nown for his steely on-court demeanour, Ivan Lendl was often mistaken for lacking both humour and charisma during his playing career so it’s no surprise that he instantly bonded well with Andy Murray when they first linked up just over two years ago.
Murray has been subject to similar media criticism over the years, largely from journalists who have gone solely by his often moody on-court demeanour without spending sufficient time to really get to know the man behind the mask.
Away from the prying eyes of TV cameras both Lendl and Murray share a liking for practical jokes and a razor sharp dry wit.
When asked about his perceived lack of personality during the Australian Open, Lendl shot back, “I would hate to ruin my reputation.”
The eight-time Grand Slam champion has always been quick to downplay the significance of his influence on Murray but there’s no doubt that he’s played an enormous role in the Brit’s two major successes so far and their partnership has inspired both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to seek aid from past legends in Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg.
As part of his job in preparing Murray tactically for his matches against his biggest rivals, Lendl keeps half an eye on what they’re doing and he admits the game has moved on substantially even in the past ten years.
“When you watch them train you learn how much the game has changed, how much more complete players they are than the players in the past,” he said.
However it remains to be seen whether the Djokovic-Becker and Federer-Edberg relationships turn out to be anything like as effective.
Lendl and Murray gelled instantly, having both trodden the same agonising path, losing their first four Grand Slam finals.
“We shared the unfortunate fact that both of us lost a few majors before we won the first one, and we understood each other with that quite well,” Lendl said.
“I could understand how he was feeling, how frustrating it is. And also, I think we’ve always got on through having the same sense of humour and enjoyment of sports.”
That similar outlook on life proved crucial during the first six months the duo spent together, with Murray suffering agonising defeats to Novak Djokovic in the 2012 Australian Open semi-finals and then Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final.
And while Lendl has always refused to give much away about his emotions following Murray’s eventual triumph at SW19 last summer, he understood exactly how much it meant to him.
“I was very pleased for him,” he said, which is as much as you’re likely to get in terms of public emotion from Lendl.
“I knew how much pressure Andy went through in 2012 playing Roger, and I was also aware of how much pressure there was in 2013, how much he wanted to win, how hard he worked for it, and what obstacles he had to overcome, so I was extremely pleased for him.”
A hard taskmaster on himself as a player, Lendl has always encouraged Murray to keep looking forward and he was satisfied with his charge’s performance at last month’s Australian Open after a difficult spell recovering from surgery in the autumn.
“I think it was sort of realistic what he achieved at the Australian Open,” Lendl said, reflecting on Murray’s quarter-final loss to Federer.
“I think he was very close to doing better. I wish he had done better because at the beginning of the fourth set in that match, anything could have happened, especially after he saved match point in the third with Roger having already serving for the match.
If Andy had been able to get ahead in the fourth I think he had an excellent chance of winning, but unfortunately he fell behind.”
Lendl will link up again with Murray in Indian Wells next month as the Brit looks to improve his recently woeful performances in Masters 1000 events and climb the rankings again from his current position of No.6.
In the meantime, Murray will compete in Rotterdam and Acapulco, but he will be alone with Lendl played a series of exhibitions across the States and the UK against the likes of John McEnroe and Pat Cash.
Murray himself will compete in an exhibition on March 3rd, as he takes on Novak Djokovic at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Lendl is well aware of Murray’s love of boxing and he relished his own experiences of playing at the iconic venue in his pomp.
“I’ve always enjoyed competing in these great stadiums across the US,” he said.
“I enjoyed playing at Flushing Meadows, I enjoyed playing at Forest Hills, and I absolutely loved playing at Madison Square Garden. Back in those days, I had a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, so I could stay home, which was always a big advantage, at least in my mind, that you stay home and have home cooking and stay in your own bed.
I think the results showed how much I enjoyed it because when you feel comfortable somewhere, you usually play pretty well.”
Away from the tennis court, Lendl has always enjoyed indulging his love for golf and he’s still a keen player when he finds the time.
Both are cut-throat individual sports, so how does he see the differences between the two?
“I think they're both mentally tough,” he said. “I think in both sports you rely on yourself and you don't have teammates to pick up your slack where if you mess up something or if it's not your best day, that somebody else steps up.
You really get all the credit, but you also get all the blame.”
“I think the main difference between tennis and golf is that in golf if you have a bad half hour or 45‑minutes, you're out of the tournament.
In tennis you can have a bad 45 minutes and be sitting a break down and you can still win in four sets. In that part, you would have to say that maybe tennis is a little bit easier mentally because you can have little lapses and get over it, but it's definitely tougher physically.”