Further proof that Ivan Lendl hasn’t recently grown a sense of humour, and that he has always had one, even when he was being caricatured as the coldest, grouchiest man in tennis. With Lendl back in west London this week, here with Andy Murray, the groundsman at the Queen’s Club has recalled the occasion when he played a practical joke on Lendl by hiding his bike. “I seem to remember that it was a white bike, and it might have had a basket,” Graham Kimpton told The Tennis Space. “When Ivan found that the bike was missing, he suddenly appeared shouting and screaming: ‘Where’s my f—— bike?’ It was very funny.”
As Kimpton put it, “it was one of those years when Lendl ducked out of the French Open to come to London early to practise on the grass”, in his attempt to win a Wimbledon title. “So Ivan was practising here well before anyone else had turned up. He rented a house in Wimbledon and he used to cycle in every day to beat the traffic. You can’t really imagine it now, the number one in the world cycling through London to Queen’s. Can you imagine what would happen if the world number one was knocked off his bike on the way to practice. I remember it was a white bike – it might have had a basket. He would turn up and leave his bike on one of the pathways by the practice courts. We had some good banter, some good laughs, with him. Even then he had an image of being cold and grumpy, but once you knew him you realised how funny and well-informed he was. We got to know him well, and he was always saying, ‘these courts are rubbish’,” Kimpton recalled.
“One day he was on court with his coach, Tony Roche, and I stole the bike and stuck it out the back somewhere. That day we had someone doing a demo with a new mower. We were doing these demo on one of the other courts, and all of a sudden, Lendl appeared, shouting; ‘Where is my f—— bike?’ He was getting very carried away. I think the guy showing us the mower was taken aback, with Lendl shouting and screaming at us. He knew that we had done it. He wasn’t genuinely angry, it was tongue-in-cheek stuff. I spoke to him this week. We didn’t bring up the bike incident.”
Walk out of Baron’s Court Tube station, and along Palliser Road towards Queen’s Club, and you encounter at least a dozen ticket touts, all of them doing business. If Parisians are the most demanding crowd in tennis, then Londoners must be the least. Andy Murray might be out of the tournament, along with Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt, and Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew from the Aegon Championships because of injury, but expect Centre Court to be full, or close to full, for the rest of the week.
There is every chance that, for the fifth year in a row, the men’s final of the US Open could be played on a Monday. While the United States Tennis Association have announced an expensive upgrade of Flushing Meadows, one thing they won’t be doing is building a roof over the Arthur Ashe Stadium.