Camera-shy Lendl focusing on Murray
The idea seemed a good one when broadcasters at the Australian Open installed a fixed camera in the stands, just a few feet from the players' boxes, in the hope of getting an even closer view of the coaches and entourages. Then Ivan Lendl arrived.
Within minutes of taking his seat in Rod Laver Arena for Andy Murray's match against Mikhail Kukushkin yesterday – which the Scot won when his opponent retired in the third set – Lendl reached over and covered up the all-seeing eye.
"I just found it annoying that it was right in our face, so I threw a towel over it and then a hat," said Murray's new coach, after his man had booked a quarter-final against Japan's Kei Nishikori with a 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 victory he described as "just boring". Asked about the incident, Lendl said: "I just figured the camera was a little hot. It was really warm out there. I was actually looking out for you, protecting your equipment."
Lendl does not enjoy or seek attention – "it's not right because it's about Andy, it's not about me". Team Murray have enjoyed the 51-year-old's sense of fun away from the courts, but when he is watching matches Lendl is as steely-eyed and unemotional as he was during his playing career. Nobody took their work more seriously and his attitude remains the same, 18 years after his retirement.
Was Lendl getting excited with the sharp end of the year's first Grand Slam approaching? "I think that would be the wrong way," he replied. "You have to keep the temperature level. I think to get excited now would be a mistake."
Most players practise at the tournament venue on non-match days, but Murray has been working at nearby Kooyong. "I asked Andy about it and he was fine," Lendl said. "I used to do it this way at the French, over here and at Flushing. On any day you don't have to come here it takes less out of you mentally and physically, because nobody is tugging away at you. It's just the four or five of us there, nobody around.
"They treat us nicely. Andy can get his physio done there, you get a really nice lunch, it's very quiet instead of being in the rushed atmosphere over here. We have the court to ourselves. I found it beneficial for me."
Do Lendl and Murray go out to dinner? "It's Andy's call. Kim [Sears, his girlfriend] is here. They do their own thing for dinner. If he doesn't need me on a day off I go off and play golf. If he wants to talk over dinner then we talk over dinner."
The most obvious impact Lendl has had is on Murray's on-court demeanour. There has been almost no screaming in the general direction of his entourage, no running commentaries with himself at the back of the court, no prolonged scowling and grimacing.
Both men say it is much too early in their relationship to make any major changes to Murray's game. "When you have a player of this calibre, you don't do anything radical, that would be suicidal, crazy, the biggest mistake we could make," Lendl said. "You do a little thing here, a little thing there."
Lendl knows what his major task is: to see Murray win a Grand Slam title. "I wasn't hired to get Andy to the quarters," Lendl said. "We all know that. He doesn't need me to get to the quarters or semis. He's done that without me and he could do that without me again.
"That's not to say he's going to win. Nishikori is a good player. You don't get to the quarters by being a bad player now, 10 years from now or 20 years ago. Hopefully, I can help Andy, whether it's [through him] talking to me, asking for my experience, [or me] helping him a little bit here and a little bit there, just to go to the next step. That's the goal."
Yesterday, as Kukushkin struggled to move because of a hip-muscle problem, following five-set matches in the previous two rounds, Murray secured his passage in just 48 minutes. Nishikori beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to become the first Japanese man to reach the last eight for 80 years. The 22-year-old is a fine athlete and a spectacular shot-maker, the world No 26.
"Kei is playing really, really well," Murray said, having watched some of Nishikori's 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Tsonga, the world No 6. "I've practised with him a few times. He's very good, very deceptive. For somebody that's not the tallest guy, he creates a lot of power from the back of the court. He deals with pace well, he can slice, he moves well. He was hitting a lot of winners out there. He was dictating all the points from the back of the court, which is difficult against someone like Tsonga. He's won a few long matches here."
Murray or Nishikori will play Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer. Djokovic, who beat Murray in the final last year, appeared to be coasting to victory over Lleyton Hewitt yesterday, before the Australian staged a fightback from two sets and 3-0 down. At that stage the match was stopped when a flock of birds flew into the stadium, after which Hewitt staged a remarkable recovery. He eventually lost 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Lendl later batted away claims from Jim Courier, who works here for Channel Seven, that he has other goals than success with Murray. Courier said Lendl had returned to tennis for "mercenary" reasons. "He hasn't been allowed to make any money from tennis for the past 15 years because he cashed in disability insurance," Courier said.
Lendl's response was typically blunt. "That's ridiculous," he said. "Jim shouldn't be saying stuff like that. First of all it's wrong and he doesn't have the proper information. End of story."
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