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Lendl's win over McEnroe caps Czech domination at US Open

The US Open tennis tournament typically comes in for a fair amount of criticism. This year's event was no different, with complaints heard about everything from limited practice courts to corporate America's cornering of tickets. On the whole, however, it deserved a check mark, as well as a huge Czech mark. Czechoslovakia stole the Open limelight as perhaps no other foreign country has ever done.

On Sunday, Ivan Lendl dismantled defending champion John McEnroe in straight sets 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 to give Czechoslovakia a sweep of the two singles titles. Hana Mandlikova had already won the women's crown by beating ex-Czech Martina Navratilova, now a naturalized American who joined with Heinz Gunthardt for her lone victory in the mixed doubles.

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Czech mates Radka Zrubakova and Andrea Holikova teamed to capture the girls' junior doubles; Holikova was runnerup in the girls' junior singles; and Helena Sukova reached the women's quarterfinals before running into Mandlikova, then teamed up with Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany to win the women's doubles.

The big plums, though, were those men's and women's titles, which were greater cause for rejoicing than Jan Kodes's men's crown at the strike-riddled 1973 Wimbledon championships or Jaroslav Drobny's historic victory over Ken Rosewall in the 1954 Wimbledon final.

The only other country to ever achieve this double is Australia, which did it in 1969 with Rod Laver and Margaret Court, and again in '73, when John Newcombe and Court swept the honors.

In the understatement of the tournament, the dry-witted Lendl said his three championships back home hardly stack up to this latest triumph.

``I feel it [the Open] is the biggest tournament in the world and the one I wanted to win the most,'' he explained.

Though not a defector like Navratilova, he has an affinity for the United States and even lives in the affluent New York commuter town of Greenwich, Conn. He calls the Open ``the championship of the country where I enjoy living very much.''

One sign of his assimilation into US culture is his passionate love for golf, a game he plays on his off days.

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He expresses a bit of good-humored frustration in not being able to beat his tennis coach, former Australian great Tony Roche, on the fairways.

This is nothing, though, compared to the genuine frustrations Lendl has until now generally felt in the Grand Slam events, and especially the US Open.

He owned a reputation as a superior player with feet of clay when a major title was at stake. In seven previous Slam finals, he had won just once, at last year's French Open, where interestingly enough he had stormed from two sets down to beat McEnroe in a dramatic five setter.

His shortcomings in the big tests were particularly glaring during the last three US Opens, when he lost the 1982 and '83 finals to Jimmy Connors and the '84 final to McEnroe.

This time, he toppled both these former conquerors, burying Connors in straight sets Saturday night before turning the trick against McEnroe, thus ending the seven-year Connors/McEnroe reign in this tournament.

Lendl figured his persistence would be rewarded. ``If you get into 75 finals you're going to win some of them,'' he said.

Asked if there was special satisfaction in beating longtime rival McEnroe in the final, Ivan replied, ``If you'd asked me two weeks ago I would have said I'd be pleased to take it over my grandmother, but it's that much sweeter.''

Lendl once registered seven straight wins over McEnroe in the early 1980s, but Johnny Mac adjusted, and has held the upper hand more recently, winning 12 of their last 16 matches before Sunday. Two of those victories, came in back-to-back finals at Stratton, Vt., and Montreal leading up to the Open.

Momentarily, a repeat seemed a possibility here, as McEnroe won 13 of the first 14 points and jumped to a quick 3-0 lead.

But then suddenly the complexion of the match changed radically. McEnroe's game went flat, his normally patented serves and volleys no match for the heavy hitting Lendl, who sensed he was in the ``zone.''

``I felt there was no ball that I am not going to get to and no shot I cannot hit,'' he explained.

Of this swing of momentum, McEnroe said, ``He seized the advantage and started hitting the ball as hard as he's ever hit it against me. From that point on it's as well as I've ever seen him play.''

Lendl's booming serves were working, and through strategic placement of his returns, he opened up new angles for his blistering passing shots to dip and dart away from a whiffing McEnroe.

As if things weren't going well enough, McEnroe even gave Lendl an ace by walking off the court on a serve that had been called out.

Afterwards John was hard pressed to explain this sporting action, finally indicating he didn't want to begin a comeback on a controversial call.

Though McEnroe was generous in his praise of Lendl's performance, he said his own effort suffered by having to survive a sweltering five-set match with Mats Wilander the day before.

``It's a major injustice to have us play two straight days in a major championship,'' he observed. ``You know the semis and the finals are the toughest matches and that they're going to take the most out of the players, and it's just a shame that TV controls what we do at this point. I'd rather take less money and forget TV.''

The public is cheated, he feels, by having two tired players in the final, and in this case he entered the match with his energy more sapped than Lendl, who breezed by Connors in the cool of the night.

McEnroe has won four Opens under this format, but this time conditions extracted a higher toll than ever before.

Still, McEnroe was not taking anything away from Lendl, who he feels now has a leg up on becoming this year's top player.

For his part, McEnroe hasn't been able to repeat his sensational 1984 campaign, and expressed disappointment in not winning a major (he reached the semis at the French, the quarters at Wimbledon).

On the other hand, he indicates contentment with his lessened achievements. ``I'm proud of what I've done this year,'' he said. ``Being No. 2 in the world is not too bad.''

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