Ivan Lendl’s wisdom paying off as Andy Murray eyes another final
IVAN Lendl was in no mood to compromise. Then again, he has never been the conciliatory type. “It’s a semi-final,” he said. “We didn’t come here for semi-finals.”
Today, Andy Murray will play his 11th grand slam semi-final in an attempt to reach his fifth final. This part of a major championship is familiar territory for the Scot and he is looking and sounding as relaxed as any bloke can be as he chases a lifetime’s goal of actually
winning a grand slam trophy. Certainly, he is playing well, or he is when he concentrates on the job in hand, as he did, eventually, against Marin Cilic in the previous round.
Now he must work out a way to beat Tomas Berdych, the man who walloped Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and who has beaten Murray in four of six previous meetings. Big, strong and intimidating, an on-song Berdych is a terrifying sight on a tennis court; his problem is that not even he knows when he is going to be on-song.
Berdych was not the expected opponent in the semi-finals, but with Novak Djokovic lurking ominously on the other side of the draw, these are just the sort of moments that Lendl was hired for.
Old Stone Face knows a thing or two about winning major trophies and beating the top men for the top titles.
“That is what we spoke about a lot of the time when we first met,” Murray said. “We spoke about how to play against them, their strengths and weaknesses, things that I could improve against them and just things in general that I could improve that would help me against everybody. We spoke at length about that stuff and that is really why I hired him, someone that would have that experience of playing.
“Ivan struggled against his rivals like Connors and McEnroe the first few times he played against them and managed to turn it around by doing specific drills and working on things in practice that would help against them so hopefully I will have more success in the future. I have pretty much stuck to those ideas.”
With Lendl’s guidance, Murray has already broken through the glass ceiling and won his first major trophy – the Olympic gold medal. It may not be a grand slam title but, in Lendl’s mind, it is far bigger and more important than that. And the experience of beating Federer in that final – and beating him in straight sets – will serve Murray well in the coming couple of days.
“We should absolutely count the Olympics,” Lendl said when asked about Murray’s record this year. “I don’t think you guys have seen the full significance of the Olympics, I think the Olympics are harder to win than the majors.
“They may not be as established in the tennis public’s mind but I think this will change very quickly now that Andy and Rafa [Nadal] have won the last two.
“Before it was a bit different, maybe, because the top guys didn’t win. If you get a top guy winning in Rio in 2016, then it will be right up there with everything else. To me Andy has already won a big one and he won the most difficult one, because he was 21 in Beijing and he wasn’t ready; he’s 25 now, he’ll be 29 in Rio and he will be 33 wherever it is after that, and unlikely to be among the favourites. So he had two chances and he did it on the first one.”
Throughout the fortnight, Murray has been acting and sounding like a man who belongs at the top of the heap. To have recovered from the disappointment of losing the Wimbledon final to Federer and then go on to beat the same opponent a few weeks later in the Olympic final proved that he had the mental strength to compete with the top men, while his record shows that he has the game to beat anyone.
He may have faced a few difficult moments in his ride to the semi-finals, but he has never looked likely to lose. Berdych, by contrast, does not give the impression of a man who truly believes that he deserves a major trophy. He can – and has – beaten the big boys in the past, but doing it on a big stage to win a big prize has, so far, eluded him. He played one of the matches of his life to Federer on Wednesday but whether he can back that up with another faultless display against Murray is debatable.
The Scot is in his element in the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium and since he won the gold medal, his following has been growing with every round. Berdych may be a good player, but a bit like Lendl, he is not the most charismatic of players and he not going to be the crowd’s favourite today.
If he gets off to a shaky start, he may not recover.
Today’s match will simply come down to belief – who believes they belong in the US Open final. With four major finals behind him, Murray knows he has earned the right to be at the sharp end of the big tournaments and with Lendl at his side, he is sounding like a man who believes it is his turn to win one.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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