Ivan Lendl is not your warm and fuzzy sort of guy, not the sort to offer a hug, a cup of tea and jammy dodger when things are not going well.
But after drumming his fingers on the desk for the best part of four months, the impassive super-coach is not exactly happy – history does not record moments of pure, unbridled joy in Lendl’s career as either coach or player – but does seem satisfied. Sort of content. Not in a bad mood.
For the first time all year, Andy Murray is fit, he is well and at last Lendl can get back to work on his pet project: winning more major titles with the Scot.
At the Australian Open, Murray was feeling sluggish and no one could work out why. Only when he went home did he come down with shingles but that had clearly been lurking in his system for a while, dragging him down. Then he picked up an elbow injury. Then he got a bad dose of flu. Then, as he unpacked his bags in Paris the week before the French Open, he felt lousy again – this time it was a heavy cold.
But once the world No 1 shook off that latest bug, he has been hard at work on the practice courts and Lendl has been a little cheerier (everything is relative). Now the two can get some real work done and the harder they have worked, the better Murray has played.
“You have to put in consistent work to have consistent results,” Lendl said. “If you have three illnesses and an injury which take you out for some time, you start again, you get going and you get ill or injured again, then you start again and again and again. It’s very difficult mentally for the player. It’s nice that Andy’s healthy and he can put the practices in and I think the results are starting to come.
“With the exception of the first two or three days, when he had a bit of flu, he has been putting in great work. He scraped through the first two matches and then the work started to come in.”
Many have thought that Murray worked too hard during the off-season and that intense training block, coming at the end of a gruelling season (albeit his best ever season), left him depleted as the new season began. Lendl disagrees: he wanted them to spend longer working together in Miami, not less time.
“A three, three-and-a-half week training block is ideal in my mind,” Lendl said. “We did 17 days so we had to move around one or two days because of rain-outs.
“I just feel that we could have used another week, because then you can put more work in, you can work on more patterns and so on, you hit more balls, because when you come from the off-season you just need to hit a lot of balls, you have to get a lot of repetition, I just thought it was unfortunate it was that short, I could have used another week.”
Lendl’s role in Team Murray appears to be precise and specific: he does the tennis; the others do the rest. However, as he discusses the arrangements and practicalities of the training block, it becomes clear that the world No 1 is like a Formula One supercar being tweaked by a battery of mechanics.
As Lendl explained: “I talk to Smurf [Matt Little, Murray’s fitness trainer] and we discuss it and he says “I need to do intervals, can you do it on the court, so we save some time?” and I say ‘Yeah I can do that on the court.’ Or I say coming back, ‘The quickness or agility is not looking as I would like to see it, can you do something for that?’ So we work together that way. But I am not physically present when we go to the gym.”
But with the work done on the practice courts and with Murray in the rudest of health, there is now the chance to reach another grand slam final. All Murray has to do is beat Stan Wawrinka today. Murray leads their rivalry by ten wins to seven and he did win the last two, including last year’s Roland Garros semi-final, but Wawrinka has looked very dangerous this past week in Paris.
“Once again I think it comes down to executing your game plan and the conditions,” Lendl said simply. “Different conditions favour different players on the court – or not necessarily players, but the patterns you can do and can’t do. In the quarter-final, it was extremely difficult with the wind and ball-striking was hard. I think conditions are important in what happens and how you deal with it.”
The forecast is for sun, some clouds, a bit of a breeze and temperatures in the low 20s. That should suit Murray. He is feeling confident and considerably more positive about his game than at any time this year – that is a good sign. But can he beat Wawrinka again? When he did it the last twice, he was in the form of his life and as Jamie Delgado, Murray’s co-coach pointed out, the Scot is on his way back but there is still a bit of work to do yet.
“I think he’s getting closer,” Delgado said. “He’s showing great signs in these two weeks, starting off with good practice and then putting it into matches. He’s definitely closer than he was two or three months ago.”