ATP Finals Flashback: Ivan Lendl wins title over Boris Becker

Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker were the dominant figures in men’s tennis in 1986. They won 16 titles and ten of the season’s 14 most notable tournaments! It was a unique season, with no Australian Open and not one but two ATP Finals events in New York. The first took place in January, linked with the 1985 season, and a regular December edition with the best players from 1986, both won by Lendl, who defeated Becker in the finals. The Czech claimed ten titles in 1986 if we include the 1985 ATP Finals, adding Roland Garros and the US Open trophies to repeat his dominant run from the previous year. Ivan won 78 out of 84 matches and spent the entire season at the top to extend his run that started after the 1985 US Open. On the other hand, Becker defended his Wimbledon crown at a young age and conquered Sydney, Tokyo and Paris in back-to-back weeks on three continents.

Thus, he proved his greatness and challenged Lendl for that season finale crown in New York’s Madison Square Garden. It was the seventh appearance for Lendl at this event and the seventh title match, standing as the favorite and proving that against his strongest rivals. Struggling with tendinitis in his left hip, Ivan played only two tournaments between the US Open and the ATP Finals, making sure to be back at his best in New York. The event occurred between December 3-8, with the players drawn in groups named after Fred Perry and Don Budge. Lendl proved too strong for Yannick Noah, Andres Gomez and Stefan Edberg in the Fred Perry Group. He beat all three opponents in straight sets to top the standings and reach the semi-final with Edberg, who saved a match point against Noah. In the Don Budge Group, Boris Becker extended his winning streak to 20 after victories over Mats Wilander, Joakim Nystrom and Henri Leconte. The German lost the opening set against the Frenchman 6-0 before staging a great comeback to remain undefeated.

Ivan Lendl defeated Boris Becker to defend the ATP Finals crown in 1986.

Rod Laver was there to draw the semi-final matches. Lendl faced Wilander, while Becker battled against his old rival Edberg. Ivan needed only 84 minutes to dismiss Mats 6-4, 6-2. The Czech dropped eight points on serve and dominated from start to finish to set the ninth meeting with the German, who toppled Edberg 6-4, 6-4. In the repeat of January’s ATP Finals title match, Lendl overpowered Becker 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 20 minutes for his fourth crown at this level and the best finish of another impressive year. Becker defeated Lendl in their previous match in Sydney but stood no chance this time, taking just 12 points in 15 return games and never creating a break chance! On the other hand, Ivan earned 11 opportunities to break the youngster and claimed one break in each set to wrap up the win and lift his 62nd ATP crown at 26! Becker had more service winners (36 to 26) and the net advantage.

However, that was not enough for a more favorable result, losing the edge from the baseline and barely hitting any winner with his groundstrokes. The Czech won almost 30 points more than his rival. He erased that service winners deficit with a rock-solid performance with his first groundstroke, giving him the upper hand in the shortest points up to four strokes. He also tamed his shots nicely, staying on under 20 unforced errors while Becker counted to 40. The German never found his rhythm or solved how to impose his strokes and move the opponent from his comfort zone. Lendl had a clear advantage in the mid-range and longer rallies to bring the encounter home in style, facing only one deuce in his games and keeping the pressure on the other side. After two solid opening service games from both, Becker faced an ultimate challenge while playing against five break chances at 2-2.

He fired four winners in the most critical points and fended them off to stay on the positive side until 4-4. Boris hit a double fault in game nine to lose serve and send Lendl 5-4 up. Serving for the opener, Ivan fired a service winner to grab the first set 6-4 and gain momentum. Becker repelled a break chance in the second set’s third game with a service winner and survived two deuces the next time he served to stay in front. Rattling off one good service game after another, Lendl kept the pressure on his opponent and earned a break at 3-3 after a backhand return winner. The Czech moved 5-3 up after deuce in the next game and clinched the set with three winners at 5-4 to move closer to the finish line. Boris had to work hard in the third set’s third game, erasing a break point with a volley winner. However, he got broken at 3-3 after Lendl’s return winner, who put one hand on the trophy with that stroke. The Czech confirmed the break with a hold at love and sealed the deal with a backhand down the line winner at 5-4 to celebrate another notable title and secure the year-end no. 1 position for the second straight year.