John McEnroe: Lendl, Murray and me

Mac tells Paul Newman how his initial doubts have eased over the coach-player relationship between his old adversary and the British No 1

John McEnroe understands the media business. "You're not going to ask me about Lendl, right?" the American says with a smile as he settles into his chair. As the tennis circus prepares for the start of Wimbledon next week, McEnroe knows that British focus will be as much on his former sparring partner as it will be on Andy Murray, the man Ivan Lendl has been coaching since the start of this year.

McEnroe, who will be in the BBC commentary box, has become almost a fixture at the All England Club, but this will be the first time Lendl has had any active involvement at Wimbledon since the last of his 14 appearances there 19 years ago. He made the final twice, but Wimbledon remained the one Grand Slam title to elude him.

To say that McEnroe and Lendl were not the best of friends would be like suggesting that the American was not always the most composed of characters on the court. In his autobiography, McEnroe said that Lendl was "a very strange guy, to put it charitably – with an odd, harsh demeanour – kind of bullying and babyish at the same time". McEnroe always gave credit to Lendl for his dedication, but there was never any warmth between them.

"We can laugh and talk about it now," McEnroe says. "It's not like we look at each other and walk in the other direction. He'll have some comment that he thinks is funny and that I won't. And we can agree to disagree. There's respect. Come on, after everything we've done it's interesting to see what someone ends up doing with their life."

Could McEnroe imagine what it would be like to be around Lendl all the time, as Murray is now experiencing? "No, not at all," McEnroe laughs. Half the time? "Maybe better a 20th of the time. I'm glad that I can laugh about it now and see him once in a while. A guy that I work with showed me an article which said Ivan had come in and brought a sense of humour and that he's a lot more fun than Andy. I'm like: 'My God, man! What has Andy been doing?' That I really found humorous."

When McEnroe and Lendl met in Paris recently the talk quickly turned to competition, with Lendl suggesting a bicycle race and McEnroe talking about a tennis match. McEnroe believes that despite Lendl's 16 years out of tennis – during which he pursued a new career in golf and helped with the sporting ambitions of his five daughters – the fire that took him to eight Grand Slam titles and 270 weeks at the top of the world rankings has not dimmed.

"He had deluded himself into thinking he was going to be a golfer," McEnroe says. "It's like me deciding I want to be a rock star. The closer you get to it the more difficult you realise it is. I think he was way more serious about that than me going out and playing some music, so for a time he definitely thought he was going to do that. He spent a lot of time trying to get ready for seniors golf, as far as I could see. But after a certain time, maybe there was a reality check."

He can see the wisdom of Murray's choice of coach. The Scot has lost all three Grand Slam finals in which he has played, while Lendl lost his first four.

"Ivan got to a stage where he had been knocking on the door, but when you don't win the big ones early people start to question everything – your heart, your fitness, how deep in the well you are willing to dig, how good you are compared to other guys," says McEnroe. "You have to keep persevering. An actor goes to a lot of auditions and doesn't get the part. Jack Nicholson didn't get anything until he was in his thirties. You have to persevere and put yourself in positions and sooner or later you will break through.

"The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. There was a lot of credibility Ivan could bring to the table. Ivan was starting to play a little bit again and he was looking for something, so there's a big upside for both guys. This is about the best situation Ivan could possibly hope for. It would be very gratifying for both guys if all of a sudden Andy starts winning majors.

"Actually this is the first time you can get some kind of gauge of how it's going. It was too early in Australia. At first I thought it was crazy, then I thought it was going to work out. Now we'll have to wait and see. You have to give it some time."

McEnroe believes Lendl can help the world No 4 keep focused on his tennis rather than be distracted by physical issues, such as the back problem which has troubled the Scot recently. He cites an example from which he believes Murray could learn.

"I just remember watching Federer the first year he won Wimbledon," McEnroe says. "He was struggling with his back problem. I remember it vividly. It looked like there was a chance he was not going to finish. He had that look in his eye. Then somehow he found the wherewithal to dig a little deeper and suddenly he wins the thing and he's a different player."

Nevertheless, McEnroe wonders whether Murray and Lendl may need to make their partnership full-time. "Being part-time makes it very difficult," McEnroe says. "Ivan seems like the all-or-nothing type of guy. It sounds like he will have to do it that way, but to some extent it's like he's getting his feet wet."

John McEnroe commentates for BBC TV at Wimbledon and hosts the tennis phone-in '6 love 6' on Radio 5 live. Live BBC coverage starts on 25 June across TV, radio and online.

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits