It hardly seemed fair that the final of the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts-Nabisco Masters was best of five sets. After all, who among the eight players in the field could weather it? Mats Wilander, winner of three Grand Slam tournaments in 1988, was gimpy with shin splints and wouldn't even make the semifinals. Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg had tendinitis in both knees. Ivan Lendl was coming off surgery on his serving shoulder. Boris Becker was recovering from a badly twisted left ankle. Andre Agassi had a wart between the thumb and forefinger on his racket hand. Tim Mayotte was sorely overtennised. Henri Leconte, who was in the field only because Jimmy Connors withdrew to have surgery on his feet, was suffering from a sore left shoulder and would drop out with a sprained left ankle. Only Jakob Hlasek was 100%—and he had broken three ribs and his playing wrist in a car accident in January.
Clearly, the 12-month grind of the tour had taken its toll. "With no off-season, the players get worn down," said Association of Tennis Professionals trainer Bill Norris. "They're all suffering overuse injuries."
As it turned out, Becker beat Lendl 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 on Monday night, but just reaching the final was a triumph for Lendl, who has been battered and bruised for much of 1988.
Soon after losing to Pat Cash at the Australian Open in January, Lendl sustained a stress fracture in his right foot. At the French Open he pulled a pectoral muscle and lost to unseeded Jonas B. Svensson. At Wimbledon, Lendl played bravely with a strained thigh muscle, but he lost to Becker in a four-set semifinal.
Nonphysical concerns preyed upon Lendl is well. Last December he ended his relationship with ProServ, the Washington, D.C., sports-management firm because he felt neglected by his rep, Jerry Solomon. When Lendl walked, ProServ sued him for breach of contract; he countersued for what boiled down to alienation of affection.
In January, Lendl opened his own sports-management firm, Spectrum Sports, in his adopted hometown of Greenwich, Conn. He also oversaw the formation of Grand Slam at Banksville (N.Y.), the first of a projected chain of tennis and fitness clubs. Then there are the NHL Hartford Whalers to worry about. Since being named to the team's advisory board in September, Lendl has become such a fan he even turned down a White House dinner invitation to take in the season opener.
Lendl saw a chance to salvage the year at the U.S. Open in September. A victory at Flushing Meadow would have given him his fourth straight Open title and moved him to within three weeks of Connors's record 159 straight weeks atop the ATP computer. But Lendl lost a four-hour, 55-minute final—and the No. 1 ranking—to Wilander. Afterward, he conceded that he felt "lousy."
Later that month Lendl had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder to remove loose cartilage. Next came two nontour events, and he lost early in both. Still, he was determined to make the Masters the start of his climb back. "The Masters is not the end of 1988 for me," he said. "It is the start of 1989."
As if to herald this new beginning, Lendl opened the week by settling the lawsuits with ProServ. In the first of his three round-robin matches, he lost 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 to Hlasek, whom he had defeated at the U.S. Open. "This is starting to tick me off," Lendl said. "I should have won in two sets and been in the tub by now, watching the hockey."
Over the next three days Lendl took out his ire on Agassi, Mayotte and Edberg to get to Becker. Lendl played better as the tournament progressed and on Saturday said, "I feel better, too. Everything feels fine now."
With luck, that feeling will stay alive into the new year.
Lendl served notice for 1989.
Survival of the fittest: Becker won despite an injured foot.