IT has been a year and still he hasn’t smiled. Not on court, at any rate. It takes a lot to get a reaction from Ivan Lendl.
But 12 months into his coaching relationship with Andy Murray, Lendl does look satisfied. Not content, mind you, because there is always more work to be done and more targets to reach. But he is reasonably satisfied as Andy Murray pulls on his kit for a third grand slam final – and his second against Novak Djokovic – under the old champion’s tutelage.
To have bullied Roger Federer for four hours to earn his ticket to this morning’s Australian Open final took talent, concentration and a great deal of stamina. Consequently, Lendl will allow himself to enjoy Murray’s achievement.
“Yes, I’m very proud of him, how he dealt with it,” Lendl said. “I think it has to do with preparation, though. If you feel you’re strong and you don’t feel like you are going to run out of gas it’s a lot easier to deal with that than if you feel I’ve only got four more games in me or something. If you feel, Okay, I can play three more sets I’m fine, it’s a lot easier to swallow the bitter pill of losing the fourth set in a tie-breaker.”
This time last year, Lendl was still getting to know Murray and the rest of his team. The gang were used to endless practical jokes and bets, the loser to pay with humiliating forfeits. Quite how Old Stone Face was going to fit into that set-up, no one knew. As it turns out, the old warrior took on the challenges and won them. Jez Green has already made one embarrassing appearance at a Murray press conference in order to admit to the world that he lost a gym challenge to the coach.
“No doubt about it, we have learned about each other and understand each other better,” Lendl said. Green, no doubt, now knows not to challenge Lendl again. “I think that would be the case in any team, in any relationship, that you would do better after a year.”
What everyone has learned over the past year is how to get the very best out of Murray. With Lendl to take care of the gameplan and Green to take care of the fitness, they have cleared the path for Murray to take care of the tennis.
In the past, any slight deviation from the norm might have distracted Murray, caused him to fret and worry but not now that Lendl is around. Lendl doesn’t do panic and he doesn’t do emotion.
He just deals with the situation in front of him. And the fact that Murray’s only real test so far has come just 48 hours before what promises to be a long and exhausting final does not bother him.
“Unfortunately, you’re not in control of your schedule,” Lendl said. “You’re not in full control of when you play. You’re not in full control of how long the matches are. So that affects things. And every player is different. Some players need a tough match early, some need a tough match before the final, some don’t need a tough match. So you don’t go about it, you just have to deal with the cards you have. It was great that he didn’t dawdle around in the earlier matches when he was in control and finished them, and most likely it can only help.”
But if Murray does win today, do not expect any celebrations from Lendl.He will already be plotting Murray’s challenge for the French Open.