Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, Wimbledon 1986

Wimbledon 1986: Boris Becker defeats Ivan Lendl

Extract from Boris Becker’s autobiography, The Player:

Before my first Wimbledon final I felt like a child in a toyshop; everything was possible and I had it all before me. Every round I survived had been a triumph. Since then everything had changed. The training was more concentrated and less relaxed, and felt more like a state of emergency than anything else. The endgame against Ivan Lendl would finally answer the questions everyone was asking. Was Becker 1985 a fluke, or is he really a mega talent? It felt like a matter of life or death. At this stage, I defined myself solely through tennis and any defeat meant the complete loss of my self-confidence. Only victory could rescue me.
In 1986 I was happy when it was over. It was the most pressure I’d ever been under. The wunderkind had to prove himself. Even I couldn’t be sure how good I really was.

Lendl had never won Wimbledon, and he’d almost lost the semi-final against my friend Bobo Zivojinovic. It was only because Bobo was undone by the umpire in the fifth set that Lendl won. I preferred to have Lendl as my opponent. I knew Bobo too well, because we often practiced together, and he could break my serve, but I couldn’t break his. Lendl was already sitting in the changing room, and we didn’t speak a word. Not his usual jokes, not even a comment, just silence. He was number one in the world. I was number six. He was twenty-six and wanted to win Wimbledon at last. I was eighteen, and had to win at least one more time. I was convinced I’d win. It sounds strange, but the previous night I’d dreamt of victory, just like the year before. Lendl, on the other hand, seemed frightened, almost transfixed.

I take the first two sets 6-4 6-3 – a stress-free hour. In the third he leads 4-1, a small crisis for me. Soon he’s leading 5-4, and I’m serving. I go down to love-40. My attitude is, OK, let him win the third set, but I’ll come back in the fourth. Then three second serves, three reflex return volleys… Somehow I turn it around and win the game. Five all. I realize he’s falling. Lendl serves – I break to 6-5. I’m serving for my second Wimbledon success. It’s 40-30. When the match ends I’m on the same side of the court as in 1985. Lendl is devastated. “Well played”, he says. I’m up in the clouds, immensely relieved.

I felt I’d been transformed from a boy to an adult. I’d opened the gate to the future and now I could have faith in myself. The victory in 1986 was the most important of my career. In 1985 I’d hardly known what I’d done; one year later I knew all too well. The reaction in Germany was overwhelming, but it left me strangely cold. After all, only a month before they’d written me off.

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