Murray looks to Lendl to turn him into a grand slam champion

 

Andy Murray is hoping working with Ivan Lendl can help him achieve the small gains that can turn him into a grand slam champion.

The world number four hired Lendl, an eight-time slam winner, as his coach at the end of last year and immediately seemed to have taken a step forward as he pushed Novak Djokovic all the way in the Australian Open semi-finals.

The Serb's transformation from nearly man to winner of four of the last five major titles has presented Murray with both another obstacle and encouragement.

Djokovic's breakthrough came as a result of small improvements rather than any radical alterations to his game, and Murray is plotting a similar path.

Explaining his work with Lendl, the 25-year-old said: "There's not been one radical change. We changed some of the things I practise, and some of the ways that I train and prepare for events.

"A lot of it is minor details. But if you pick 10 small things to work on and change, that can turn into a big difference."

Murray safely negotiated his first hurdle at the French Open yesterday, beating Tatsuma Ito 6-1 7-5 6-0, and tomorrow he will meet world number 48 Jarkko Nieminen in round two.

Unlike Ito, the Finn is a familiar opponent for Murray, who has triumphed in all three of their previous encounters, most recently in front of the Queen at Wimbledon two years ago.

But they have never met on clay before and Nieminen, 30, has had a good year, climbing to 48 in the rankings from outside the top 70 and winning the ATP Tour event in Sydney in January.

Murray said: "The surface obviously changes things. He'll do certain things better and certain things not so good. I've practised with him on clay before, and I've always normally enjoyed playing against left handers.

"He's got a lot of experience, and he's won some good matches here in the past. He beat Agassi here (in 2005). He's not scared of causing an upset."

Murray once again had to wait until the last possible day to begin his campaign, something he seems to have made a habit of at grand slams recently, but he is confident that will not hurt his chances of at least matching last year's semi-final run.

The Scot said: "If you play a long match in the first round it probably wouldn't be ideal, but I play every second day, so that helps. You've got a bit of a routine.

"But you'd rather work. If you start on Sunday and play through to the other Sunday, you're playing seven matches in 15 days and I'll be playing seven in 13.

"So it's probably better to play earlier matches, but providing you get through the first rounds without playing any really long matches, it shouldn't make too much of a difference."

Nieminen had not won a match at Roland Garros for four years prior to yesterday's victory over Igor Andreev, where he benefited from the Russian's retirement, and he knows he has his work cut out if he is to topple Murray tomorrow.

The Finn said: "He's obviously one of the top four players and one of the favourites for the tournament. It's a great challenge for me to get to play him again. It will be on a big court, which is always nice, and I'm looking forward to it."

PA

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