Since winning the U.S. Open at the end of last summer, Ivan Lendl has been on a tennis tear, blitzing through tournaments with almost contemptuous ease.
Well, perhaps not contemptuous. Lendl these days is anything but contemptuous.
Last Sunday, the improved Lendl won the Masters Grand Prix final in New York, defeating Boris Becker. He struck again Wednesday night, beating Yannick Noah, 6-4, 6-3, in the Championship Tennis Challenge exhibition match before 7,026 fans at the Forum.
In the evening’s first match, Anne White, filling in for an ailing Martina Navratilova, was beaten by Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
But it was Lendl and his new manner that caught the fans’ attention.
Ivan The Terrible, he of the scowling face and sneering repartee, is no more. Lendl says he’s enjoying his tennis--and his No. 1 ranking--position more than ever in his eight years as a pro.
Thus, the new Lendl smiles and has kind words for all.
“I’m very happy with my life and my tennis career at this stage,” he said. “I don’t feel any pressure about that.”
Lendl is playing so well and with such confidence that any pressure he feels would have to be self-generated. No player on the tour seems able to rattle him.
“I think I can play better,” Noah said. “He just is playing so well. My return of serve is so weak. My game is an attacking game. He just put so much pressure on me.”
That’s the way Lendl wants it. The more pressure he puts on his opponents, the less pressure he feels. The former Lendl was apt to sag under pressure, but not the new one.
“I am winning every now and then,” Lendl joked. “Obviously, it gives you a lot of confidence. There is no measurement for confidence. But I must have pockets full of force.”
With that, Lendl exited, smiling.
There was great interest in the women’s match, too. Sabatini, 15, made a splash at Wimbledon--often, however, more for her dark good looks than her tennis.
Fans wanting a close look at Sabatini Wednesday night were crowding courtside. At least one light-blue-and-white Argentinian flag was waved from high in the arena. Between points, fans shouted to Sabatini in Spanish.
She seemed oblivious to whatever they said, however. “She’s very quiet,” White said. “The fact that she has a language barrier doesn’t help. I think the fact that she has adjusted this well is something, considering all she’s up against.”
Sabatini is ranked No. 12 in the world and White No. 20, but the match was close. White’s serve-and-volley game was handled well by Sabatini’s excellent groundstrokes. But the teen-ager does not chase balls nor does she seem inclined to rush the net for drop shots.
Tournament director Linda Rambis said she talked to Navratilova’s agent, Peter Johnson, at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Once she established that Navratilova had the flu and could not play, the scramble began.
“We got on the phone for 3 1/2 hours,” Rambis said. “We just went down the list. We started with No. 2 and made the calls. We talked to everyone, but we just didn’t have enough time.
“If Martina had called us yesterday (Tuesday), we might have got Chris Evert Lloyd--she was in Palm Springs. The only person in the Top Ten we couldn’t reach was Claudia Kohde-Kilsch because she doesn’t have an agent; she represents herself.”
White nearly missed the call. She had just returned from an aerobics class and had walked out the door but forgot something and returned, when the phone rang.
Rambis said the event was not insured. “The only time we’ve done that was a year ago with (Jimmy) Connors-(John) McEnroe. It’s really expensive,” she said.
“We are very embarrassed. Of course, we are offering refunds to anyone who is dissatisfied. And for fans who are here and not happy, we are offering to give them a free Kings ticket if they show their ticket stub from tonight.”