Ivan Lendl won eight grand slam finals. He spent 270 weeks ranked No. 1—a record only broken by Pete Sampras and then by Roger Federer. Before reaching those heights, he lost four grand slam finals until he found a way to win against the superb players of his era: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
Once he did that, there was no stopping him.
Andy Murray—one of the best ever service returners to play the game, and master of a repertoire of varied shots—was known as the most talented player never to have won a slam. He lost the first three finals he reached in straight sets, having left his A game in the locker room.
After a revolving door of coaching talent came and went, something had to change if he wanted to break into the elite circle. Bringing in Ivan Lendl at the start of 2012 was the tipping point in Andy’s career.
First of all Lendl understood the pressures and the disappointment of being near but not at the top. He had been on the outside looking in before he won his first slam, the French open in 1984 in a tightly fought five-set contest with McEnroe. He could offer meaningful encouragement that Murray could also triumph after losing a series of finals.
He was a great role model.
One weakness Andy displayed was his on-court demeanor when things did not go his way. He could put on quite a show with rants, curses, shouting toward his entourage and hitting himself with his racket. This loss of self control only increased his opponent’s advantage.
Lendl, in contrast, was the ice king.
He did not show emotion, positive or negative. He was just a wall of effort to win. Even now, while watching Andy’s matches he is an implacable presence in the player’s box.
Murray needed to develop some of that mental strength and he showed he had at the US open against Djokovic, coming back to win big in the fifth set, after the tide in the previous two sets had gone against him. This made all the difference in his game and carried him to the right side of that thin but critical line between winning and losing.
Lendl has a hard as nails approach. At the height of his career, Sports Illustrated described him as, “The Champion that nobody Cares About”. Belief in himself, and a greater tendency for implacability, was just the edge Murray needed to strengthen his game. Djokovic improved his mental attitude prior to is incredible 2011 tennis season.
Federer and Nadal have long excelled at mental toughness. Somehow Lendl was able to add this element to Murray’s game—by giving him confidence and the benefit of his experience.
Murray has now won a grand slam after losing his first four attempts. The win will transform Andy Murray’s life and career. Now that he has broken the glass ceiling with his US Open win, the question is: How high can he go?
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