think the history is there for a long time. You can go I’m not a historian, but you can go all the way to the Second World War and afterwards, and there is great history, men’s and women’s. And now in the team competitions, two Davis Cups in a row, before that two Fed Cups in a row, I believe, and Berdych is very close and Kvitova has won Wimbledon. It’s great, great history and present of Czech tennis. The question I have for you: Who is the only person to be a world ice hockey champion and a Wimbledon champion?
Q. That’s a good question. I know Ellsworth Vines won ping pong and tennis.
IVAN LENDL: I didn’t know he won ping pong.
Q. I know you were part owner of the Hartford team.
IVAN LENDL: Not true, but I was on the board, yes.
RANDY WALKER: I think I might know the answer to that. Drobny?
IVAN LENDL: Correct.
RANDY WALKER: What do I get?
IVAN LENDL: Another question. Who is the only person with an African passport to win a Grand Slam?
RANDY WALKER: Drobny. I am the publisher of the Bud Collins History of Tennis.
IVAN LENDL: That would be why.
Q. I was wondering how you get along with the players on this series, if you get a chance to hang out away from the court and if you play pranks on each other or if you have any interesting stories.
IVAN LENDL: We do. We do clinics together. We do meet and greets together. We travel together. We get along very well.
RANDY WALKER: We want to thank Ivan for joining us today, and we will see him starting on February 5 in Kansas City.
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