THE world's No. 1 tennis player has little time to watch spring transform his garden in Greenwich, Conn. Having won the Australian Open in January, Ivan Lendl knows he's the only man who could win tennis's Grand Slam in 1989 (Australian, French, and United States Opens, plus Wimbledon). He's already hard at work. International tennis has no off-season, save a couple of weeks at Christmas. Many players spend that time traveling to the Australian Open and related tournaments.
For top players like Lendl, now is the time to sharpen up for the big tests of late spring and summer - the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
It was in Melbourne this past January, in courtside temperatures of 135 degrees F., that Lendl won his first Australian championship and regained the No. 1 ranking he had lost to Sweden's Mats Wilander in last September's US Open final.
The Czech-born star has now won seven Grand Slam tournaments altogether, including three French Opens and three US Opens. He has yet to win the title every player craves - Wimbledon.
``Of course I'd like to get Wimbledon more than anything else right now,'' he said. ``And getting the Australian makes it even more wanted because then I would have won all four - even though not in the same year.''
Ivan chatted amiably with this reporter before an early season tournament. In the last few months he has become one of the freest talkers on the tour. Press conferences are often a riot, especially when journalists have to work hard to get Lendl to talk tennis instead golf or hockey, two other abiding passions in his life.
That sense of fun has been sharpened by his growing confidence in the use of English, especially his command of the American idiom. He now has time to play with ideas instead of words, and he has become the master of the snappy retort.