Ivan Lendl has been Andy Murray's coach for little more than two months but his positive impact is clear already. On the court you can see it in the 24-year-old Scot's much-improved focus on his game. Off the court, you hear it in his language. The phrase "110 per cent" peppers his conversation – a sure sign of the influence of Lendl, who was the game's ultimate workhorse.
"You need to be there week in, week out, and put in 110 per cent," Murray said as he sat back in a chair in a room beneath the stadium where he reached the final in Dubai on Saturday. "So long as you give 110 per cent it shows everyone that you're not going to roll over ... If you're not giving 110 per cent then you don't really learn a whole lot."
Murray, it should be emphasised, was a fine player before Lendl arrived. The world No 4's first three tournaments since linking up with the eight-times Grand Slam champion – he won in Brisbane, went close to beating Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals in Melbourne and became the first player to defeat the world No 1 this year before losing in the Dubai final to Roger Federer – followed a fine run in the second half of last year. Lendl wants to ensure those standards are maintained all year.
Since last summer's Cincinnati Masters, Murray has played in 10 tournaments, winning five of them. If the world rankings were decided by points won since then, Murray (4,920 points) would be within touching distance of Federer (5,735) and Djokovic (5,340) and comfortably clear of Rafael Nadal (3,540).
However, the rankings are based on a rolling total of points won over the previous 12 months. Murray is in fourth place (5,860 points behind Djokovic) thanks in part to his woeful run at this stage last year, when he lost first time out in Rotterdam, Indian Wells and Miami. The consolation is that he can make up plenty of ground over the next four weeks, starting with the Indian Wells Masters beginning on Thursday. Murray has just 20 points to defend in his next two tournaments; Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have 2,000, 1,200 and 720 respectively.
Murray, who has a habit of fixing his interviewer firmly in the eye, spoke with conviction as he underlined the need to be consistent. "If you want to get to No 1 in the world you can't have a month where you're not winning matches, because the guys at the top are winning every single week," he insisted. "I did a good job last year when I got to the clay and since then I've got to the last stage of a lot of events, but that month in February-March last year hurt me."
The influence of Lendl, who will next link up with him in Miami in a fortnight's time, is evident. "That's really the main thing that we've talked about the last couple of months," Murray said. "If you want to get to No 1 you have to play well every single week. You need to show all the guys that even if you're not playing well you're going to fight as hard as you can every single week and not show any signs of weakness.
"You can lose matches. Guys can play some great tennis against you or you can play a bad match. You're not always going to play your best, but so long as you give 110 per cent it shows everyone that you're not going to roll over and you're going to fight as hard as you can."
There was a time when Murray talked about focusing more on the Grand Slam tournaments, but Lendl wants him to give his all everywhere. "It's the only way to see where your game's at and whether the things that you've done in practice are actually working," Murray said. "If you're not giving 110 per cent then you don't really learn a whole lot either. That's the thing that Novak did last year and Roger a few years ago and also Rafa a couple of years ago. They showed that it is possible to win [almost] every single event."
While Lendl will be with Murray at the Grand Slam tournaments, Murray sees their training weeks together as crucial. Lendl plans to come to Europe for the first three and a half weeks of the clay-court season, beginning with preparations for Murray's opening tournament in Monte Carlo next month. He will then accompany him to Barcelona, after which he will return for the French Open.
"The training weeks that you do are so important, because that's where you work on the things that he might see in the matches," Murray said. "When you get to the Slams all the work should be done. Then it comes down to the tactics and the player being mentally tough and executing the game plan."
Whether or not Murray plays for Great Britain against Belgium in the Davis Cup next month will depend partly on his progress in the Miami Masters, which finishes just five days before the tie. Victory in Glasgow would send Leon Smith's team into a September play-off for a place in the elite World Group, but Murray sees a more modest target.
"I spoke to Leon early in the year and I said that the goal this year would be to try and stay in the group that we're in, because I believe that's really the level that we're at," Murray said.
Dan Evans was Britain's hero in Murray's absence against Slovakia last month. The Scot has talked up Evans' potential in the past but believes the 21-year-old Brummie needs to add some 110 per cent thinking to his ability.
"He obviously is a talented player, but he lost 6-3, 6-0 in the first round of a Challenger last week," Murray said. "That's the thing that's tough on the tour these days. You need to be there week in, week out, and put in 110 per cent every week. That's how you get used to playing guys who are 70 or 80 in the world on a regular basis. If you have one good week and then a month or month and a half when you're not doing much, it's tough to get your ranking up there. That's really the challenge for him."
A fortnight after Britain's men face Belgium, their women will travel to Sweden to compete for a place in World Group II of the Fed Cup, a level at which they have not played for 19 years. Britain's captain is Murray's mother, Judy.
As Murray began talking about her, Djokovic entered the room and invited the Scot to discuss instead his refusal to take up the Serb's challenge on PlayStation. Just as he has been doing on court, however, Murray maintained his focus, determined to give his mother credit for her achievements.
"She's always been a good coach," he said. "A lot of the players she's worked with have done well. Obviously, with the Fed Cup team doing well, I think all of the girls will have enjoyed it. Having a female coach doesn't happen that often. A lot of the work was done in the last couple of years with the guys that were there before – like Nigel Sears before he left – so they need to get some credit too. But my Mum's done well."
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