Now Lendl can see how to make Murray a champion… and he will
Inside the privacy of the locker room at Melbourne Park, Ivan Lendl placed a consoling hand on Andy Murray’s shoulders. ‘I’m proud of you,’ said Lendl. ‘You did a great job.’
While Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will dispute Sunday's Australian Open final, Lendl is convinced Murray is destined to end the 76-year search for a British player to fill the tennis shoes worn with such distinction by Fred Perry.
In just three weeks in Murray’s employ, Lendl has already worked wonders. Murray’s aggression here has been channelled exclusively through his racket, not through a need to spit malevolent abuse at his entourage as in days of old.
Reasons to be cheerful: Despite his defeat, the Andy Murray camp are looking out at a bright future
And in defeat against Djokovic, over five, pulsating sets spanning almost five hours, Murray won admiration and respect from all quarters of the game.
‘If anyone doesn’t think Andy can walk out of here with his head held high, they ought to have their head examined,’ said Lendl.
Former British Davis Cup captain John Lloyd, never afraid to criticise Murray’s on-court demeanour, greeted his behavioural change at the Australian Open as a watershed.
Knockout blow: Murray produced one of his best ever performances
‘Andy became a man overnight,’ said Lloyd. ‘We never saw his old habit of whining, or shouting at his box, throughout this tournament. It’s as though he has grown up.
‘I have to give a lot of credit to Lendl. Andy’s mentality, as well as his game, has been as different here as night and day from when he made it to the final 12 months ago.
'I am convinced he is going to win a Grand Slam. That match with Djokovic was one of the best 10 matches I have ever seen.
‘Andy was playing some of his best tennis in the fifth set. He’s unlikely to be put under the amount of pressure that Djokovic applied too often yet Andy kept fighting to the end.
‘If he does that, he will be too strong for Federer in the future and I believe with that game he will be good enough to beat Nadal over five sets. Djokovic is going to have a day when his consistency level dips, so Andy should be optimistic for what lies ahead.’
Lendl , 51, has become hugely influential to Murray faster than either might have envisaged. As an eight-time major winner, Lendl never treated defeat lightly and, within the confines of the private debrief here this weekend, he will have gently identified areas for Murray to absorb lessons for the future.
Gentle persuasion is the man’s style. While everyone else on Rod Laver Arena thrilled to the excitement of a match that rocked first towards Djokovic, then rolled in the direction of Murray, Lendl never left his seat.
‘You have to keep your emotions level, whether in the stands or on court,’ he said as old friends stopped to shake hands outside the locker room. ‘Otherwise you can’t make good decisions. Andy did a fantastic job with that. The whole tournament he was incredibly strong, mentally.
Drained: Djokovic was as relieved as he was elated after the win
'That’s as important as playing well.’
Inside the almost deserted players’ restaurant, Murray’s father, Will, on his first visit to Australia, shared a quiet word with his son’s girlfriend, Kim Sears. She was emotionally drained after Djokovic finally won 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5.
So might the gap between Djokovic and Murray be about to shrink Murray could genuinely take massive encouragement from the harshest defeat of his career.
He said: ‘You’re always going to have people that doubt me and say, “He’s not that good”. I’m aware I still need to prove things and win a match like this.
'It was so close, but I need to make that last jump. I don’t know how Novak can keep on improving. I think it’s because of him, and Rafa and Roger, that I am playing as well as I am. I want to get to No 1.’
Emotionally drained: Kim Sears hit every ball with Andy from courtside
When Murray made the previous two Australian Open finals, the impact of defeats by Federer, then Djokovic, was evident in his game more than two months later.
But Lendl said: ‘I am aware of what happened before and I am going to do my best to see it doesn’t happen again.’
With his next tournament, in Dubai a month away, Murray and Lendl are likely to reconvene their work in Florida before then.
‘Everyone has room for improvement, even Djokovic and Nadal,’ said Lendl. ‘What I have seen in Andy is a guy who is keen to learn and wants to work hard. He is a pleasure to be around.’
Better luck next time: Djokovic now faces Rafael Nadal in the final
Djokovic noted a distinct increase of intent in Murray’s tennis.
‘Andy was taking his chances, he was being more aggressive,’ said Djokovic, who has been troubled in Australia by a pollen allergy which has affected his breathing.
Last year, the Serb raised the art of aggression on a tennis court to post-Nadal levels of violence. In six matches in 2011, three of them on the grand stages of Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York, Nadal won just four sets; and the sympathy of the watching world.
At 2am on Saturday, after Murray had been driven to his hotel, Djokovic thought about what he had to do to try to retain his dominance over Nadal today.
‘I will try to get as much sleep and recovery underway… and hope for the best,’ he said.
His coach, Marian Vajda, booked him a mere 15 minutes’ practice on the Rod Laver Arena for yesterday.
‘Andy took Novak to the edge,’ said Vajda. ‘Now we have to get him ready for Rafa, who has been running here like I have never seen before. All we can do with Novak is give him ice baths and go for a light walk before the final.’
In the meantime, Murray’s flight back to the other side of the world aroused the prospect of an exciting year ahead.