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BAD BACK FORCES LENDL TO RETIRE FROM TENNIS

SHARE BAD BACK FORCES LENDL TO RETIRE FROM TENNIS

Diet, conditioning and hard work made Ivan Lendl the world's No. 1 tennis player. His own body made him retire.

"This is a sad time for me," Lendl said Tuesday. "This is not when I would have chosen to retire, but my physical condition leaves me no option."Suffering from facet joint syndrome, a degenerative condition of the spine, Lendl was forced to withdraw from several tournaments this year and retire from several others, including the U.S. Open.

"The spasms and pain are such that I can no longer play, even occasionally," he said.

Lendl was one of the sport's hardest workers, and it showed.

When he began his career, he was a clay-court baseliner with a weak backhand that was exploited. Through hard work, his backhand became almost as big a weapon as his feared forehand.

And in a bid to win Wimbledon, he hired Australian Tony Roche as coach and began more of an attacking game, becoming proficient, if not completely comfortable, at the net.

Now 34, Lendl held the world's No. 1 ranking for a record 270 weeks. He fell out of the top 10 last year for the first time since 1979 and now is ranked 54th in the world.

He won the U.S. Open three times, in 1985-86-87; the Australian Open twice, 1989 and 1990; and the French Open three times: 1984, 1986 and 1987.

His biggest disappointment was never winning Wimbledon, although he reached the final twice: in 1986, when he lost to Boris Becker, and in 1987, when he fell to Pat Cash.

"It is never easy," he said of retirement. "It is not something you deal with every day. You deal with pressure of matches every day, and so on and so on. This, you deal with only once."

He said he made his decision after his doctor told him his back would not get any better.

"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.

"I enjoyed playing the game, had a lot of great times and I will miss it."

Lendl's retirement comes one month after Martina Navratilova announced she was leaving the women's tour. Both clearly left their stamp on tennis.

Both were born in Czechoslovakia and have become U.S. citizens - Navratilova in 1981, Lendl in 1992. Both were at the tennis forefront of using diet and conditioning to raise their level of play.

Lendl won 94 titles and more than $20 million. Navratilova, second only to Lendl in earnings, captured a record 167 tournaments.

Lendl reached his first Grand Slam final at the 1981 French Open, losing in five sets to Borg.