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"The most difficult for me to play against would be Rafael Nadal" - Ivan Lendl on facing the Big 3

 Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Novak Djokovic at the 2020 French Open
Β Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Novak Djokovic at the 2020 French Open
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Modified 15 Oct 2020, 17:26 IST
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Former World No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl has said he would find Rafael Nadal the most difficult of the Big 3 to play against.

The 60-year-old was speaking to Patrick McEnroe, a former Top 30 in singles and World No. 3 in doubles and now a commentator, on the latter's podcast Holding Court. Lendl explained that he never had the chance to play left-handers in his younger days, which was also the reason he hired Australian Tony Roche as his coach in the mid-1980s.

Roche was a left-hander and Lendl wanted to get used to a left-hander's serve and mentality. That was because nearly half of the top 10 at that time were southpaws, including two of Lendl's biggest rivals - John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

"The most difficult for me to play against would be Rafael Nadal because as a kid, I never got to play against left-handers. We had no left-handers at our club. That's also why I hired Tony Roche as he was a leftie. He could tell me what left-handers liked and did not like," Lendl said.

Lendl also gave his thoughts on the recent French Open final, which saw Rafael Nadal dominate Novak Djokovic to win his record 13th title at Roland Garros. The Czech listed out three specific strategies that Nadal deployed to great effect.

Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Ivan Lendl during the presentation ceremony at the 2019 Australian Open
Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Ivan Lendl during the presentation ceremony at the 2019 Australian Open

Lendl talked about how unusually aggressive Nadal was with the down-the-line forehand and crosscourt backhand, which prevented Djokovic from using his normal patterns. The 60-year-old also made a mention of the moonballs that Nadal occasionally resorted to as a means to throw the Serb off his rhythm.

"Few things stuck out right away from the beginning of the match," Lendl said. "No. 1 - Rafa was using his forehand down the line a bit more than he usually does. No. 2 - his backhand crosscourt was extremely aggressive. Rafa was looking to be aggressive and not let Novak sit in the backhand corner."
"And the third, which was interesting. Anytime Rafa was in big trouble, he would throw up a lob, make up and get back into the point because Novak wasn't putting the overhead away.Β It was part of the strategy. Novak's overhead is not his best shot. He prefers to place it rather than hit it. If you are as quick and defend as well as Rafa, you get back in to the point, and Rafa was very successful at that," he added.
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Bjorn Borg in those days was like Rafael Nadal: Ivan Lendl

Rafael Nadal speaks with Bjorn Borg after the men
Rafael Nadal speaks with Bjorn Borg after the men's singles final at Roland Garros in 2014

While discussing Rafael Nadal's latest win, the inevitable comparisons between Nadal and Bjorn Borg came up on the podcast.

Borg was considered the greatest claycourter before Nadal, and his haul of six French Open titles was an Open Era record until it was surpassed by the Spaniard in 2012.

Lendl spoke about how difficult a match-up Bjorn Borg was on clay, while asserting that Nadal's record does not take away the fact that the Swede was an all-time great on clay as well.

"Bjorn was in those days like Rafael Nadal," Lendl said. "He had won six French Opens. That was unheard of. Bjorn was like today's Rafa. Of course, Rafael winning 13 French Opens now makes Bjorn Borg look like an ordinary player but believe me Borg was no ordinary player."
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The conversation then veered to a fantasy match-up on clay between Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal. Assuming that the Swede would play with modern technology in this era or the Spaniard would play with a wooden racket in the earlier era, Lendl said it would be an unfair comparison in either case.

"It's an unfair comparison whichever way you go. However, if Rafa had to play with a wooden racket with a small head, I don't know how he would hit his forehand.Β It would surely be a long match. It would take a while," Lendl said.
Published 15 Oct 2020, 15:54 IST
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