There have been many great tennis players down the years. We just happen to be quite lucky that so many of them are re-appearing on the men’s tour – not as players but as experienced coaches. You have Boris Becker advising Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe with Milos Raonic, Goran Ivanisevic with Marin Cilic and, until the start of the year, Stefan Edberg with Roger Federer to name but a few. Those greats alone have accumulated 20 Grand Slams between them. Yet in terms of the level of influence that they have had on their protégé, none have had more of an effect than Ivan Lendl on world number 2 Andy Murray.
It was Lendl’s guidance that really took Murray to the next level. Under his stewardship he won Wimbledon, the US Open and Olympic Gold; as well as reaching the final of the Australian Open and, of course, the emotional 2012 Wimbledon final. Now, after a fine period under Amelie Mauresmo that led to more Slam finals and his highest ever ranking, Murray has gone back to the coach who turned him from a highly talented player into a real champion. It will be a huge factor in Murray’s favour as he looks to add to his Grand Slam tally. Their first tournament back together was at Queen’s Club. The result? A Murray win that means he is the first to triumph at that particular prestigious tournament five times.
So what is it that makes Lendl such an ideal coach for the man from Dunblane? The most obvious impact is upon the mental side of Murray’s game. The Scotsman is well known for his chuntering to his box and expressiveness on court but such emotion has often got in the way of the pragmatism and coolness needed in intense, tight battles against the likes of Novak Djokovic. The respect Murray has for a former world number 1 who won 94 singles titles as a player, including eight Grand Slams, is obvious. Away from matches Lendl is able to insert mental steel and calm into Murray’s preparation, whilst lessening the negative energy that Murray can often allow to plague his matches. To add to his Grand Slam record Murray needs mental stability – Lendl gives him it.
Significantly, Murray has an awful lot in common with the 56 year-old Czech. Not just in terms of tournament wins but losses and demoralising defeats. Let us not forget that Murray has to date lost 8 Grand Slam finals, 6 of those being to Djokovic. Meanwhile, Lendl fell 11 times in Major finals. His aversion to finishing second is as strong as ever. There is the necessary emotional space between player and coach but a shared similarity that binds them – the awareness of playing in big finals; the joy of victory and the pain of defeat. They know what makes each other tick. It can do wonders for Murray’s psychology, helping him to eradicate the dips in focus that sometimes strike at pivotal moments. At his best no one is better than Murray. Yet what he sometimes lacks is the consistent intensity needed to topple Djokovic but that will undoubtedly be enhanced by working with Lendl again.
Significantly, Lendl has never smashed his way into the Murray set-up like a bull in a china shop, telling him what changes he needs to make with his basic game. Instead, whilst embracing the many facets of what makes Murray so impressive, he is able to counsel on slight yet intelligent adjustments. It takes a highly talented coach and observer to realise what needs to be enhanced in a player who seemingly has all the weapons in his arsenal. Two notable examples are Murray’s forehand and second serve. The statistics show that Murray is a lot less conservative and more confident with his forehand under Lendl, striking the ball far harder. Arguably his weakest shot, this is a crucial, if only tiny, technical improvement. Likewise, Lendl has been able to get his prodigy to be braver with his second serve, a shot that has been exposed and pounced upon by fellow top players in the past.
Finally, whilst he may appear a quiet and withdrawn individual, the motivational qualities of Lendl are unquestionable. He is known to have extremely high standards and won’t accept half measures. He does not let up or show sympathy and demands that players give their all in every training session and match. Some players cannot always cope with such ruthlessness. Murray certainly can. He thrives on it.
There is a reason why Murray stated, just after bringing Lendl on board for the first time, that he hoped the Czech would be his coach for the rest of his career. Murray realised that if he is to win more Majors and take the world number 1 ranking, one man was needed again. Lendl is the ideal motivating, calming, tactical and technical fold for Murray. In his 11 years on the Tour, Murray has had 10 coaches. Lendl is has been by far the best. His return may just have opened another remarkable chapter in the career of Britain’s finest ever tennis player.
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