Ivan Lendl, the man who once ruled tennis with an iron will and booming forehand, retired from the sport today because of a back ailment.

"I enjoyed playing the game, had a lot of great times, and I will miss it," Lendl said in a telephone conference call to announce his retirement.The right-hander, who held the world's No. 1 ranking for a record 270 weeks, fell out of the top 10 last year for the first time since 1979. He is the tour's all-time career prize money leader, having earned more than $20 million, and was ranked No. 1 in the world at the end of eight different years.

"It is never easy," he said when asked about the difficulty of retiring from a sport he once dominated. "It is not something you deal with every day."

But the 34-year-old native of Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, now ranked 54th by the ATP Tour, said he made his decision after his doctor told him his back would not get any better.

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"After the U.S. Open, I've had more and more problems," he said. "I've even tried to play a couple of senior events and found I couldn't do that."

Lendl won the U.S. Open in 1985, '86, '87 and was runnerup in 1982, '83, '84, '88 and '89, reaching the title match a record-tying eight consecutive years.

The last couple of years have been different. He made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open, where he ran into eventual winner Pete Sampras. At the French Open, where he had won three titles, he was a first-round loser to Arnaud Boetsch. He skipped Wimbledon, then was forced to retire during his second-round match at the U.S. Open in September.

And, after being the only man to win at least one tournament crown every year from 1980 through 1993, this year saw him go title-less on the ATP Tour.

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