Ivan Lendl, an aging monarch at 28, has given up the crown he has held so long as the king of pro tennis. But that's okay. It's no longer the jewel of his eye.
"To be honest, the only thing I really care about is winning the Grand Slam tournaments," he said Wednesday after losing a second-round match to little-known Roger Smith, 6-2, 6-3 at the $602,500 Volvo International tennis tournament.The loss means Lendl will step down from the throne as the No. 1 player in the world when the new rankings come out Monday. He will be replaced by Wimbledon winner Stefan Edberg of Sweden.
Second-seeded Andre Agassi, the No. 5 player in the world, easily got past Greg Holmes 6-4, 6-3.
Among the other top seeds, No. 4 Amos Mansdorf of Israel lost to Yahiya Doumbia of Senegal 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, and No. 5 Aaron Krickstein beat Joey Rive 6-4, 6-2.
Lendl had been at the top for 150 straight weeks - since September 1985 - nine short of the record by Jimmy Connors between 1974 and 1977.
"If I win some Grand Slam tournaments and don't win another match the whole year, that's still fine. So if you are number one on the computer, (or) number five, it doesn't really matter. Obviously, it's nicer to be number one, but it's not that important."
And the streak?
"It doesn't really mean anything," he said. "I know you guys (reporters) love the statistics ... and you keep an eye on it for us, but ... the only thing I play tennis for are the Grand Slam titles and the enjoyment of it."
That represents a change from the Lendl who worked so hard to be No. 1 and earn the respect that goes with the title.
"The older you get and as your career progresses, that's what you aim for," he said of the major titles.
"You just can't play well all the time anymore. And you just have to try to time your form and peak at the right time."
But for Smith, 24, of the Bahamas, two years a pro out of Ohio State, the victory was the highlight of his brief career. He had never won a second-round match in a Grand Prix tournament and was ranked 150th.
He said he was "very nervous" entering the match, and although he won the first four games of the opening set and led 5-0 in the second with a booming serve and volley game and off-pace ground strokes to keep Lendl off balance, he never loosened up until the final point.