NEW YORK, SEPT. 14 -- When it finally ended this evening, hours and hours after it began, when Ivan Lendl finally outlasted Mats Wilander to win his third straight U.S. Open championship, they gave him a check for $250,000
No one can say he didn't work hard for the money.
In the longest match in the 107 years they have played this tournament, Lendl beat Wilander, 6-7 (9-7), 6-0, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, in a marathon memorable for its length -- 4 hours 47 minutes, and there was no fifth set -- more than anything else.
To put the length of this match in some perspective, consider this: during his straight-set victories in the last two finals here, Lendl played a total of 4 hours 41 minutes.
In fact, Lendl and Wilander played for 40 minutes longer than Martina Navratilova did today in winning two doubles matches to become the third person in the 20 years of open tennis to win a triple crown at a major tournament -- singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
It was not easy for Navratilova, either. First, she and Pam Shriver had to come from down a set and 4-1 to beat Kathy Jordan and Elizabeth Smylie, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. That victory avenged a loss to that twosome in the 1985 Wimbledon final that denied Navratilova a triple there and ended an eight-Grand Slam winning streak for Navratilova-Shriver.
But that one was easy compared to the mixed doubles final. It was as dramatic as any in the tournament, especially considering the circumstances.
Navratilova and partner Emilio Sanchez finally beat Paul Annacone and Betsy Nagelsen, 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 7-6 (14-12). During the last set tie breaker, Navratilova and Sanchez missed six match point chances, including one where Nagelsen aced Sanchez, the Spaniard whiffing as he swung at a forehand return.
It ended on the seventh match point with Navratilova punching a forehand volley down the middle and then leaping into Sanchez's arms.
"The triple was on my mind the whole time," Navratilova said. "I was really, really nervous . . . I've been so close so many times, it feels great to get it."
Navratilova became the first person since Billie Jean King at Wimbledon in 1973 and the first in this tournament since Margaret Court in 1970, to win a triple. She now has 48 Grand Slam titles overall, second to Court, who had 66.
The brisk, aggressive play that marked both doubles matches was a striking contrast to the men's match. Lendl and Wilander needed 4 hours 23 minutes to finish four sets in the French Open final this year. But that was on red clay. No one imagined they could somehow play longer here.
"When I play Lendl I can't go for my shots and hit the ball as hard as I can," Wilander said. "Because if I do, he'll just hit it back harder."
Wilander stayed back most of the time, content to allow the rallies to last for more than 30 hits on numerous occasions. Lendl, who gets to the net when he needs to now, didn't want to come in unless he had to. So, while Dan Rather undoubtedly burned, Lendl and Wilander fiddled.
Not that there wasn't some brilliant tennis. Put the No. 1 and No. 3 tennis players in the world on a court for almost five hours and they are bound to hit some remarkable shots. Most notably, Lendl, facing two set points in the third set, came up with four straight huge first serves and then played a terrific tie breaker to finally gain a tenuous hold on the match.
"I was very lucky to come up with those serves then," Lendl said. "After the first set I felt like I was out of juice but then Mats missed some shots and I got the second set easily. Obviously it was very important that I won the third set."
Lendl said after his victory that he has been ill the last few days and would have defaulted in the semifinals if this had not been a Grand Slam event. "At times I felt terrible out there, at others I felt okay," he said. "I felt heavy, slow and dizzy out there. I was trying to stay emotionally pumped up because if I had gone down emotionally, I probably would have lost."
Wilander was also playing on emotion, although he said he was not tired when the match ended. As he had done on Saturday in beating Stefan Edberg, he was pumping and stoking on big points, imitating Jimmy Connors so often that his new nickname may be The Stokin' Swede.
"I wanted to be pumped up going out there," Wilander said. "Sometimes when you play a final on Monday, it feels like the tournament is over and you don't get into the match. I didn't want that to happen."
The crowd, after Sunday's rainout, was a very respectable 15,003. But with the rallies lasting forever, they only got into the match during the tie breakers and the fourth set.
That was what was most memorable about this endless day's journey into night, the sight of the two players nailing themselves to the base line, the ball going back and forth forever. Most of the time both acted as if the only way to find the net would be with a road map.
Wilander won the first set after 92 minutes -- 16 minutes more than the entire women's final.
"I think he was tight the first set," Wilander said. "When he lost it, he just forgot about all that and relaxed. My play wasn't tight enough to stay with him."
Lendl blew through the second set, losing just four points.
As often happens in a match like this one, the third set was decisive. Neither player could take command. Lendl broke to start the set, Wilander broke back. Then they traded breaks again. Every time Lendl took the lead, Wilander came back. He broke to 4-all in a marathon game after Lendl saved four break points. Both players held for 5-5 and then Wilander held for 6-5.
A few minutes later, he ripped a backhand pass down the line to put Lendl in a 15-40, two set-point hole. Wilander did his stoke and the fans, virtually all of them behind him, roared. Once, Lendl would have folded in such a situation.
But that is the past. Today, he blasted an ace to save one set point, then crushed another serve. Wilander got it back and Lendl tapped a volley that was good -- barely.
Lendl boomed two more winners to finish the game, then raced to a 4-0 lead in the tie breaker. Wilander closed to 5-4, but Lendl came up with two more big serves, the second one an ace, and had the set.
"It was very disappointing to lose that set because I somehow always felt ahead," Wilander said. "I had so many break points on him and set points, too. If I had won that set, I would have had lots of confidence."
By the time they had reached 4-5, Lendl, in the fourth set, dusk was falling, the lights were on and a fifth set might have taken until Thursday. Wilander double-faulted to put Lendl at match point. But he came back with a big serve and when Lendl missed an overhead, Wilander was a point from 5-5.
He never got there. Lendl came up with two gorgeous returns and had match point two. "When he got to game point after I had match point I thought, oh no, don't let it get away now after so much work," Lendl said. "I really didn't think I was going to win the match."
He did though. Wilander served and Lendl chipped a backhand return, right down the line. Wilander watched it, hoping it would go wide. It didn't. Lendl threw his arms up in exhausted elation. The match had taken 33 minutes longer than the previous record final -- John McEnroe taking 4:14 to beat Bjorn Borg in 1980 -- and 30 minutes longer than the longest match in tournament history -- Brad Gilbert and Boris Becker this year. Both of those were five-setters.
"If someone had told me after I lost my third Open final three years ago that I would win it three times I would have thought they were crazy," Lendl said. "Maybe if I win 15 in a row, the crowd will like me."
He smiled wanly, too tired to do anything more. "Only 12 to go."