Ivan Lendl is not happy. Then again, it is hard to tell. As he sits at the side of the court watching Andy Murray play, it is hard to tell whether he is happy or sad, nervous or relaxed. Most of the time, it is hard to tell whether he is still breathing. But it soon becomes clear he is not full of the joys of spring.
That Murray won his fifth Queen’s Club title just six days after Lendl’s return to the camp has not cheered him. That Murray goes into Wimbledon as the No.2 seed with two grand slam final appearances this year already does not lift his spirits. No. Lendl is not happy with the weather – it keeps getting in the way of his work.
From the moment the wheels touched down on the tarmac at Heathrow, Lendl has been hard at work. He arrived on the morning of Murray’s first match at Queen’s and went straight to the club to oversee his charge’s warm-up session. He has been dodging the wet stuff ever since as he tries to implement his tweaks and fine tunings to Murray’s game before Wimbledon begins tomorrow.
“I would be more pleased if we had better practices at Queen’s,” Lendl said in his own, inimitable style. “We got cut short first three or four practices by rain. I had some stuff I wanted to do we didn’t get to but hopefully we get [some good weather]. I need two more good practices and then a couple little ones and we will be all right.”
It was a little over two years ago that Lendl and Murray parted company. The first of the high-profile super-coaches, he had spent two seasons on the road with the Scot and guided him to the US Open and Wimbledon titles and the Olympic gold medal. Wanting to spend more time doing other things – and needing both hips replaced – Lendl did want to devote 25 weeks and more to travelling the circuit. But he and Murray kept in touch and Lendl, being Lendl, kept his eyes fixed on developments in the men’s game (helped greatly by the work he was doing with US Tennis Association’s development players)
A sports nut, there is little that escapes the former world No.1 so when he decided to join forces with Murray, Lendl knew who was doing what and with whom and how often. Two years is a long time in professional sport and things change quickly.
“I think generally they do, yes,” he said. “There is no doubt about that. If you look at track and field, maybe some records don’t go down but more people get close to them and swimming and wherever you can measure it, yes the game improves every two, four, five years, whatever the cycle is. But I have been watching a lot on TV so I was keeping abreast of what is going on.”
He seems to have fitted seamlessly into the new team. A few months after Lendl left the camp, Dani Vallverdu and Jez Green headed off to new ventures while, in his absence, Amelie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman have been and gone. Jamie Delgado is the new full-time coach but rather than have his nose put out of joint by Lendl’s arrival, he appears to be thriving in the great man’s company. And Murray himself is delighted to have his old mentor back again. So far, so good, then.
“Yes, Andy seems to be in a good place, everybody on the team is clicking well together,” Lendl said. “I think that’s important for Andy so he can focus on his tennis and not on what is going on somewhere else on the team. It’s very similar to 2012 and 2013, I think those teams were good as well. Obviously there is Jamie not Dani and Matt was part of the team with Jez, so that was a good team as well but everything is giving Andy the best opportunity to do well.”
Another change is in Murray’s game: his second serve has been strengthened and that gives him more confidence to go for his first serve. Add to that the fact that his back is much stronger after surgery in 2013 and Murray is a better player technically and physically. Except that Lendl does not bother with technical stuff. In a rare admission of weakness, he claims to be useless at that side of coaching. And, anyway, Murray is 29 years old – it is a bit late to be fiddling with his forehand.
“I don’t do any technique, zero,” Lendl said. “I don’t believe in that at 27 or 29. What you have is what you are going to have, you can groove certain things but changing technique is not where I’m going to go. A) I don’t believe you should do it at that age and B) I suck at it.
“Even with the juniors, I ask for two coaches. I requested one specifically to be part of our group and then asked for someone who’s good at it because I suck at it. I can see there is something wrong with your forehand and see what it is but I have no idea how to fix that. But at 27, 29, I don’t think you should be doing technical changes.”
The first question Lendl asked of Murray’s team before he agreed to come back was about the level of the Scot’s motivation. What impressed him was the change in attitude: instead of focusing only on the major competitions, Murray is striving for relentless consistency at every tournament.
“One thing I noticed was that Andy does better in the regular events,” Lendl said. “We spoke about it. Andy and I have been talking quite a bit in the last two years as well, and I noticed that. He said ‘yeah I realise that to give myself the best chance I have to play some events and do well’ and I think that makes my job easier because he comes in better prepared.”
But there is consistency and there is Novak Djokovic’s consistency. What the Serb has achieved in the past 18 months has made history: only the third man ever to hold all four grand slam titles at once and only the eighth man ever to complete a career grand slam. Such accomplishments deserve respect – and Lendl is willing to give it – but he does not think that it should make much difference to Murray if the two meet in the Wimbledon final.
“Every player who is at the top of the game is held in respect by the other players,” he said. “It may be good for a point or two per set because of their speed or stamina or their strokes but clearly there is a little bit of that, there’s no denying that.
“I’m not sure it’s as much with the other top players as it is to the players outside the top ten who don’t get to see you every week. Once you get enough matches against your main rivals I don’t think it’s that much of a factor.”
And Lendl knows that his man can win Wimbledon, and beat Djokovic to do it. He did it in 2013 and he can do it again. If three years ago Murray could overcome the weight of national expectation, incessant media coverage and his own personal doubts, hopes and ambitions, it can never be as hard again.
“Actually the thing that stands out most in my mind is the pressure he was under,” Lendl recalled. “I would go out and on the street people would be saying ‘I hope he can do it, I hope he can do it,’ and at that time I realised how different and how much bigger that pressure is, because already in 2012 before the finals, people on the streets are talking to you, saying ‘we hope you can do it, it has been so long’. So having experienced pressure, I never experienced pressure on that level, but I knew what Andy was dealing with. And that he was able to deal with it was very good, was beautiful to see.”
At last Lendl sounded happy.