Lendl should be missing piece in Murray's jigsaw

Instant bond and plenty of humour augurs well for first Grand Slam


There is a 27-year age gap between them and Andy Murray cannot remember Ivan Lendl playing, although he has been catching up with his new coach's career on YouTube. Lendl, meanwhile, admits that the toll of time is such that he cannot even trade practice shots with Murray. "I have a bad knee," the 51-year-old admitted. "My game is way too slow to hit with Andy and that would be bad preparation."

Nevertheless, within a fortnight of Lendl's appointment, it is clear that the two men are rapidly forging a partnership based on mutual respect, not to mention a shared sense of humour.

"He's a fun guy," Murray said here yesterday before the Australian Open, which begins tomorrow. "A lot of people say: 'Oh, Lendl, he's kind of forgotten a little bit.' But every player that's a little bit older than me comes up and says: 'I'm so happy you're working with Ivan. He was my idol, I love that guy. Everyone loved him, all the players loved him, everyone respects him.' That's nice to hear."

Moreover, on the basis of last week's final in Brisbane, in which Murray beat Alexandr Dolgopolov, the early indications are that, unlike most of the Scot's former coaches, Lendl will not find himself the apparent target of the player's frustrations when things go wrong on court.

"I was very pleased with how Andy handled it in Brisbane when he was 6-1 4-0 and [Dolgopolov] started making a comeback," Lendl said. "Andy did nothing wrong to lose three games in a row. Andy handled it extremely well. I was very pleased at that. He did not look at the box and shout at the box. He didn't give up on any point. He played every point as hard as he could – and I think that is the way forward for him."

There was no more committed a player than Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam titles, and he is ready to dedicate himself in similar fashion to Murray's cause. The key factor for Murray was Lendl's willingness to travel the world with him. He will be at all the Grand Slam tournaments, most of the bigger Masters Series events and Murray's training camps in Miami.

"There's a lot of guys who come out and say 'I'd like to work with Andy' or 'I think I could help, I could do this' and then you speak to them and they only want to do it for eight weeks," Murray said. "What's the point? You can't even have them at all of the Slams because you need them the week beforehand as well and that's 12 weeks already. That was the thing I needed to know."

Lendl retired in 1994, upon which he threw himself into a new life as a golfer and as a father, overseeing the sporting careers of his five daughters. It was only two years ago that he returned to tennis on the seniors tour.

"The timing is right," Lendl said. "If Andy had come to me four years ago I would have had to say no, because we had five kids at home. Now we have four kids in college, and we have just one at home, which my wife can handle in the weeks I'm away.

"Would the timing be even better three years from now? Yes, obviously,because she would be out of home and college as well, but I would be 55, so that wouldn't be right – and Andy would be older. The time is right. We have raised the family, I have taken my time away from the game, I have recharged my batteries and now I'm ready to work hard again."

While Lendl hopes to carry on playing golf – "In the evenings I'm happy to go and work on my own game," he said – there are sacrifices he will make. "I hate travelling," he said. "I can't stand the airports, all those screens. I know it has to be done, but the airlines just drive me absolutely ballistic. That's one consideration. But I'm not going to lie, a big part to me is that Andy has a place in Miami. He is planning on spending a lot of time there. I'm not very far away."

Murray, who plays his opening match against the American Ryan Harrison on Tuesday, is not concerned that Lendl has never coached at the highest level. "When you are as good as him, you see things probably easier than someone who hasn't played against guys of that quality," Murray said. "I think he was a very intelligent player, so tactically he was obviously good."

While Murray has lost his first three Grand Slam finals, including the last two here, Lendl is the only man in the Open era who went on to win a Grand Slam title after losing his first four, to Bjorn Borg at the French Open, to Jimmy Connors in successive US Opens and to Mats Wilander here.

"I felt even then – and I do feel now – very similar to Andy's situation," Lendl said. "Nobody pointed out that I over-achieved getting into some of those finals."

He added: "People made too much out of it. I just went with the theory or belief that if I keep going, playing hard, it will come my way – and sure enough it did."

What has Murray been particularly picking Lendl's brains about? "I'm really interested in talking to him about the matches he played, the rivals he had, how he found it playing against other guys. When he was going into a big match with one of them, what was he thinking? Because it was obviously pretty well known that him, Connors and McEnroe weren't the best of friends. Now it's obviously a little bit different. A lot of the guys get on well with each other, but you obviously need to put that to one side when you play against one another."

It has been said that in his new coach Murray may have found the missing piece in his Grand Slam jigsaw puzzle. Does Lendl see it that way? "Obviously Andy thinks I can help him. I do too, otherwise I wouldn't have taken the job.

"But, from my taste, there is too much said and way too much written about it. I really would like to be able to work with Andy in peace. I know that's not going to happen with him being British and Fred Perry and 1936 and all that. Why don't you write about the last time you won the World Cup in soccer?"

Australian Open: Robson and Ward make it six of the best for Britain

It is not quite the time to do a Harold Macmillan and claim that the country has never had it so good, but this week Britain will have six singles players competing in the main draw of an overseas Grand Slam tournament for the first time for 20 years, writesPaul Newman.

With Andy Murray, Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson all competing here in the Australian Open by dint of their world ranking, Laura Robson and James Ward yesterday strengthened the British contingent by winning their final qualifying matches.

The last time as many Britons competed in a Grand Slam event other than Wimbledon – where several home players are awarded wild cards each year – was when Jo Durie, Sam Smith, Sara Gomer, Monique Javer and Clare Wood played here in 1992.

The achievement by Robson is especially notable. The 17-year-old former Wimbledon junior champion, who is the youngest player in the world's top 200, was on crutches barely a month ago because of a stress fracture to her left shin. She began playing practice points only five days before the start of the qualifying tournament here.

Robson, who also qualified for last year's US Open, won her place in the main draw by beating Ukraine's Olga Savchuk 6-1 7-6. Currently No 133 in the world rankings, she is targeting a place in the world's top 70 by early summer, which would earn her a place in the Olympic Games at Wimbledon.

She could make the world's top 100 if she reaches the second round here, though her opponent is Jelena Jankovic, the world No 14. Jankovic beat Robson in the first round at Wimbledon two years ago.

The run of Ward in the qualifying competition was particularly commendable, as he had failed in eight previous attempts to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, winning just one match in the process.

The world No 161 has played in the main draw of a Grand Slam event only twice, losing in the first round at Wimbledon on both occasions after receiving wild cards. He qualified here by beating the Dutchman Igor Sijsling 7-6 6-3, having earlier disposed of Spain's Inigo Cervantes-Huegun and the Czech Republic's Ivo Minar. Ward now plays Blaz Kavcic, of Slovenia, with the winner likely to face Juan Martin del Potro.

Baltacha and Keothavong both have winnable first-round matches. Baltacha faces France's Stéphanie Foretz Gacon, the world No 108, with the winner likely to play Kim Clijsters, the defending champion.

Keothavong meets Germany's Mona Barthel, the world No 64, who capped the best week of her career yesterday when she beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-1 6-2 in the final of the Hobart event, where she had to qualify just to make the main draw. Watson faces a much tougher challenge tomorrow in the opening match on the main show court against Victoria Azarenka, the world No 3 from Belarus. Azarenka won the title in the Sydney tournament on Friday, beating China's Li Na in the final.

Leon Smith, the head of men's and women's tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, said last night that there was "a really good spirit" within the British camp but stressed: "We've got some tough matches ahead, and the next step for some of these players is not just to qualify for the world's biggest tournaments but then go further in the competitions."

Eurosport has comprehensive Australian Open coverage during the next fortnight

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