Ivan Lendl a heavy hitter in the Andy Murray corner
The former Grand Slam champion brings his knowledge of winning to Wimbledon hopeful
Andy Murray, with his coach Ivan Lendl, on a practice court at Wimbledon.
A small crowd gathered around the interview taking place on the terrace beside the players’ lounge at the All England club yesterday. Although the subject looked familiar, it was evident that some of the people looking on didn’t know who the man in the blue tracksuit was.
He sat upright and still, staring straight into the space between the American reporter and the camera lens and despite her megawatt smile and friendly questions, his face remained doleful and expressionless.
His mouth turned down at the corners, which made his face appear like it was sagging. Some broken vessels on his cheeks stood out above the tan on his long, jowled face.
Ivan Lendl, the person Andy Murray calls his coach, doesn’t court attention, has no need for money and if things proceed as they have done this week will have achieved what dozens of coaches before him have failed to do.
As a former world number one and a winner of 94 ATP titles, the Czech-born man of iron has earned his place among the tennis greats. In his early 20s he pioneered a new power-hitting, baseline game from which modern tennis sprung in the 1980s.
Not unlike Murray, he also lost his first four Grand Slam finals before breaking through in his fifth. He then went on to win seven more, crushing some of the strongest wills of his generation, among them John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander.
With the last of his five daughters out of school, the timing seemed perfect last year for Lendl to open a tennis academy in Florida and begin working with Murray. He took up with the world number two in December and has already made an impact.
Murray’s forehand has improved, especially down the line. Lendl has also encouraged him to shorten points, have confidence in his shots and extract a greater return in shorter time. Importantly he has curbed Murray’s on-court tantrums, exactly the same change Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer had to undergo before they rose in the game.
But the crux of the relationship is the personality. It works now because Murray sees the steel in Lendl and recognises elements of his own character. Lendl is also candid and precise and his thinking is clear. The lack of sentiment between the two and their demanding natures make it a relationship glued by common causes of work ethic and ambition. But the sage Lendl also brings life balance.
Murray faces Jerzy Janowicz, a 6ft 8in Polish unknown, who rained down 30 aces in his last match and has hit 92 so far. But he also has a fine touch around the net and will be a dangerous opponent. To add to Murray’s forboding, McEnroe said it would be a catastrophe if he didn’t win.
“Someone can say that Djokovic is the hot favourite. Somebody can say that it will be the end of the world if Andy wins or he doesn’t win,” says Lendl.
“One or the other, it is totally irrelevant what you guys say or write. It is whatever happens in the tournament.
“You guys need to sell papers and they need to get an audience, and everyone needs to say something.”
Djokovic is clear favourite but Lendl’s philosophy of one point, one game, one set remains and he believes Murray can win.
For the face of doom, that’s something to smile about.