LONDON -- What now for Ivan Lendl? What now, after telling the world how desperately he wanted to win this Wimbledon, after publicly negotiating the price he would pay for the crown. At first he said he would lose every other match for a year if he could win it. On second thought that price seemed a bit steep, so he offered one of his U.S. Open titles in exchange, if he could keep the other. Then, realizing a one-for-one deal wouldn't cut it, he offered to throw in two of his three French Opens. And who knows what else he might have thrown in had the tournament lasted another week -- his golf clubs? One of his sports cars? Some of his seven prized guard dogs?
Lendl craves Wimbledon the way Wayne Lukas craves the Kentucky Derby, with an obsessive lust. He's terrified what they'll say about him if he fails to get it. The same man who snubbed Wimbledon in 1982, sarcastically saying he was "allergic" to grass, saying that "grass is for cows," is now first in line when they call for character witnesses. Lendl has been to the woodshed for those remarks, and every chance he gets he apologizes for them. In his younger days he thought he was bigger than Wimbledon. But he learned well the humbling truth that some Grand Slam events are more equal than others.
Lendl had knocked on this door before: semifinals in 1983 and 1984; runner-up last year to Boris Becker. But this time he'd kick the door down. Then they couldn't fail to certify him as a true champion. They might not like him, but they couldn't deny him. The great ones win Wimbledon -- other than Ken Rosewall, of course, but the exception proves the rule. Jimmy Connors implied that the immortals win more than once. Check the list: Borg, Laver, Newcombe, McEnroe, Hoad, Tilden, Budge, Connors, they all won here at least twice. "I didn't want to be a one-timer," Connors said disdainfully.
Lendl wanted a bunch, too, but he had to start with one. And he saw the board open up for him when Becker went out in the second round. His rivals boxed out: Becker dismissed; John McEnroe absent; Connors old. As a group the Swedes weren't a threat on grass. Neither was Yannick Noah. When Lendl beat Henri Leconte in straight sets in the quarterfinals -- avenging the beating Leconte gave him last year -- he had to think it was on his racket. Like his once and future countrywoman, Martina Navratilova, Lendl had chosen this site to make his stand. When a man as cautious and conservative as Lendl goes out of character and publicly declares his ardor for a specific win, he places himself at grave emotional risk. But if not now, when? If not against Pat Cash, who? Cash is only 22 years old. He'd never won a Grand Slam event. He was seeded 11th, nine behind Lendl. Only two men -- the unseeded Amadeus Becker in 1985, and Jaroslav Drobny in 1954 -- had ever come from that far back to win Wimbledon. True, Lendl wasn't a natural grass court player, and Cash was bursting with promise, having yielded only one set through the entire fortnight. But Lendl knew how to think on the court, and Cash was a hothead who might crack under the strain.
So what now for Lendl, now that he put the whole bundle on one roll and threw snake eyes? What now that it was he who unraveled, he who was flummoxed at the key junctures? He had lately taken to quoting Mark McCormack on the competitive essence of a champion: "In a champion's mind he's never doing well enough -- he's always coming from behind." But this time Lendl was too far behind. He was still on the third tee when Cash was putting on 18. Facing break points he insisted on serving to Cash's backhand, though Cash consistently blistered the return. He dropped six of the first seven points in the tie breaker, painting himself into a hopeless corner. He didn't win even one point off Cash's serve in the second set. Serving for the third set at 5-3, he double-faulted the game away, then abruptly, and without apparent concern, lost the next three games and the match. After the double fault the BBC commentator told all of Great Britain, "At tense moments in matches like that, Ivan Lendl does have a tendency to choke." There, it's out in the open again. Even after five Grand Slam titles the harpies still hover around him.
"Obviously another year is gone," Lendl said bitterly of his latest failure to win Wimbledon. "I will be back for many years to come." When he was asked if a player needed to win Wimbledon to be considered great, he gritted his teeth at the choices. "It helps," he conceded. "But I don't think anybody would say Rosewall wasn't a great player."
Again and again we are reminded of Lendl's uncertain status. He's a gifted but robotic player, and for as long as he fails to win Wimbledon, he will be seen an interloper among the greats. He's unpopular with the public, suffering in comparison to extemporaneous players like Connors, Becker, Noah, Leconte and now Cash. Although he tries to be demonstrative on the court his gestures are usually angry; if not, they're derivative. He's the kind of a guy who tries too hard, the kind who gets the joke a beat late and laughs a mite too loud. And there's something chilly about him. He has the walls and the dogs in Connecticut to keep people at a suitable distance. Though he wants to be an American -- and shops at Bloomingdale's, plays golf and drives a sports car too fast in pursuit of it -- the best he'll ever be able to do is wear America on his sleeve, because it isn't rooted in his soul.
Pat Cash, whose stated ambition is to lie on the beach, get fat, drink in the pubs with his mates, weigh 280 pounds, generally vegetate and become a Yobbo, which is Australian for party animal Spuds McKenzie, is now one up on Lendl in Wimbledon titles. Cash doesn't take tennis as seriously as Lendl does. In fact, when Cash's back was so badly injured that he was essentially shelved for nine months -- and his ranking plummeted from seventh to 413th -- rather than bemoan the interruption Cash said, "I quite enjoyed the break." How it must rankle Lendl to lose to someone like this, a punk kid with an earring, no less.
"This was the one thing I wanted to do in my career, and I did it today," Cash exulted. "Now I'll be a much more relaxed person."
What now for Lendl? Another opportunity gone. Another application rejected. "Right now I just want to go home and rest and do nothing," he said, as tense and as unfulfilled as ever.