Andy Murray's fabulous, nerve-shattering victory last night reminded me to re-read this NYT magazine piece about the Lendl-Murray relationship. Do take the time if you haven't already: it's colourful and funny and full of insight into the character of both men, and into the unique nature of the tennis champ-tennis coach relationship.
The portrait of Lendl in particular is superbly drawn:
During a match, he gives away nothing. He sits there like a made man awaiting sentencing. At practice, he is warm, convivial, crass, delighted to be back in the company of world-class athletes. While Murray performed soccer tricks with a tennis ball — from knee to head to the crook of his neck — Lendl feigned the yips as someone tossed him a ball. When Tsonga peeled off his shirt, Lendl turned to an Adidas executive nearby and said, “Claus, if Tsonga is going to do that, doesn’t he need to have Adidas tattooed on each pec?” One reason a man has five daughters (as Lendl does) is that he kept trying to have one son, and this may be part of what brought Lendl back to the game. In any case, he is no longer the sad sack from Ostrava.
Lendl has been clever, very subtle in his approach. Rather than attempting to change Murray's game he's offered himself as a sounding board for Murray's questions and anxieties. It's closer to therapy than conventional coaching. Some therapist. In the piece you'll also find out why a lot of tennis players from Lendl's generation and the one succeeding it really don't like him.
Murray looked oddly flat after winning last night, though actually it's not that odd for sportspeople to feel nothing on achieving a great victory, even - especially - one on which so much has been riding. But there was a great moment in the post-match interview on court when he was asked about Lendl and he looked up his coach and said "I think he might actually have smiled."
It struck me then how marvellous it must be - how liberating - for Andy Murray to have someone else to take the piss out of for being dour.