Andy Murray’s “best year by a mile”: Thank you, Ivan Lendl

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It finally happened. This year, Andy Murray won a major. Not only that, but he bagged two Olympic medals, and wrote himself into the history books of British tennis in bold and underlined.

My flatmate asked me last week if this meant Andy Murray was now a great player. One swallow does not a summer make, but I think that the obvious answer is yes.

The great criticism of Murray, apart from his clear lack of charisma with the media, was that he had no mental strength, and appeared to bottle it at the most important moment. This year though, in his fifth major final, against his long-term rival and ex-training camp buddy Novak Djokovic, he achieved his goal. It wasn’t easy though. The Serbian roared back from 2 sets down to take it to a fifth, and every British tennis fan was saying “here we go again”. However, Murray defied the odds, showing incredibly strength and fitness to win the fifth, and take the US Open.

There really can only be one answer to Murray’s success. This has been his first full season with coach Ivan Lendl. Under previous stewardships, Murray was the boss, hiring and firing at will, and when the going got tough, his glance and anger would immediately be aimed at his box, who would clap encouragingly, shouting “C’mon Andy” like so many parrots. Lendl is the complete opposite; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him display emotion at a Murray match. Championship point at Flushing Meadows, and Lendl sat, chin leaning on his hand in his familiar style, cap pulled down over his face, the picture of calmness, and borderline nonchalance. When Djokovic smashed his second serve return long to give Murray the win, the player sunk to his haunches, and clasped his face. His mother and backroom staff jumped out of their seats, hugging each other in celebration. Lendl begrudgingly joined in; his face painted the picture of a man quietly satisfied at what he believes to be the beginning as opposed to the end. Murray did his very best to draw a smile out of the Czech in his acceptance speech, but while Murray’s mother, girlfriend, and every Scot in the world grinned maniacally, Lendl let only a hint of a smile seep into his face.

Why does a man with such apparent hatred for the public arena agree to coach such a high-profile player? Lendl had no real reason to come back to tennis in 2011, but something in the Scot drew him back. I think Lendl sees something of himself in Murray. They are both shy, highly competitive individuals. Lendl also lost his first four Grand Slam finals, and took a fair amount of flak for not having the mental strength to succeed.

This week, Murray went out of the ATP World Tour Finals, that great circus, in the semi-finals to Roger Federer, but I really don’t think his heart was in it. Despite the home crowd, and doubtless bottomless pit of prize money available to the winner, he didn’t seem too disappointed. He has had an amazing year, and with Lendl’s backing and “support”, there is no reason why he can’t make a run at world number 1 in 2013.

Then he really will be British.

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