It’s going well then. One week into the glorious reunion and Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl have won the Aegon Championships again. The player-coach bond is a strong as it ever was. Or maybe not.
As Murray went to collect the massive Queen’s Club trophy, he looked around and Lendl had gone. The great man had waited patiently until the last point of his charge’s 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over an inspired Milos Raonic. As the rest of Murray’s bench leapt to its feet and punched the air, Lendl stood, applauded, stubbornly refused to smile and then skedaddled. Scarpered. Vanished into thin air.
It was nice of him to stick around for the presentation. Obviously, it’s been a good week back togetherAndy Murray
“It was nice of him to stick around for the presentation,” Murray said wryly. “Obviously, it’s been a good week back together.”
John McEnroe, Lendl’s bitter rival from their playing days, did stick around. He had watched with an increasingly grim face as his man had played out of his skin to take the first set and a 3-0 lead in the second and then had been reeled in by Murray at his aggressive, focused and ruthless best.
Raonic’s serve has blown many a lesser man off the court but after an hour of bludgeoning the Scot, he could do nothing as Murray began to nail his returns.
His lead was being whittled away and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop the world No 2 winning a historic fifth title.
McEnroe, who only won four trophies at Queen’s Club, applauded politely. His job had been to encourage the big and powerful Raonic to make the most of his serve and scamper in behind it to take charge of the net. That Raonic did to great effect for a set and a few games, but once Murray started to read the serve and make the big man think twice before leaving the safety of the baseline, the game was up.
“It’s a pleasure to play in front of someone like John,” Murray said. “Normally he’s up there in the commentary booth, telling us what we should be doing better.
“He’s obviously a great player so to do something just a little bit better than someone like him is an amazing feeling. I’m certainly not comparing myself as a player to him. I’m aware that he’s achieved way, way more than me. But, today here to win for a fifth time means a lot to me.”
And Murray deserved his win. For the 52 minutes of the first set, there was barely a fag paper between the two men. Both served with power and pinpoint accuracy, both leathered their forehands – and at times, Raonic’s is like a laser-guided missile – and both tried their luck at the net.
The set was won in the twinkling of an eye. Of the 73 points played at that point, Murray had won 36. He was serving, albeit at set point down. And he chose to come to the net on a wing and a prayer and he paid the price: a forehand passing shot by Raonic snatched the set from his racket strings.
That was the cue for the Canadian to hit a purple patch. In a run of 15 points from the close of the first set to 3-0 in the second, Murray was allowed to take just one. Raonic was wiping the floor with the Scot and Murray was grumbling and muttering and chuntering at the back of the court. There seemed to be no way back for the defending champion but, nevertheless, he found one.
With a point for a 4-1 lead, Raonic hit a backhand volley and on the Hawk-Eye review, it was deemed to be out by a whisker. The Raonic nerve was temporarily rattled.
One point later, he was facing break point and that was when Murray unleashed a, fizzing backhand return. It was the Scot’s first break point of the match and, as he had promised on Saturday, if he got a chance he would do everything in his power to take it.
Raonic had been broken, Murray’s confidence was on the rise and the match had been turned on its head. “I guessed on a few serves, one to get a break back,” Murray said. “So I gained confidence in the return, seeing the serve a little bit better. It’s not always up to me. Milos served unbelievably well. It’s a huge serve, very powerful. So sometimes it’s just too good, when he hits the line. But as the match went on you obviously start to get a bit more of a feel for the speed, and I got a few good returns in at the end.”
From that break, Murray got better and better while Raonic ran out of ideas. Wherever he put the ball, Murray was there to cover it, crush it and rip the match back from the big man’s grasp. He was being taught a lesson and Raonic was big enough to realise it.
“Congratulations to Andy for winning for a fifth time,” Raonic said with a grin, “but I’m sure it’s not nearly as special as having your first fathers’ day as well.
“It’s my first grass match on a Sunday and hopefully we can have a rematch in a couple of Sundays at Wimbledon. I’ve made good progress and improved every day here and hopefully I can be at my best in a fortnight.”
Murray managed to track Lendl down – Old Stone Face had nipped to the gents – and immediately starting planning for next week. The win was nice but the real prize is a few miles away in SW19. Raonic was the perfect test yesterday: Murray now knows how far he has come in his first week back on grass and Lendl will know what he wants to achieve in the coming days before Wimbledon begins.