It seems like old times: Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe on either side of a tennis court with major honours up for grabs. Except that this time the two old rivals, the bitter foes of the ‘80s and ‘90s will have to sit on their hands while their charges – Andy Murray and Milos Raonic – do battle for the Aegon Championships this afternoon.
Lendl’s much-publicised reunion with Murray is, the Scot hopes, for the long term; McEnroe has only been added to Raonic’s team for the grass court season with the aim of improving the Canadian’s volleys but no matter, the two old timers will see it as another opportunity to dent the other’s pride. Not that Murray sees it that way.
“To me, I don’t find it that interesting, to be honest, because I’m playing Milos tomorrow; I’m not playing John,” he said. “Ivan is not on my side of the court. Obviously the coaches are there in the box, and they are doing their best to help us and prepare as best as they can for the matches. The only people that are there on the court are me and Milos. It’s up to us how we perform when we’re out there.
“They can’t serve for us at an important moment and they can’t hit a return for us on break point. You know, that comes down to the player. I’m sure the media will make a big deal of it, but for me as a player it’s not that interesting.”
Having successfully ruined the story of the day for the press pack, he was, however, ready to describe how he planned to ruin Raonic’s day this afternoon.
Murray reached the final by beating Marin Cilic 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 yesterday in a match that followed much the same pattern as his quarter-final against Kyle Edmund. Murray was in charge for a set, got a little frustrated when his opponent launched a comeback in the second and then moved swiftly into top gear to take control of the final set.
In that third set yesterday, Murray dropped just two points on serve and clattered down five of his 14 aces.
“I served well obviously in the third,” he said. “I need to look at that. You’re not going to repeat that every single time but try to understand why exactly it was so good in the third set.
“But the third sets today and in the match with Kyle were very high level from my side of the court, and that’s very pleasing because I know my best tennis is in there. Obviously, I’ve just got to try to get the consistency there, which comes with matches and time on the court.
“Milos’s serve is the biggest strength in his game so if I get any chances, it’s important to take them when they come, because there’s not going to be too many.”
Raonic made his way to the final with a 62-minute 6-4, 6-4 win over Bernard Tomic but knows that today will be a different challenge. The big Canadian with the welting serve has faced Murray twice already this year and while he pushed the Scot in the Australian Open semi-final, he was unlucky to be hobbled by an adductor strain in the latter stages of the match. Fit and raring to go on the clay in Monte Carlo, Murray allowed him just two games in a 66-minute thrashing. In all, Murray has won five of their eight matches.
The world No.2 is already part of an elite group of eight who have won the Queen’s Club title four times – and that elite includes McEnroe – but a win today would make Murray the first man in history to win five trophies at the south-west London club. And a little bit of history always makes for a special occasion.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “A lot of great players have played here over the years, and winning any tournament a few times is hard. But this one in particular has always got a very strong field; it’s a tough event to win. I’m glad I have given myself the opportunity to try and win again.”
If he does, it will give Lendl the chance to rub McEnroe’s nose in it one more time: by the time they had both hung up their rackets, the two had played 36 matches and Lendl had won 21 of them. If he can, vicariously, get another victory today, Old Stone Face may even crack a smile. But don’t bet on it.