Fans at Madison Square Garden were expecting a marathon match between top-seeded Ivan Lendl and third-seeded Mats Wilander Monday night. Instead, they saw Lendl sprint to a record fifth Masters tennis title.
Lendl's last two victories over Wilander, in the 1987 French and U.S. Open finals, had each lasted four sets and more than four hours. At the Masters, however, the world's top-ranked player breezed to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 victory in 2 hours 23 minutes.
"I like it better this way," Lendl said. "It's much nicer to win in straight sets."
Lendl, the two-time defending champion, said it may have been his best match of the year.
"I played well and felt in control," he said. "I could rally, but I also could be aggressive when I had to be."
As in their previous matches, both players stayed on the baseline and exchanged groundstrokes most of the night. However, Lendl's shots were consistently harder, deeper and better angled, forcing Wilander to remain on the defensive.
Out of desperation, the 23-year-old Swede tried to force the action by rushing the net 52 times. But Lendl won many of those points with passing shots.
"There must be a special tactic to beat him, but I don't know what it is," Wilander said.
Wilander, who has won four Grand Slam titles, said his strategy was to keep Lendl on the court as long as possible.
"I think the longer the match goes, the better chance I have," he said. "Maybe if he gets tired, he won't hit as many winners."
The victory made Lendl the first five-time Masters winner, breaking the record of four he had shared with Ilie Nastase. It was also the 70th title of Lendl's career, tying him for second place on the all-time list with John McEnroe. Jimmy Connors leads with 105.
Lendl, who has played in eight straight Masters finals, received $210,000 for finishing the round-robin tournament with an undefeated record, raising his 1987 Grand Prix earnings to just over $2 million. Wilander earned $90,000 as runner-up.
After falling behind 2-0 at the start of the match, Wilander won the next two games to even the set. But Lendl then reeled off four games in a row to win the set in 48 minutes.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with Lendl breaking Wilander in the first game and opening a 2-0 lead. This time, however, Wilander was unable to stage even a brief comeback. Lendl broke him at love in the seventh game to take a 5-2 lead and closed out the set minutes later with a cross-court forehand pass.
After taking a 3-1 lead in the final set, Lendl lost two games in a row as Wilander broke him for the second time in the match in the sixth game. But Lendl won the last three games, ending the match with a strong forehand that Wilander volleyed beyond the baseline.
It was the eighth title of the year for Lendl, a 27-year-old Czechoslovakian who now lives in Greenwich, Conn. Wilander won five titles in 1987, four of them on clay.