Ivan Lendl is back and it is his sole intent to rain on Novak Djokovic’s parade. Rain he has in abundance at the Aegon Championships this week and, in Andy Murray, he sees a perfect vehicle for his plans.
After 27 months apart, Lendl and Murray were reunited on Tuesday as the world No 2 put on an excellent display at Queen’s Club to dispose of Nicolas Mahut and today the two men will attempt to plot a path around Aljaz Bedene, the Britain No 2.
“He had a tough match which is what we expected,” Lendl said. “Mahut is a good grass court player and I thought it was a real high quality match today, so we focused on that and we will have a good practice today and chat a bit. We will figure things out.”
Lendl is as sarcastic as ever, as stone-faced as ever and as single-minded as ever. He may have gained a few pounds as he waited to have both hips replaced but it is as if he has not broken step since March 2014 when he left the Murray camp.
Back then, the pair kept bumping into Djokovic in major finals and, two years later, Murray and the world No 1 are still locking horns. The only difference is that Djokovic keeps winning these days and now holds all four of the major titles, completing his career Grand Slam by beating Murray in the French Open final.
“To me in tennis there is career Grand Slam, four in a row, calendar year Grand Slam and golden Slam and he has a chance to do that this year,” Lendl said, giving due respect to Djokovic.
“Obviously Andy and I would like to ruin those plans. But, if you go back in history, I don’t believe there was a time other than in ’38 when Don Budge won and Rod Laver in ’62 and ’69 when someone held all four. So it’s phenomenal that Novak is holding all four.”
What has changed, though, is the challenge ahead. When Lendl first teamed up with Murray, the Scot had not won a grand slam title and was beginning wonder if he ever would. Within nine months, Lendl had led him to the US Open crown and the following year, watched his charge win Wimbledon.
“I think it’s very different the position this time,” Lendl added. “Until you win one you never know you have it in you. We know he has it in him now, so the question is can he do it again. I think that’s an easier question to answer than can you do it at all. So I think it’s quite a bit different.”
The first question Lendl asked of Murray’s team when he first considered his return was what Murray’s motivation levels were like. Settled in as the world No 2, married, a new father – was he still hungry? Obviously the answer was ‘yes’ as it takes a lot to persuade Lendl to leave the comfort of his home and go back on road. Even as a player, he loathed the endless travel.
“I don’t really know what brought me back,” he said. “It’s not one thing, it’s a bunch of factors. Start from my health, Andy looking motivated and all that. Not one thing.
“I feel younger because I sleep at night. With the hips I wasn’t sleeping at night – it just aches and you can’t sleep well so I just do feel a lot younger and I’m trying to get fitter again.
“I miss home but I always enjoy seeing all the friends out here and former opponents, it’s always nice.”
He was his usual evasive self when it came to discussing long-term plans with Murray but, working as part of the US Tennis Association’s development programme, Lendl sees his partnership with Murray as a bonus for the young players he is coaching in Florida.
“I love doing that,” he said. “It’s a great part and I think they are going to be very helpful if we work long term.
“It will be great for the kids and great for Andy. He will have access to six players and there are some guys with big serves, some with big groundstrokes, some with good hands at the net. For whatever drills we need to do we have exactly what we need and for the kids that will be an opportunity they can’t get anywhere else.”