Australian Open 2012: Andy Murray in with a big shout, yells Ivan Lendl

Murray is in with a big shout, yells Lendl with Andy set for Nishikori showdown

As grand schemes go it must be said that the partnership between Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray is shaping up rather well so far.

The odd couple are getting along swimmingly, Murray is starting to run into impressive form and the draw for the Australian Open has thus far been kind and parted obligingly, even if he has missed out on his usual butchery of Frenchmen.

Next up for Murray is world No 26 Kei Nishikori who, while being the best player Japan has produced in the modern era, is a Grand Slam quarter-final opponent you would settle for, his place gained by knocking out sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets.

Things are looking up: Andy Murray is into the quarter-finals in Melbourne

Things are looking up: Andy Murray is into the quarter-finals in Melbourne

Even Murray's potential semi-final opponent, world No 1 Novak Djokovic, showed some signs of vulnerability as he dropped a set in beating local hero Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

Murray's passage was secured in contrastingly easy fashion, detained on court almost longer for his post-match interview than he was by Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin, who retired with a hip injury after 49 minutes when trailing 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 and without winning his own serve.

Not that Lendl is claiming to be any miracle worker at this point, and he has struck a note of caution. This is where the tricky business starts, and when he starts earning his money.

'I wasn't hired to get Andy to the
quarters, we all know that,' he frankly admitted. 'He's done that before
without me and he could do that without me again.

Smiles better: Ivan Lendl watched Murray cruise past Mikhail Kukushkin

Smiles better: Ivan Lendl watched Murray cruise past Mikhail Kukushkin

'Hopefully, I can help Andy, whether
it's talking to me, drawing on my experience, helping him a bit here and
there to go to the next step, that's the goal.'

Lendl also conceded his adrenaline had yet to get running properly, sitting in the coach's box.

'I think that would be the wrong way. You have to keep the temperature level. To get excited now would be a mistake.'

In fact, it was all so relaxed on Monday that he amused himself and the Murray team by covering the remote 'coach-cam' trained on him with a towel and a cap, making it vaguely resemble a human head. He finds all the attention somewhat tedious.

Next up: Kei Nishikori lies in wait for Murray after he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Next up: Kei Nishikori lies in wait for Murray after he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

'It's not right because it's about Andy, it's not about me,' he said. 'That's what I meant when I said it took courage for Andy to hire me.'

So it has all been about a small tweak here and there, with the most obvious change being Murray's calm on-court demeanour and the absence of any ranting at his bench.


Can't say I know a lot about Kei Nishikori. Where's he from

Shimane, in Japan, although at 14 he won a scholarship to the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, where he arrived not speaking a word of English.

Tennis in the family

No, his mother is a piano teacher and his father an engineer.

Big lad, is he

He's 5ft 10in, small for a modern tennis player, but packs a big punch from the baseline.

I can't think of too many Japanese tennis superstars.

They're quite successful in the women's game, but the last man of note was Shuzo Matsuoka, who reached the top 50 in the 1990s. Kei, 22, is their highest ranked player at 26.

No pressure, then.

Tennis is quite a popular sport in Japan, and they have not had an Australian Open quarter-finalist since 1932. They await a champion, a bit like us.

Why haven't we heard more about Nishikori

He showed great promise at 18 but in 2009 was struck down with an elbow injury. He is only starting to fulfil his potential now.

Fast riser

Last year he cut his ranking from 98 to 25, and he will be in the top 20 after this tournament.

Any links with Murray

Nishikori has been coached by the Scot's former mentor Brad Gilbert, although he uses him only as a part-time consultant now.

Could he spring a surprise

He played Murray, in October and lost 6-3, 6-0. He has improved, but probably not enough.

Lendl is very reluctant to get into any discussion on that, but said: 'You've been around enough, you can see what is happening on the court.'

He added with a smile: 'I can always yell back.'

Another, less obvious change after eight days at their first Grand Slam together is that he has changed Murray's preparation habits, advising him to train away from Melbourne Park in the peace and quiet of the Kooyong Club.

Before, Murray used to enjoy hanging around and shooting the breeze with his peers, but he has become lesser spotted during this tournament.

'I used to do it this way here, at the French Open and at Flushing Meadows,' said Lendl. 'Any day that you don't come in here it takes less out of you mentally and physically. You don't have people tugging away at you. '

And in the evenings, it's not suffocating. They are not living in each other's pockets.

'Kim (Sears, Murray's girlfriend) is here, they do their own thing for dinner,' revealed Lendl.

'I'm here if he needs me and wants to talk.

'Most of the time I go to the food court, get something to eat and go to bed.'

Lendl is wise not to get carried away when you see the form that has been shown by the other players vying for the title. But Murray is on course to reach what would be an impressive seventh semi-final in his last nine Grand Slams entered.

In a hurry: Murray exerted little energy in progressing past Kukushkin

In a hurry: Murray exerted little energy in progressing past Kukushkin

The only time he has played Nishikori before was in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters, when he allowed the Japanese just three games, but the 22-year-old has upped his level and fitness and recorded a win over Djokovic two weeks afterwards. Murray is aware of the danger he represents.

'He's very deceptive, he creates a lot of power from the back of the court, moves well,' said Murray. 'He was dictating the points from the back of the court against Tsonga, which is not easy to do.'

The question is how much playing such a physical match over three-and-a-half hours in the full heat of the day might have taken out of him.

No such worries for the 24-year-old Scot, who felt the need for extra practice after brushing past Kukushkin, even in temperatures of 30C-plus.

It was a day when Lendl's famous legionnaire's sunhat would have been in order, but that is one change he will not be forcing on his new client.