In the 1980s, Ivan Lendl strode the tennis courts of the world like a colossus. He style of play wasn’t as easy on the eye as, say John McEnroe’s, but he possessed a focused, almost machine-like ability to outlast opponents, usually from the baseline.
However, encountering the 63-year-old legend today reveals a different picture. He appears thicker around the midriff and grayer too. Most strikingly, he actually exhibits occasional moments of levity, including a smile.
Yet, delve into his newfound passion for pickleball, and it becomes evident that the Lendl of yesteryears is still very much present. When asked about it, he states, “Let’s put it this way; you don’t really know me but know that when I do something, I do it 100 percent.”
So, to consider pickleball merely a hobby for him would be a misconception.
Less than a year after picking up a paddle for the first time, Lendl is already participating in tournaments, recently earning third place in the 5.0 men’s doubles, 40-and-over division at the Conviva Pictona Open alongside his instructor, Alex Mabred.
The fact that he’s competing in the 40-and-over category, even at 63, speaks volumes about his enduring athletic prowess.
Reflexes As Sharp As Ever
Mabred acknowledges that Lendl’s reflexes remain as sharp as ever, a testament to a tennis career that boasted an impressive 94 singles titles, eight majors, and 270 weeks as the world’s top-ranked player.
Lendl, a resident of Vero Beach, initially tried pickleball last November at the urging of his daughter, Isabelle, who wanted him to join her regular group.
He remarks, “She wants me to play some tournaments with her. So I said, ‘If I’m going to play tournaments with you, I have to practice a little bit.’” However, knowing Lendl’s history, a ‘little bit’ of practice is a relative term.
His excellence in tennis was forged through rigorous training, a studious approach, and an unwavering drive to maximize every physical and mental advantage.
After chronic back issues forced him to retire from tennis at 34, he redirected his focus to another passion: golf. Although he didn’t quite reach the highest echelons of the game, his dedication transformed him from a proficient player to a scratch golfer.
Even now, years later, he remains a regular on the golf course and practice facilities. However, his time on the pickleball court has also become a significant addition to his routine.
Interestingly, he points out that it has even had a positive impact on his golf game, providing a different kind of physical conditioning.
Lendl attributes his ability to balance both sports to the resilience of his body, reinforced by hip replacements several years ago. Pickleball, while less strenuous than tennis, still provides a substantial workout.
He emphasizes, “When I started playing, I realized it’s good exercise. My body was hurting, but then I started getting better, started getting used to it.”
His analytical nature extends to his approach to the two sports. He carefully plans his schedule to allow for consecutive days of play, alternating between pickleball and golf. Additionally, he dedicates part of one day each week to pickleball drills, focusing on finesse shots and short-game skills.
Watching Lendl in action, it becomes evident that his hand-eye coordination is as sharp as ever, showcasing the skills of an athlete from a different league.
He admits that while he’s proficient at the subtle art of “dinking,” he prefers the more intense exchanges on the court.
Above all, Lendl’s competitive spirit remains undiminished. He recounts a story involving his friend and fellow pickleballer, ex-Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, where a comment about not being able to win them all served as motivation for Lendl to do just that in their next match.
And there you have it. That’s the measure of the man and the enduring sharpness of his mental reflexes.
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