Setting: Leather-fitted members’ lounge, Kooyong Tennis Club, East Melbourne
The cast: Ivan Lendl, nine members of the travelling British press, one of Andy Murray’s agents
The plot: Why, what, how, did he make the decision to become Andy Murray’s new coach.
With a (perhaps unfair) reputation for surliness during his playing career, there might have been a little trepidation in the air for some as the British press got their first up-close and personal view, en masse, of Ivan Lendl in his new role, a role few people thought would interest him. A number of interesting exchanges in the radio and television interviews caused a little consternation elsewhere but when the former world number one took off his microphone and took a deep(ish) breath, the fun began.
Considering how long he has lived in the United States, it is still slightly surprising just how thick a Czech drawl Lendl has. A naturalised American for many years, he has five kids and having put four of them in college, with the last one set to join them in a few years’ time, he explained how he got the itch to get back to work, how probably only Murray could have tempted him to get back on the road and how much he was enjoying working with the world number four.
The similarities between the two are obvious. Both are hard-working, disciplined and – perhaps – a little misunderstood. The public persona of Murray of a surly, dour young man – so often proferred by the public during Wimbledon – is a long way from the truth when you meet him in person and the same appears true of Lendl.
There were some amusing exchanges. Any question Lendl considered below par would be swatted away, with the odd retort designed to ensure the questioner knew not to make the same mistake again. The ground rules were laid down early – there will be no discussion, from Lendl, of his private discussions with Murray, which is absolutely fair enough. But he was engaging, funny and interesting, which explains, in part, why Murray is already enjoying working with him.
Lendl likes Murray – that much is clear. Having lost his first four grand slam finals, he is uniquely placed to understand what goes through a player’s mind at the highest level on the biggest of occasions. His work ethic is similar to Murray’s and he believes in his pupil. He has his own philosophy of how the game should be played but won’t impose it on Murray; the tweaks will be more minor than major. “I see a guy who wants to win, a guy who wants to work hard,” Lendl said. “He has been a pleasure to be with and work with. Obviously I see the parallels between his career and my career and I want his career to end up like mine.”
At 51, Lendl is witty, sharp and funny and though there might be an edge to some of it at times, he knows that anything that deflects attention away from Murray, and allows the Scot to focus on his job, will be beneficial in the long run. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to help Andy (even) if it’s talking to you guys every day, whatever it is,” he said. Well, that’s fine by us.