Ivan Lendl making major impact with Andy Murray
Champion turned rookie coach has calmness, nous and work ethic that could just unlock Murray's Grand Slam potential at last
Andy Murray's biggest critics used to worry that the Scot surrounded himself with yes-men. Whether or not that was true, nobody would dare make that accusation since Ivan Lendl joined the world No 4's entourage at the start of this year.
Asked recently if his coach ever got angry with him, Murray said: "No, what he wants me to do, I do. I've not been late for practice, I've worked hard in the gym and I've always prepared as best I can. Sometimes in practice I've got down on myself and been annoyed and afterwards he's said: 'Come on, be a bit more upbeat.'
"He'll normally ask questions before he says something to me. So far, there's not been any anger or shouting at each other in practice or close matches."
Coming from as strong-willed an individual as Murray, that is a remarkable tribute to his faith in his coach and to Lendl's strength of character. Pato Alvarez, Mark Petchey, Brad Gilbert, Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja have come and gone since Murray made his debut on the senior tour, but now he says he wants to work with Lendl "for a long time".
The first six months of their partnership suggest that it can be a turning point in Murray's career. Although the Scot had a moderate spring, he has played some of his best tennis in two of this season's Grand Slam tournaments. Having gone within five points of beating Novak Djokovic in their Melbourne semi-final, Murray has reached the semi-finals here for the fourth year in succession.
The appeal of working with Lendl was obvious. Not only do the 52-year-old and the 25-year-old share the same work ethic, but Lendl knows what you need to do to bounce back from disappointments in Grand Slam finals. Murray has lost his three without winning a set; Lendl lost four before winning one and then won seven more.
Lendl, nevertheless, had not been involved in tennis for 16 years until he started playing exhibition events two summers ago. He had never coached a player before.
"He has a lot to offer, a lot more knowledge than most people in tennis," Murray said. "We now talk tactics the night before a match. You still speak 30 to 40 minutes before a match and get a lot of information and tactics. He's very exact. He doesn't miss anything.
"He gives you a lot of information on players, so I've started to talk the night before matches so I can process it, think about it the night beforehand. That's really been the big difference. He's making sure I'm focusing on the match the night before, so I can sleep on it and make sure I'm prepared, rather than not thinking about the match at all and maybe starting off a little bit slow."
While Lendl had a reputation as one of the game's hardest workers, he has told Murray to spend less time working on his serve, which has been much improved over the last fortnight.
"I hit a lot less serves than I used to," Murray said. "Ivan is more of the opinion that you need to rest your shoulder and make sure it's loose, not tired, when you go out on to the court and into big tournaments, because over the course of two weeks you hit thousands of serves. I've hit a lot fewer serves since I started working with him. That's maybe a reason why I'm serving well deeper into the tournament. He's worked a lot on my second serve too since the start of the year and that's something that has been good."
Murray said recently he had been surprised at how open-minded Lendl was. "He has lots of ideas. If they don't work he will move on to the next thing. That's what he was like when he played. He tried different things, always wanted to learn."
Lendl's biggest influence, nevertheless, has shown itself in the way Murray is channelling his emotions better on court. There were occasional lapses during the clay-court season but Murray has been as focused here as he was in Australia. He no longer conducts running conversations with himself at the back of the court and no longer screams at his entourage.
Tim Henman said yesterday: "I think that is the Lendl factor. I can imagine it is not that easy to shout and scream at someone like Ivan, given his stature in the game. I don't think he would hang around long."
Lendl's emotionless demeanour as he watches matches also helps. "Just having him around is kind of a calming influence on me – when I look to the box and see him there I feel much calmer," Murray said. "I know how frustrated he gets. It was something he worked on when he was watching his kids. It's a tough thing to do when you're watching your kids play golf. You may say things you don't mean and then you get too involved in it. He's trying to detach himself from me during the match and trying to be more objective."
Lendl hopes that his arrival has helped to take some of the pressure off the Scot's shoulders. "I admire his guts for hiring me," Lendl said shortly after his appointment. "He had to know it would create a lot of interest and that it's not going to go unnoticed and be a quiet thing. It ups the ante a little bit. That just shows me he wants it. It would have been very easy just to hire someone, just another coach, and not get a high-profile person."
The relationship between a player and a coach is not always easy. After all, there are not many jobs where an employee is paid to tell his employer what to do, or where they can spend so much time together away from work. Murray and Lendl enjoy each other's company and sometimes have dinner together, but they also give each other space. Lendl has been here with his wife; Murray returns to his Surrey home each evening.
Murray hopes that this year will be only the start of their relationship. "The more time we spend with each other the better he will understand my game better and the better he will understand me as a person," he said. "I will know the right questions to ask him before big matches, big tournaments. I am still learning a lot from him."
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2002 Hewitt (world No 1) L 5-7, 1-6, 5-7
2001 Ivanisevic (125) L 5-7, 7-6, 6-0, 6-7, 3-6
1999 Sampras (1) L 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 4-6
1998 Sampras (1) L 3-6, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6
2012 Tsonga (6)
2011 Nadal (1) L 7-5, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4
2010 Nadal (1) L 4-6, 6-7, 4-6
2009 Roddick (6) L 4-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7
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