He breezed through his first match here today, beating Damian Keretic, 6-1, 6-3, in the Tournament of Champions. And now Ivan Lendl wanted to breeze through all the questions about Wimbledon and suspensions.
On this perfect spring afternoon, he was more anxious to play golf than talk tennis. But Lendl, with his short answers and strong all-around game, has drawn so much attention lately, he was forced to talk about himself today for at least an hour longer than he might have liked.
His decision last week to withdraw from this week's World Team Cup, in which his native Czechoslovakia is defending champion, in favor of playing the WCT championship here drew the wrath of the Association of Tennis Professionals. Although Lendl said he was only fulfilling a prior commitment to the WCT, the ATP voted to fine him $10,000 and suspend him indefinitely.
And his indecision about entering Wimbledon, which he's never won, has led to almost daily inquisitions. What is your game plan, Ivan? When will we know? When will you know?
Lendl's game plan seems to be total concentration on the situation at hand, without too much brooding about what's down the road or what's behind him. Watch him play any match; his expression does not change.
"People have told me I should smile more out there," he said, grinning toothily to demonstrate. "But if I have to think about smiling, how can I concentrate on winning? To win, it's good not to think about what people think of you."
Lendl said his decision to pull out of the World Team Cup was a difficult one. "I would like to play for my country," he said. "But the right decision was to play here. I got a little pressure about bonuses."
WCT rules dictate that players who have committed themselves to playing in championship events but fail to show up must forfeit their bonus money. In Lendl's case, that's more than $200,000.
Yet, at 22, Lendl hardly appears to take money seriously. He said if he had any money, he would buy a car. He doesn't own one now; he drives a friend's when he needs it. In response to repeated questions about his "investments" and his "millions," he playfully replied, "I don't have any millions. I go to the casinos and lose it all. I don't have investments because of the double zeroes."
This is a ploy of Lendl's when he prefers not to deal with a subject. A British journalist asked him whether he plans to get married any time soon.
"Tomorrow," said Lendl, "at 7 o'clock."
Someone told Lendl that when his "casinos" quote appears in print, people might take it seriously. "They'll all come to casinos to meet me," he said. "Then, they'll lose money, too. They'll all have double zeroes."
Clearly, Lendl prefers not to talk about himself. "He likes to do fun things, like play golf or go to the movies," said Jerry Solomon, his business manager. "He doesn't like to have to talk or think about tennis; he prefers to just play it."
Lendl politely refused to even discuss the proposed ATP suspension. Although Solomon issued a statement Friday saying that Lendl would not challenge it, now Lendl says he has had no official notice.
"I'm not going to comment on what hasn't happened," he said. And Lendl is hardly dropping hints about Wimbledon.
"I will decide that around (the time of) the French Open (May 24)," he said. "My goal is to win the French and play well all summer."
Lendl said the only pressure about Wimbledon, which starts June 21, comes from the press. Talking about it all the time is painful, he said. His hesitation, he claimed, is due to the lack of practice facilities there.
"If you switch surfaces (from clay to grass), you need the extra practices," he said. Lendl has played at Wimbledon three times, and said each time that he hoped the practice situation had improved. "I'll know better after the French," he said again and again, in response to suggestions that he has deeper reasons for not going to Wimbledon.
Lendl likes to live in the present tense, not the future. Today, he excused himself from another barrage of questions to play his daily nine holes of golf. Heading for a local public course, his immediate goal was to defeat Solomon, "which I always do." Later, he would find a TV and watch his friends and countrymen, the Stastny brothers, play for the Quebec Nordiques against the New York Islanders in the National Hockey League playoffs.
He also sidestepped the question of whether he thinks he should be ranked No. 1 in the world. He is ranked second to John McEnroe on the ATP computer.
"To some people, it's important what the computer says. But basically, what's most important is winning matches and big titles. Besides," he added, "if I deserve to be No. 1, sooner or later it will show up on the computer."