James Lawton: Murray taught a new maturity by stern tutor Lendl


These may be extremely early days in the remaking of Andy Murray at the rather advanced age of 24 going on 25, but whatever happens at the Australian Open his new coach, Ivan Lendl, deserves applause for one achievement at least.

It is to get his ageing protégé – we are talking about tennis, the ultimate game of precocious champions, after all – through a whole round of a Grand Slam tournament without a single anguished entreaty to his mother or some other member of his entourage.

This may not be unchallengeable evidence the Murray breakthrough is now fixed in the stars but Lendl (above) had to start somewhere. Barring some emotional recidivism by Murray in this morning's collision with the obscure Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Lendl, a serial Grand Slam winner in his time, has surely found the most important place to do so.

It is in the so often disconcertingly fragile psyche of an otherwise enviably gifted performer. Lendl has told Murray that he should, competitively speaking, grow up.

If putting it this way sounds like a gratuitous insult to an intelligent, humorous, frequently ironic and extremely rich young man, we should perhaps remind ourselves of quite what happened in Melbourne this time last year.

It was when some hard judges like John McEnroe and Boris Becker were obliged to register serious doubt that Murray, by far the most talented British player since the all-conquering Fred Perry, would ever deliver a winning Grand Slam campaign.

There was, of course, no rush to the betting window to support him in the final against a Novak Djokovic hitting extraordinary levels of consistent rampage. However, what no one could have anticipated was quite the degree of Serbian mastery. It was the product of competition between man and boy.

Murray parodied the excesses of previous court behaviour. Some feared he had, finally, burnt himself up as a serious challenger to the axis of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and the resilient Roger Federer. It was, by some distance, his feeblest attempt to win a Grand Slam final.

Inevitably, he produced moments of brilliance, especially at the encouraging point of the first set, but they came out of a game plan that, compared to the thrilling aggression of Djokovic, became progressively the last word in passivity.

When the Serb suffered a reverse his eyes narrowed and he dug deeper. When the same thing happened to Murray he lurched into some long, rambling monologue and all the familiar body language and despair.

For Murray, certainly, Melbourne last year was the start of a long, tormenting road – not least at Wimbledon where in their semi-final Nadal seemed briefly vulnerable before Murray missed the most inviting smash – and now at the end of it we find the stern Lendl.

Even while winning eight Grand Slam events, Lendl had many days which rivalled Murray's introspection. But he always relentlessly focused on his own performance and preparation and in Melbourne this week perhaps the most encouraging sounds have been of his charge echoing such a priority.

Ryan Harrison, a young American who has elected himself to that promising company, took a set off Murray this week and provoked concern the Scot might be about to blow once again. But Murray held on to his game and some vital composure. He did not browbeat the unfortunate occupants of the seats allotted to his people. For the moment, that makes it advantage Lendl.