Considered one of the greatest players in the Open era, Ivan Lendl won 94 ATP titles, playing on a high level on clay, carpet and hard. Lendl’s place among the all-time great competitors could have been even higher had he managed to perform better in Major finals (8-11) or win a Major on grass that had always run away from him despite all the efforts to change his game and make it more “grass-friendly.” Between 1983-1990, Lendl played in no less than ten Major semi-finals on grass, seven of those at Wimbledon and another three in Australia. Still, he failed to make that last step and claim the title, losing in the title match at the 1983 Australian Open to Mats Wilander and again in 1986 and 1987 at Wimbledon to Boris Becker and Pat Cash. In the late 80s, Ivan had been at his zenith on the ATP Tour, throwing everything on that elusive Wimbledon title after competing in the semi-final for five consecutive years. Still, it wasn’t to be for the Czech, as he suffered defeats to Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
Lendl took the second prize, though, winning two Queen’s titles in 1989 and 1990 after playing on an excellent level at this prestigious event. Ivan’s second Queen’s crown proved to be a dominant one, dropping 26 games in five encounters and only 11 against Wimbledon champions McEnroe and Becker, defending the title in style and confirming significant progress on the fastest surface. Between 1985-1993, Lendl and Becker met 21 times, and it was a close rivalry right from the start, despite the fact Lendl came victorious in the first four clashes. Becker toppled the Czech in their first three meetings on grass at Wimbledon. However, it was a different story at Queen’s 1990, as Ivan celebrated a 6-3, 6-2 triumph on June 17 to defend the title and make another significant step in the Wimbledon assault. Dominating with his first serve, Lendl fended off all five break chances in the encounter’s opening game and played better and better to leave Boris miles behind after scoring four breaks and firing some 35 winners.
Ivan Lendl defended the Queen’s title in 1990 over Boris Becker.
As was expected, the quickest exchanges up to four strokes decided the winner. Lendl had a massive advantage in those, serving well and using every opportunity on the return to keep Becker off-balance and impose his strokes. Boris held at love in the opening game with a service winner and grabbed the first three points on Lendl’s serve to create three break opportunities. Facing an early setback and the worst possible start of the final, the Czech fired three winners to fend them off before repelling an additional two for a crucial hold after an ace to level the score at 1-1. From 40-0 up in the third game, Becker lost five straight points and suffered a break after a loose volley that sent Lendl ahead. The Czech landed an ace in game four for a hold at 15 and hit two unreturned serves in the sixth game to open a 4-2 gap. Becker couldn’t do much in the return games, and Lendl brought another game home after an ace for 5-3, leaving the German to serve for staying in the set.
Despite some good holds after that break he experienced, Boris gave serve away again to hand the opener to Lendl after a return winner from the more experienced player, who was hoping for more of the same in set number two. Lend certainly made a good start there, holding at 15 after four winners in the first game and breaking Becker a few minutes later for a considerable advantage. Hitting one winner after another, Ivan raced into a 3-0 lead, and an ace in game five pushed him 4-1 up, with his initial shot standing as an unsolved riddle for the German on that day.
Boris finally did more damage on the return in game seven but couldn’t create a break chance, allowing Lendl to bring it home after two service winners. Three consecutive return winners in the eighth game sealed the deal for the Czech, who delivered one of his career-best wins on grass after doing absolutely everything right and leaving Becker far behind in every segment. Both players struggled to find the first serve, but we couldn’t notice that in Lendl’s games after the opening one. The Czech never lost serve and kept the pressure on Becker with brilliant returns and over 30 winners, outplaying the rival completely to become a two-time Queen’s champion.