Tennis in New York in the late 1970s and well into the 1980s was mainly dominated by two men: Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe.
These two legends combined to win seven US Open titles from 1978-87.
Their New York success was not limited to the summer in Queens, however. Those two were stalwarts at the ATP’s year-end championship event, The Masters, at Madison Square Garden from 1977-1989. In that time, Lendl and McEnroe played a total of 65 matches at MSG, and the two claimed the title eight times in the event’s 13-year run.
While the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals will take place in London this month, Lendl and McEnroe have the date of February 28, 2011 circled on their calendars as they’ll revisit their rivalry at MSG in the BNP Paribas Showdown.
For a couple of players who played 36 times on Tour, MSG is a fitting place to renew the rivalry given the success each had there. Lendl reached the finals of The Masters nine times in his career and won five titles while posting a 28-7 all-time record in the event at the Garden.
McEnroe was no slouch himself, reaching four finals, winning three, while going 19-11 all-time. At MSG, the two did battle five times. Lendl can claim a 3-2 edge in their head-to-head, but it is McEnroe who boosts a 2-1 advantage when the two played in The Masters final.
McEnroe came onto the New York scene a little ahead of his Czech counterpart. In his debut at The Masters in 1978, McEnroe was undefeated in five matches and claimed the title.
In 1979, McEnroe made the semifinals, but in 1980, he lost all three round robin matches, opening the door for Lendl, who would reach the final in his Masters debut (where he lost to Bjorn Borg).
The first time Lendl played McEnroe in The Masters was in the 1981 semifinals. Lendl won that battle, 6-4 6-2, on the way to winning his first title at MSG.
From 1982-84, Lendl and McEnroe dominated the event, playing in the final in three consecutive years.
Lendl defended his Masters crown in 1982, defeating McEnroe in the final 6-4 6-4 6-2.
McEnroe would then win consecutive titles of his own, both coming over via straight-set wins over Lendl in finals, in 1983 and 1984. Lendl then won three straight titles at the event, before his reign ended in the 1988 final, which he dropped to Boris Becker.
The last Masters to be held at MSG was in 1989, and appropriately, Lendl and McEnroe were in the thick of the action.
They squared off in the round robin stage, with Lendl taking a 6-3 6-3 win, however both men advanced to the semifinals, the stage at which they would both ultimately lose.
That 1989 event also ushered in a new era of younger stars. It was the season-ending debut for Andre Agassi. It was a rough start at MSG for the American, who was winless in three matches. However, Agassi would go on to have a stellar career, and find a rival of his own in countryman Pete Sampras. Fittingly, those two will also renew their rivalry as part of the February 28 BNP Paribas Showdown. Tickets for the Madison Square Garden event are on sale now.