When it was over, after Boris Becker had dived and rolled and bloodied himself and given all he had to give, there was only one thing for him to say: "Ivan Lendl," he said with a shrug, "is the best tennis player in the world."
Never has that been more apparent than today. Becker may not have played his best tennis in this, his first Masters final, but he certainly had his moments. He had chances, but Lendl snuffed them out and finally walked off with the title, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, ending the 1985 tennis season with a flourish that was becoming, given the year he had.
"It certainly was a great year for me," said Lendl, the world's No. 1 player. "I will try to make next year a little bit better."
Short of overcoming his phobia about Wimbledon's grass, that will be difficult. Lendl finally won the U.S. Open in 1985; finally overcame his nemesis, John McEnroe; and finished the season by winning $100,000 for this title and $800,000 for being the overall winner of the Nabisco Grand Prix. Even for a member of the landed gentry from Greenwich, Conn., that isn't a bad weekend's work.
For Becker, there was little reason to be upset. At 18, he is the world's second-best player. He won $70,000 today and more than $500,000 for the year, not to mention the riches he has reaped in endorsements since his extraordinary victory at Wimbledon.
"Boris tried very hard today," Lendl said. "I think this may have been the first big match where a lot was expected of him and I'm not sure he handled the pressure as well as he will in the future."
For Becker, this was a day to think of the future. For Lendl, it was one to savor the present.
He rolled through the first set in 32 minutes, breaking Becker in the fifth and seventh games. The first break came on a trademark Lendl backhand, a passing shot down the line that Becker could only wave out like a third baseman who hasn't guarded the line tightly enough.
Even though flustered, Becker came back. He began to get his serve in gear, steadied his ground game and produced a service break to lead, 2-0, in the second set. The break came after Becker came in behind a big forehand and when Lendl slammed a forehand that looked perfect, Becker made a lunging volley. Just as he was trying to scramble to his feet, Lendl's chased-down backhand was cracking the tape.
That brought the 16,227 in Madison Square Garden into the match. Most were for Becker, partly because he was the underdog, partly because Lendl has almost always been a target here, even though the building is only 30 miles from his home.
"Actually, I thought the crowd was pretty good to me today," Lendl said. "It's nice to play for them here. They are good fans."
Those fans were ready to really get behind Becker when he served for the second set at 5-3. But at 30-all, Becker played two loose points, punching a forehand volley into the net and then pushing a forehand deep to give Lendl the game.
"I played a bad first set but then I had a good chance in the second," Becker said. "But I played a bad game to let him break me back and then he started playing better because he was very confident then."
Becker didn't die after losing his serve. In fact, with Lendl serving at 5-6, Becker had a set point after he chipped a backhand just past Lendl for a winner to get to 30-40. In the past at moments like this one in U.S. Open finals, Lendl has double-faulted. Today, he unloaded an ace and then held to reach 6-6.
Becker won Wimbledon because he won crucial tie breakers in three matches. Today, though, it was man against boy in the tie breaker. Becker began with a double fault. He was down, 2-1, when Lendl hit the shot of the day, perhaps of the tournament. Becker had attacked off a forehand and Lendl hit a good forehand cross court. Becker volleyed, and Lendl got to the ball and hit a wonderful chip shot.
Becker reversed himself, dove to his right and somehow hit a perfect one-hop forehand that had Lendl completely out of position, going in the wrong direction. But Lendl stopped short, pivoted and with Becker watching in astonishment, cracked a forehand cross court for a winner.
"He just got to the point in the tie breaker where he couldn't miss with his passing shots," Becker said. "When he's on the run and flying with emotion, it's tough to beat him."
Lendl won the tie breaker from there with ease while Becker kept changing rackets, all the while mumbling comments to his coach, Gunther Bosch, and manager, Ion Tiriac. Umpire Rich Kaufman, who had warned Bosch for coaching in the quarterfinals, watched all this and allowed it, deciding that discussing racket tension didn't amount to coaching.
"We talked about the coaching question before the match and we were watching," said Ken Farrar, supervisor of Grand Prix officials. "I was watching Bosch and Tiriac for signals and so was Rich. We made a judgment on the rackets that it didn't constitute coaching."
With or without coaching, Becker wasn't going to beat Lendl from two sets down. As Becker said, "Other days we might talk. Today, there was nothing to talk about."
Lendl blew to a 3-0 lead in the third set, winning the last point of the third game when Becker went sprawling through the fake flowers and the bunting surrounding the court in vain pursuit of a volley. Becker cut his knee during the tumble and, after Lendl helped him up, needed an injury timeout to regroup.
Then, remarkably, with his knee bloodied, he won the next three games, attacking more all of a sudden. But it was a brief comeback. Lendl steadied, held at 3-all and broke Becker with a gorgeous forehand return at Becker that Becker could only scoop high into the air. Lendl waited, then smacked the ball right at Becker, who could only push it into the net. It was 5-3, Lendl was shaking his fist and serving for the match.
He did so successfully, the two men producing one more superb point, a long back-court rally that ended with a Lendl forehand blast that put Becker on the mat again, rolling helplessly. A moment later, Becker hit a backhand wide and Lendl had his third Masters title and the perfect ending, or start, to a wonderful year.
And, as both players left here, each knew that the coming year will be one that will bring them together quite a bit. If anyone is to challenge Lendl, it is likely to be Becker.
"I think this year will be tougher for me," Becker said. "Everybody knows me now. Everybody knows when they beat me, it's a big win for them. But I'm playing better now than I did last June. It will be interesting at Wimbledon and it will be interesting for me in 1986."
Anders Jarryd and Stefan Edberg won the doubles title, defeating fellow Swedes Mats Wilander and Joakim Nystrom, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5).