The Wimbledon 1989 semifinals featured Boris Becker fending off Ivan Lendl over two-days and five sets 6-4, 6-7 (2), 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. Stefan Edberg returned to the final by ousting a resurgent John McEnroe 7-5, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5). Becker then avenged his 1988 Wimbledon loss to Edberg by taking the title 6-0, 7-6 (1), 6-4.
Ivan Lendl was one of the stories coming out of the 1989 Wimbledon championships. He looked comfortable on grass and had seemingly gained ground on Becker who had also ousted Lendl in the 1986 Wimbledon final and the 1988 Wimbledon semifinal. Becker lost only one set in those two previous matches versus the higher ranked Lendl, but in 1989 Lendl had Becker on the ropes prior to adverse conditions halting the match with Lendl leading two sets to one.
Queen’s Club and the tennis world were ecstatic about a semifinal round featuring the 4 players from the 1989 Wimbledon semifinal round. Lendl and McEnroe had skipped the French Open for various reasons while Edberg and Becker were ousted from the 1990 French Open in the first round by two guys named Sergi Bruguera and Goran Ivanisevic. Each entered Queen’s Club needing some match wins ahead of Wimbledon 1990.
The Lendl-McEnroe Semifinal Story
Lendl decided to go all in on grass court tennis in 1990 and skipped Roland Garros where he already owned 3 trophies. This added interest to the grass court tune-up events. McEnroe won the 1989 WCT Finals in Dallas, reached the 1989 Wimbledon and Masters semifinals, and headed into 1990 with a lot of momentum. This all came to a crashing halt when McEnroe was defaulted at the Australian Open for using extreme profanity. McEnroe was reappearing on tour right as Lendl was seeking a grass court epiphany.
Lendl and McEnroe had been tense adversaries throughout the 1980s. A 1990 match between Ivan Lendl who was working tirelessly to win Wimbledon and John McEnroe who had woven himself into Wimbledon lore with 3-titles in 1981, 1983, and 1984 and two epic five set runner-up finishes in 1980 and 1982 looked appealing. McEnroe was a lefty serve and volleyer who loved grass. Lendl was trying to adapt his power ground stroke game to low bouncing grass by increasing his net approaches, using a bigger string pattern, and chipping the ball more frequently. McEnroe had struggled mightily vs. Lendl since their 1985 US Open final. Surely grass could even the playing field. Well, no. Lendl hammered McEnroe 6-2, 6-4.
The Lendl-Becker Championship Story
Lendl had momentum heading into the final beating his historic rival in straight sets on grass. Now, Lendl needed to slay his grass court nemesis. Becker had won 9 of 12 grass court sets they had played. Becker was 4-0 at that time in Grand Slam matches versus Lendl as well. Becker had backed up his 1989 Wimbledon win with a semifinal triumph over Stefan Edberg. Becker had beaten Lendl earlier in the year on a fast indoor carpet court 6-2, 6-2.
Would Lendl’s months of grass court preparation be enough to fend off a great fast court player who had Lendl’s number? Yes. Lendl beat Becker soundly 6-3, 6-2 to take home the prestigious Queen’s Club title for the second consecutive year.
The Edberg Wimbledon Story
Edberg was the one guy Lendl did not beat at Queen’s Club. However, Lendl beat Edberg in the 1987 Wimbledon semifinal round in 4 sets. Lendl also beat Edberg to take the 1990 Australian Open title when Edberg’s torn abdominal muscles forced a mid-match retirement. Edberg hurt those muscles in his semifinal win, but prior to the injury worsening he beat Lendl in the first set of that championship match on a slow hard court. Perhaps that was the clue everyone expecting a Lendl-Becker final at Wimbledon missed. Also, Edberg beat Lendl in the 1989 Masters semifinal and Boris Becker in the 1989 Masters championship match to cap off the previous year. Edberg calmly beat Lendl 6-1, 7-6 (2), 6-3. He then swept the first two sets of the Wimbledon final 6-2, 6-2, before Becker won the 3rd and 4th sets 6-3, 6-3. Becker grabbed a 4-1 lead in the championship match needing only two service holds to win his 4th Wimbledon title. Edberg instead rattled off 5 consecutive games including two service breaks to take the title 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4.
The moral might be that Queen’s and Halle have some impact on how Wimbledon plays out, but they are also pre-tests in many senses rather than final exams.