Occasionally, we'll select stories — old and new, sports and otherwise, relevant and merely sublime — that we urge you to read for one reason or another. Today: The hazards of crossing rackets with Ivan Lendl when a German Shepherd (or four) is court side.
It struck me that while Lendl had a wife, Samantha, and four lovely daughters, the unwavering pursuit of greatness must have left him lonely. His obsessive focus also seemed to be linked with deep feelings of insecurity — about his ability to compete, to perform, to win. And what could be a better antidote to loneliness than having a dog?
Well, maybe having four dogs.
Ostensibly, Lendl's dogs were meant to secure the perimeter of his large property (as if the cameras and groundskeepers weren't sufficient). I suspected that their real purpose, given their obedience and loyalty, was to secure the perimeter of their master.
It was apparent that Lendl took great pride in his dogs. He bragged about how well-trained and disciplined they were. They seemed to symbolize the same absolute perfection that their master strived to achieve on the tennis court.
A few weeks later, Lendl called and invited me back to play again. When I arrived and got out of the car, he sauntered toward me to shake hands. One of his dogs ran between us. I reached out to pet him and was surprised to hear a growl. I quickly withdrew my hand, but before I knew it the dog — Cajun, whom I had not met during my first visit — pounced.
Cajun bit into my left leg, hard, slashing through my jeans and sinking his fangs into my upper thigh. By then, Lendl was screaming at the dog, who immediately released his grip and plopped to the ground, confused, shaking, and (to add insult to injury) visibly aroused.
I was stunned. Blood streamed down my leg. Samantha ran out and we all wondered what to do. I blurted out what I felt: "I want to play." So we bandaged up my leg and hit the courts. The adrenaline rush of playing with Lendl helped numb the pain, and I played terrific tennis again. While I lost by the same score, I did break Lendl's serve, prompting him to hit a ball into the back fence in frustration.
No Pain, No Gain [Tennis]