NEW YORK -- Ivan Lendl's 6-7 (9-7), 6-0, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory over Mats Wilander of Sweden in the U.S. Open final Monday began as a yawner and ended with brilliant tennis.
Lendl won for two reasons: he hit more winners than Wilander and he maintained a consistently higher level of play over the 4-hour 47-minute match.
Wilander won the long first set by nine points to seven in a tie breaker but one could easily see a sudden downturn in intensity immediately afterward. He never really recovered.
Looked at another way, Lendl won 25 total games to 17 for Wilander in the match. And Wilander had to struggle for those 17.
Most of Lendl's winners were passing shots. Though Wilander is a two-time winner of the Australian Open -- on a faster surface than the cement here -- he frequently chose the wrong approach shots.
I am amazed that he did not try a few underspin approaches down the middle and short to force Lendl toward the net so he would have to hit up on his passing shots rather than down and hard.
Lendl was bothered by seven double faults but he never served two in a row, and Wilander never tried to come in behind Lendl's second serve. It was an example of Wilander's inability to pressure the No. 1 seed for an extended period of time.
Arguably, Lendl and Wilander are the game's two fastest men and they traded ground strokes in a Ping-Pong-like manner. Wilander got to and nailed a few passing shots that left Lendl looking at the cloud-dotted sky in disbelief. But in the end, in semidarkness under lights, Lendl proved more resilient mentally. He had all the answers.
On Lendl's second match point, Wilander tried to serve and volley but Lendl clipped a clean backhand slice down the line for a winner and the $250,000 in first-place money.
Lendl clearly is the No. 1 player in the world this year, and, with John McEnroe facing a two-month suspension and Jimmy Connors at age 35, he may reign supreme until Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Wilander devise new strategy.
Whoever eventually beats Lendl on cement not only must have Wilander's foot speed but also a natural net game. Becker, Edberg and McEnroe come to mind.
Becker is strong enough but has little patience. Edberg has the net game but is not as fast as Wilander nor as strong as Becker. And McEnroe is -- well, McEnroe -- who knows.
Look for Lendl to make it four U.S. Open championships in a row next year.