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Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova: The Father of Modern Tennis was inspired by the Mother of Modern Tennis

AJIT SINGH
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
465   //    Timeless


Ivan Lendl (L) and Martina Navratilova (R)
Ivan Lendl (L) and Martina Navratilova (R)

Ivan Lendl is widely regarded as the 'Father of Modern Tennis'. And the 8-time Grand Slam champion fairly deserves this title. With his baseline approach and hard-hitting shots loaded with heavy topspin, he pioneered the modern style of the game.

But if we turn back the pages of history books and look closely, we realize that he wasn't as successful with this style of play in his initial years - especially at the Grand Slams. To carry on with this style and to be successful, he needed the guidance of a women's tennis legend.

This legendary player was none other than his compatriot Martina Navratilova. Navratilova inspired Lendl and many others with the manner in which she transformed herself and with it, the game of tennis. She changed the way of training for tennis players, which is the basis of the current physically demanding modern tennis.

In the past, tennis was considered a sport predicated on touch and precision rather than strength and athleticism. Of course, there were some champions like Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Bjorn Borg who were known for their athletic abilities, but the training sessions of tennis players mostly consisted of practice sessions - long for some, longer for others.

In the mid 1970s came a chubby (Chris Evert's description when she first saw Navratilova) girl from Czechoslovakia who had a great serve and volley game. Evert was undeniably the best player at that time, and as expected she owned Navratilova on the court in the early years.

Evert won 20 out of their first 25 meetings.

The young Navratilova
The young Navratilova

But Navratilova was here to be the best, so she started training hard on her speed and strength. She spent hours in the gym, training and transforming herself into something which had never been seen before.

Her veins were visible on her arms and legs due to her extreme training, which was unheard of for any tennis player at the time - male or female. She eventually started dominating Evert (and everyone else), winning 25 of their next 35 matches.

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The transformed Navratilova
The transformed Navratilova

From the beginning of his career, Lendl was among the best players in the world - fact he reinforced by winning many tournaments. But he wasn't able to win any Grand Slam titles in his early years; he had lost the first four of his Grand Slam finals, and almost lost the fifth too in that epic 1984 French Open match against John McEnroe.

Lendl lost to Bjorn Borg in the 1981 French Open final, in a marathon five-set match. He admitted that he was extremely tired at the end of that match and on the other side of the court was Borg was just being Borg, playing the fifth set like it was the first.

The disadvantage of the modern style of tennis, or the Lendl style of tennis, is that it is based on hard-hitting shots from the baseline and so requires speed as well as strength. Lendl realized that and he decided to train accordingly.

So guess whose example he turned to? None other than Martina Navratilova. Lendl imbibed many of Navratilova's methods, and even hired her fitness trainer Robert Haas to help improve his conditioning.

What Lendl achieved after that is no secret. He went on to become a dominant World No. 1, and captured as many as eight Majors.

So if we give Lendl the credit for pioneering the modern style of play, then we should also credit Navratilova for beginning the tradition of training the body for it. If Lendl is the Father of Modern Tennis, then Navratilova is undoubtedly the Mother of Modern Tennis.

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