WHEN you have lost several Grand Slam finals, you have to think of how to make the difference between being a runner-up and becoming a winner.
You need someone who understands what it takes, someone who has gone through the same pain and emerged triumphant.
For Andy Murray, that someone is Ivan Lendl. A world No 1 in the 1980s, Lendl lost his first four major finals, but, by the time he retired, he had won eight.
Murray, who had lost three by the time he joined forces with Lendl at the start of last year, went on to emulate his mentor by losing his fourth Slam final as well. That was at Wimbledon last year.
One month later, at the same venue, he became an Olympic gold medallist. Murray went on to win the US Open, and although he lost to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final at the start of this year, he beat the same player yesterday to make it two Grand Slams.
When Murray climbed up to greet his coaching team and friends yesterday, Lendl was the first man he embraced. “He just said that he was proud of me, which obviously coming from him means a lot,” Murray explained when asked what they had said to each other. “You know, he doesn’t smile in public too much, but when he’s away from the crowds and the cameras he’s a very different character.
“I just think for him, obviously ideally he would have won it himself, but I think this was the next best thing for him. I’m saying it seriously.
“I mean, I think he believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. He stuck by me through, yeah, obviously some tough losses the past couple of years. He has been very patient with me. I’m just happy I managed to do it for him.”
Murray was so close to major success that Lendl had no need to remodel his whole game. Instead, there has been just the slightest tweak in preparation, and more mentally than in terms of tennis tactics.
“He has made me learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past,” Murray went on. “I think he has always been very honest with me. He has always told me exactly what he thought.
“And in tennis, it’s not always that easy to do in a player-coach relationship. The player is sometimes the one in charge. I think sometimes coaches are not always that comfortable doing that.
“But he has been extremely honest with me. If I work hard, he’s happy. If I don’t, he’s disappointed, and he’ll tell me.
“And, yeah, when I’ve lost matches, last year after the final he told me he was proud of the way I played because I went for it when I had chances. It was the first time I played a match in a Grand Slam final like that. He has got my mentality slightly different going into those sort of matches.”
And “slightly different” has made all the difference.
Andy’s mum, Judy, was briefly a professional player herself. She is one of the country’s top coaches and taught both Andy and brother Jamie as juniors. She is now the captain of Britain’s Fed Cup team and can be seen leading the encouragement for her sons from the players’ box. She received a warm hug from her son immediately after his victory.
Andy’s dad, he is not as prominent as Judy, and juggles running a chain of newsagents in Scotland with following his son around the world.
As firm a fixture in the player’s box as Tim Henman’s dad once was, Kim is Andy’s girlfriend of seven years. She is the daughter of former Lawn Tennis Association head of women’s tennis Nigel Sears and was once described by Judy Murray as “the best thing to happen to Andy”.
After a long search for a permanent coach following his split from Miles Maclagan, Murray turned to eight-time grand slam winner Lendl at the start of 2012. A cool head, Czech-born Lendl has sharpened the Murray game and mind. Shows almost no emotion during the Scot’s matches. Murray paid tribute to Lendl on court today.
Green is Murray’s fitness coach and widely credited for turning him from a skinny youngster to a bulked-up athlete. He puts Murray through a punishing fitness regime, often in the baking heat of Miami, and has him on a strict diet that can often include up to 50 pieces of sushi in one meal.
A former singles player himself – if only ever reaching number 727 in the world – Venezuelan Vallverdu has known Murray since they were both at the Sanchez-Casal Academy as teenagers. Vallverdu acts as assistant coach to Lendl and is Murray’s regular hitting partner.
LOUISE IRVING AND MATT GENTRY
Murray turned to XIX Entertainment five years ago as his profile grew. Between them, Irving and Gentry take care of all of Murray’s PR, with Gentry acting as his main agent.