It took guts to hire me! Lendl praises Murray's bold bid for Grand Slam
Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl form tennis's most intriguing blind date of recent times, and merely by agreeing to embark on it the British No 1 has won the respect of the gnarled old Czech.
'I admire his guts for hiring me because he had to know it would create a lot of interest and that it wouldn't go unnoticed. It ups the ante a little bit,' said Lendl on Friday.
Watching brief: The British No 1 has appointed Lendl as his full time coach
'That just shows me he wants it. It would have been very easy, quieter, just to hire someone, just another coach, and not get such a high- profile person.'
Major breakthrough: Lendl hopes he can use his experience of winning eight Slam titles to help Murray win his first
The eight-time Grand Slam winner, now nearly 52 and with a girth somewhat expanded since the days he remorselessly pounded his way to greatness, was reclining in the wood-panelled environs of the stately Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in one of this city's more upscale suburbs.
He had just watched his new charge master blustery conditions to beat Argentine David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-6 in the AAMI Classic exhibition tournament, the last match of Murray's build-up to next week's Australian Open.
t is then, when he kicks off against highly-rated American teenager Ryan Harrison in the first round, that we will really start to get the measure of whether this ambitious and fascinating appointment might pay off.
Of all the questions that seek answers, among the most important is whether we have seen the last of Murray bawling at himself or his bench at times when he is out of sorts or a match is going against him.
Centre of attention: Lendl's relationship with Murray will come under scrutiny
Lendl responds with a question of his own: 'Did you see that today' We did not, and although he would not comment further somehow you doubt that the new coach will put up with any such thing, as various members of Team Murray have had to do in the past.
As the world No 4 affirmed again, it is the mental side of the game that Lendl can most help him with. In many respects it looks a perfect fit, given the uncanny parallels between how their careers had progressed until the age of 24.
Murray has lost three Grand Slam finals while Lendl had lost four – to Mats Wilander, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors twice. It looked like he would lose a fifth when he went two sets down to John McEnroe in the French Open final of 1984. But then, taking advantage of McEnroe's shallower reservoir of confidence on clay, he forced his way back into the match and took it in five.
All white on the night: Murray is gunning to end his grand slam drought
To this day McEnroe admits he cannot walk into Roland Garros without feeling sick at the memory. The sluice gates were prised open for Lendl after that, in a way that many feel might be the same for Murray if he can make the breakthrough.
'Obviously I see the similarities between him and me and I want his career to end up like mine, that's why I'm doing this,' said Lendl, who insisted there are very few players who could have drawn him back on to the road and away from a serious golf habit that sees him play to plus two.
Green grass of home: Murray won Queen's last year but fell short at Wimbledon the only major Lendl did not win
'I've had between seven and 10 enquiries from players about coaching over the last 18 months, some more serious than others, but none was really considered by me.'
When he retired in 1994, Lendl walked away from tennis and tried to make it as a professional golfer while helping to raise his five daughters. He returned to tennis only two years ago, when a back operation enabled him to start playing again.
The greats usually do come back, sooner or later. Connors also had a prolonged sabbatical after retiring but returned as coach to Andy Roddick, with unspectacular results, which emphasises that this new arrangement is far from a guaranteed success. Lendl admits his knowledge of the tour is less than encyclopaedic.
'Obviously there are guys I have never seen play,' he added, 'but I am very familiar with the top three. I have probably seen about 10 of their matches in the last year and more so since I started talking to Andy. I'm not worried about that at all, because if that was the main requirement for the job I'm sure there would have been better candidates than me.'
THE LEDNDL FILES
Born: March 7, 1960 in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia (but represented America from 1992)
Career earnings: $21,262,417 (8th highest)
Career win percentage: 81.8 per cent
Style: Aggressive top-spin player Grand Slams: Australian Open (1989, 1990) French Open (1984, 1986, 1987) US Open (1985, 1986, 1987) – in a run that saw him compete in eight consecutive finals.
PS And he also reached the Wimbledon final twice, in 1986 and 1987
So far, in their one week together, he has been delighted with how it has worked. Watching them together it is clear that Murray, who has not always been the most receptive to advice from coaches, is comfortable stopping and asking his new mentor for a view on some technical aspect.
The new coach should have little trouble fitting into his new charge's established team, for it would be harder to meet a more affable bunch. Has anything surprised him
'I love Andy's sense of humour, and it's similar to mine,' he said. While remembering an obsessively hard worker, those of us around long enough to have encountered Lendl as a player also recall an almost compulsive mickey-taker.
In the line of duty, I once politely asked him whether he had any preference for a boy or a girl after he announced that his wife would be giving birth to their first child during Wimbledon, which had become his Holy Grail.
He replied: 'If it is a boy and it turns out like you then I hope it is a girl.'
He is also very thoughtful and analytical, much like the often misunderstood Murray, and will really have to earn his money the next time his client gets into the second week of a Grand Slam.
Such an occasion could be the quarter-finals here, which would likely pit the 24-year-old Scot against the dangerous and ever-improving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In fact, to win here he would most likely have to beat Tsonga, followed by Novak Djokovic, followed by Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.
No wonder Lendl concluded: 'It is a very difficult era in which to win a Grand Slam, but I will do anything it takes to help Andy.'
One thing for sure is that it will not be dull finding out whether they can crack it together.