By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - Ivan Lendl was asked who his toughest opponent was, what his most memorable match was and what advice he had for young tennis players amongst many other questions.
It was a special treat for a group of children and their parents from the New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL) to ask the former world No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slam champion Lendl a few questions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The meet-and-greet came ahead of Lendl’s impending one-set match against his former rival John McEnroe in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden on February 28 as part of Tennis Night in America. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi then renew their classic rivalry in the final match of the evening.
Lendl, 50, is looking forward to the match and after spending time answering questions and signing autographs from the eager group of young players; he went to practice on the historic blended lines court that will be used at Madison Square Garden for the matches.
The court was recently assembled and will be installed at the Garden for the BNP Paribas Showdown. It will be the first time 60-foot blended lines, for 10 and Under Tennis, are placed on a traditional 78-foot regulation court for a professional match. Blended lines are painted in a different color than the traditional lines, enabling courts to be adapted for competitive play for young children.
10 and Under Tennis, featuring the QuickStart Tennis play format, scales the game of tennis down to the size of the child, utilizing not just a smaller court but smaller racquets and lower compression balls as well that make learning and playing the game easier and more fun for children.
"I think it is (a good way to spread the game), what better place to do it (for the first time) than at Madison Square Garden," Lendl said of the historic court.
This particular group of children at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center learned from Lendl that his toughest opponent from his playing days depended on what surface he was playing on and what stage of his career he was in. His toughest opponent could vary from McEnroe to Bjorn Borg to Jimmy Connors or Boris Becker.
He also told them it is most important for young players like themselves to work hard but also to have fun playing a game he only sees growing at all levels.
"I think the sport is doing really good, not only on the grassroots level but also on the top level. It is a great time especially in men’s tennis with Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal) and breaking all kinds of records," he said.
Lendl has been training about four days a week to prepare for the match against his former rival McEnroe and said he will be nervous for it, just as he was for all matches during his illustrious career, and of course wants to win.
"It is always fun if you win, it is never fun if you lose. I have been trying to make sure the body stays healthy but yet the game improves," Lendl said of his preparations. "I am looking forward to it. It will be great. I am sure it will bring back great memories (playing in Madison Square Garden). It is always special to play in New York City."
Lendl vs. McEnroe from Madison Square Garden will be aired on ESPN3.com at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, February 28 followed by Sampras vs. Agassi airing on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET.