NEW YORK — Let’s get this straight. The guy has a mansion in Connecticut, and he drives to work each morning, 40 minutes down the New York thruway, and when he’s done he drives home and feeds the dogs and watches the VCR.
This is a foreigner?
Well, this is Ivan Lendl, commuting tennis star. The only thing he needs to win the U.S. Open today is his racket, his shoes, and the correct change for the toll booth.
“Why do you do so well here?” someone asked him, after he beat Stefan Edberg of Sweden on Saturday, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to today’s final.
“I like playing here,” Lendl said. “That is no secret. I can sleep in my own bed. I can drive in every day. I enjoy going home and playing golf with my friends.”
Now, some of you might think a Czechoslovakian would find New York a rough experience. Some of you might think a Czechoslovakian would take one look at the airport traffic and get right back on the plane.
But Lendl is not your typical Czech. Although he technically is still a citizen there, he is given special privileges. For one thing, no one comes after him with a net. In fact, he admits he has not been home since November of 1984.
He prefers to spend time at his mini-estate in Greenwich, Conn., where his neighbors are some of the fattest fat cats in American business. But then, Lendl has managed to take on many American habits of his own in recent years, such as watching baseball, and diversifying his investment portfolio.
Recently he applied for his green card, so he can “officially” work in this country — which should make for interesting conversation down out the immigration office:
“Hey Frank. This guy wants to be a dishwasher, $3.25 an hour . . .
“Yeah. OK. Give him the card.
“This guy wants to be No. 1 in the world at tennis, $1.9 million a year .
“OK. Give him the — HUH?” Patriotically unappreciated
Anyhow, everything would be fine in Ivan Lendl’s world. Except for the one other American trait he has taken on.
He feels unloved.
This is actually very patriotic of him. In fact, it is the American way to feel unloved and unappreciated. This is how so many American psychiatrists stay in business.
But it bothers Lendl. Very much.
“I don’t think people in this country understand me,” he said a few days ago. “The media misrepresents me. They twist what I say.
“If I play Boris Becker here in the final, I’ll be prepared for the whole crowd being for him. If I can get a quarter of the people on my side, it will be a bonus.
“It is disappointing. I would like people here to like me more. But what can I do?”
Aww. Come on, Ivan, buddy.
No one’s picking on you. A lot of people don’t like guys whose biggest worry is which loophole to attack first.
Maybe if you drove down to the tennis courts in an old Chevy, instead of your Mercedes, and you wore a jacket from a bowling alley, instead of those Adidas sweats, maybe people would be more sympathetic. A Czechered affair
And maybe not.
Of course, things could be a lot worse. Lendl could be like most of his countrymen, whose forehands are not good enough to get them out of Prague, much less to Connecticut.
But this doesn’t seem to make him feel any better. Nor does the fact that so may other Czechs have made the final rounds of this tournament. In fact, many observers here are complaining about the lack of Americans in this, America’s most prestigious tennis event. They see it as a Czech-ered affair.
The women’s final today will pit Helena Sukova against Martina Navratilova, two native Czechs. And Czech Miloslav Mecir played West Germany’s Becker Saturday night in the other men’s semifinal.
Of course, not all the Czechs look at things from the same vantage point as Lendl. Mecir, for example, does not like it here at all.
Poor Miloslav. He doesn’t have a condo, or a Mercedes, or German shepherds or golf clubs or baseball caps in his closet. He has a plane ticket back to Prague. And he can’t wait.
“He likes to be in Czechoslovakia and go fishing,” Lendl said of his countryman.
“I can understand that. I like to be in Greenwich and go golfing.”
And we thought there were no Americans left in this tournament.