What Ivan Lendl has brought to Andy Murray’s game

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The transformation in Andy Murray’s game since the start of his association with Ivan Lendl has been remarkable – few would doubt that. In terms of sheer results, the young Scot can point to an Olympic gold medal, a US Open title and a Wimbledon title, all achieved under the tutelage of Lendl. However, the transformation has also been at a number of other levels.

Before we get too excited about the ‘transformation’, however, we should remember that pre-Lendl, Murray was already an outstanding player with a top world ranking and a number of Grand Slam final appearances to his name. He was always ‘in the frame’ for a Grand Slam and many thought it was just a matter of time before he would put his name to one of the four trophies. The British public, for one, held him in high esteem and believed he would one day be the Brit to break the country’s Wimbledon drought since Fred Perry’s 1937 win. Yet, despite his talent and promise, it never quite happened for him as he entered his mid-twenties, that age at which an aspiring star would generally be expected to see his career ‘take off’.

Murray had been associated with a number of top names during his short career pre-Lendl. In an entirely business-like way without rancour, he moved from one coach to another trying to find that perfect ‘fit’. Earlier coaches brought Murray so far and were suitable for a young player on the way up, but it was his association with Lendl that changed everything.

It has to be said about Lendl first of all that he is one of very few former players devoted to teaching top players of the younger generation who himself has reached the very top levels of the game. This experience has been invaluable to Murray and has been instrumental since in instilling in the young Scot the grit and confidence to go on and win those coveted Grand Slam events.

Pre-Lendl, Murray was generally considered to be the fourth player in that select group at the top including Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – the only one of the four not to have won a Grand Slam. For his credibility, Murray had to secure a Grand Slam and Lendl gave him that little bit extra to do it. It was one thing for a journeyman player turned coach to press Murray onto Grand Slam triumph. It was another thing for a former multiple Grand Slam winner to transfer on that experience in a way that was meaningful and made sense. This has been Lendl’s special contribution.

It is on the mental side, it is generally thought, that Lendl has had the most positive impact on Murray’s game. For example, it is thought that Lendl was a strong influence behind Murray’s decision to forego this year’s French Open to allow him sufficient time to recover from a back injury in time for his assault of the grand prize of Wimbledon. Easing into grass on the pre-event at Queen’s, he not only won that event but also his first Wimbledon. A wise tactic in retrospect, but equally, few would have forgiven him had he endangered his Wimbledon chances by too hasty a return to the fray – a sign of Lendl’s maturity and judgement.

One can also see a physically stronger Murray, having built up bulk in his frame that has assisted his strength and match longevity. Lendl, long a strong exponent of physical fitness training in his own career, has clearly been an influence here – gone is the somewhat forlorn figure of a slightly scrawny man in his early twenties now replaced by a strong, muscular, physical presence on court of over 6’ 2”. Less common now too are the emotional outbursts and self-flagellations of the past which seemed to expend too much negative energy and distract Murray from the ‘now’ of the point to come. Such enhanced emotional and mental discipline also bears witness to the influence of the disciplined Czech ‘machine’ of yesteryear.

Murray has been very fortunate to have had the dedicated attention of a former player of Lendl’s calibre. We do not see a Sampras, Becker, Edberg, Borg or McEnroe, for example, devoting themselves so closely and effectively to a player at the top of the tour as has Lendl. The other top players have found the combinations that work for them, but none have had the Murray’s advantage of a former player with such an intimate knowledge and experience at the top of the game.

How much longer will the association continue? Clearly, it has worked well for Murray and it has brought Lendl back from the golf fairways to a game he loves and at which he excelled – a sort of ‘giving back’ to the game on his part. Some have been tempted to suggest that the association has a touch of the Svengali about it, but all the evidence indicates that Murray has proudly retained his autonomy and knows what is in his best interests. Murray’s entourage, moreover, includes a wide circle capable of providing a range of views and advice to keep him grounded. At the same time, Murray is too smart to think that having now achieved his short-term Grand Slam goals that he could easily dispense with the services of Lendl, a coach and mentor worth his weight in gold to have in one’s corner.

After a number of coaches early in his career, Murray has clearly found the right ‘fit’ in Lendl. The relationship looks set to continue but much, one feels, will depend on the long term level of commitment which Lendl is prepared to devote to the ‘Murray enterprise’ among the former’s wide portfolio of interests.

In the long-distant 1950s, another Czech hero, Jaroslav Drobny threw in his lot with Britain, winning Wimbledon and also appearing for GB’s Davis Cup Team. Over half a century on, another Czech has thrown his lot into the development of a rising British talent. Lendl and Murray’s fortuitous combination has been mutually beneficial, boosting the game by developing another top player able to compete on a regular basis for the top prizes in the game. We, the tennis-viewing public, have all benefited from their successful association.

Paul McElhinney
August 2013

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