As Murray heads into today’s Wimbledon final with Milos Raonic, he does so with a new sense of calm and confidence. After more than two years apart, the coach who had led him to his two grand slam successes in 2012 and 2013 is back in the players’ box, staring impassively from beneath the peak of his baseball cap.
There will be no fist-pumping or shrieks of encouragement from the old mentor, just a steely gaze watching Murray’s every move. No matter what is happening on court, Lendl gives nothing away. Then again, that, too, can be reassuring: the saying goes that there is no need to panic on an aeroplane until you see the flight attendants in a flap. Lendl never, ever flaps.
What does Murray like best about Lendl? “He will never bullshit you.” What does Lendl like best about Murray? “He’s very focused.” Clearly, it is not all champagne and roses between these two.
But there is clearly a deep respect and affection hidden away between these two driven men – why else would Lendl leave the comfort of his home to travel the world again? Only Murray could persuade him to go back on the road.
“I have been approached by many players,” Lendl said, “but I would never go mid-season to anyone because I think that’s the wrong thing to do. And Andy is the only player I would go to because after I spoke to him, and I spoke to a bunch of team members, I spent five or six hours on the phone separately talking to all of them, so it felt like it should click right away. And so far so good.
“I’ve obviously been around Matt [Little, the fitness trainer] before, there are a few new guys like Glen the nutritionist, Jamie I didn’t know before but we get along really well. It was very natural. So it felt very natural to jump in.”
Since he has jumped in, Murray has not lost a match. Unlike his previous losses in grand slam finals, ones that would stay with him for months, Murray rebounded from losing to Djokovic at the French Open and immediately mopped up the Queen’s Club trophy, beating Raonic to do so.
Lendl’s decision to return in the days before Queen’s helped wipe away the disappointment of France and the sheer effort and concentration Murray put into their practice session impressed the returning coach from day one. But once that work is done, Lendl is off. How many times have they had dinner together in the last four weeks? “None,” Murray said simply.
“We spend a decent amount of time together at the courts and stuff,” Murray explained. “Away from that we don’t spend a lot of time together. We each have our own hobbies and he likes to get out of here fairly quickish after the day’s work is done. And I like that.
“He’s not on top of you all of the time. But when it’s time to work, he is there and he works really hard. As I said in there, I trust him as a person. He’s very solid. He will certainly never lie to you or bullshit you. And you don’t always find that. It’s not always that easy to find somebody like that.”
When Lendl agreed to work with him for the first time back in 2012, Murray immediately walked a little taller: an eight-time grand slam champion thought he was good enough to risk his reputation on. Now that Lendl is back in harness, it has had much the same effect. Two sets dropped in six matches to get to the final is not a bad return.
“It’s just how mentally engaged he has been the entire time,” Lendl said. “Practices and matches, it’s been great. He is mentally engaged playing every point in practice and that’s how you get better, being consistent in effort and consistently trying to do your best. That’s how you improve over a long period of time. Definitely, he’s very focused.”
Raonic’s serve is a thunderbolt that regularly hits the 140mph mark and more. Murray, though, is one of the best returners in the game and to hone his skills, he spent yesterday being pelted with serves by Jamie Delgado, his assistant coach, who was standing eight feet inside the baseline. But just how do you prepare for a shot like Raonic’s serve?
“Have Jamie serve the same speed,” Lendl dead-panned. (Delgado stands 5ft 10ins and is 155lbs dripping wet; Raonic is 6ft 5ins and weighs 216lbs, all of it muscle.) “You have to worry every time about what the opponent does and respect every opponent, and certainly Raonic’s serve deserves the upmost respect.”
Respect, yes, but never fear. It may not look like it, but Lendl is working every second that Murray is on court. He is not paid to be a cheerleader: he is employed to make his charge better and stronger, to eliminate all weaknesses.
Whatever happens this afternoon, Lendl will already have a plan to improve upon the result as the summer goes on. “We sit there and discuss what is happening,” Lendl said of his role in the players’ box. “We discuss what we need to work on, what’s going well. When I’m sitting there I’m not just sitting blankly staring at the court, I’m processing what’s going on and what I need to be doing for the next match, for four weeks from now, eight weeks from now, what needs to improve.”
So Lendl is already planning for the future. Even though the details of their contract have still not been finalised, Old Stone Face intends to stick around.
“I will be around somewhere,” he said. Like Arnie Schwarzenegger, he’ll be back and when we see him next, he may well be the coach of a double Wimbledon champion.