Lendl's demeanor belied championship heart

Ivan Lendl was one of the all-time great tennis players and a fabulous champion. People don't give him enough credit for winning eight Grand Slam titles and 94 career singles titles (second only to Jimmy Connors) and ranking No. 1 for a record number of weeks.

Lendl never got the respect he deserved because he was depicted as the champion nobody cared about. To some extent, he was not a colorful character on the court. He received little credit for having warmth or a sense of humor because his playing demeanor was so business-like.

The media called Lendl a loser because he started out losing four Grand Slam finals before winning his first. And the first championship, at the 1984 French Open, was one I will never forget. Playing John McEnroe in a classic final, Lendl was down two sets to none before coming back and denying McEnroe his only chance at a French Open title. The match was a major turning point for Lendl, who turned the corner and became recognized as a champion.

Lendl will also be remembered for his almost obsessive desire to win Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam event he never won. He tried playing all the clay-court tournaments and going to England at the last minute. He tried to play on grass the earliest he possibly could. Then he worked with Tony Roche, who was a great grass-court player and a wonderful volleyer. Roche helped turn Lendl's game around so he could win on grass.

For someone to be so single-minded about one tournament was admirable. Although Lendl played in two Wimbledon finals, he never succeeded. But Lendl gave it his best shot. Besides, he won everything else.

Lendl is a very sympathetic character. Like a lot of eastern Europeans, he has gone about his business in a relatively quiet but determined way. I suppose he cares about his public image, but Lendl tends to be more judgmental than judged in his own mind, which is quite a nice thing.

I would have loved to see Lendl play some of today's great champions. He is only 41 and was sidelined quickly with a back injury. But a Pete Sampras-Lendl matchup on a hard court would have been interesting, as would an Andre Agassi-Lendl match because he and Agassi have such different games.

Lendl was always extremely fit and a driven personality. He is as addicted to golf now as he was to tennis. As hard as Lendl works, I predict he will play some Senior Tour events someday.

Cliff Drysdale is a tennis analyst for ESPN.com