Ivan Lendl: Sarcastic, Witty and Honest

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand.

Ivan Lendl (R) with Andy Murray

January 13, 2013 — To assume a grand slam is all about players showing up for a couple of weeks, slugging it out playing tennis before someone is crowned the title, walking away with a gargantuan check is a little misleading.

An awful lot else goes on including an opportunity for coach development. At one of this year’s Australian championship pre-tournament events, 8-time grand slam champion Ivan Lendl spoke at a coach’s conference. If his own stellar career wasn’t enough justification to speak compound that by the fact he helped Andy Murray add his name to the list of grand slam champions. He informed of how their relationship started, via a link with Darren Cahill an ensuing three-hour telephone conversation then a trial practice session.

The inner details of his coaching relationship with Andy Murray he would not divulge, stating “that’s between me and Andy only.” Lendl went on to talk of his similarities with the current U.S. Open champion and world number three stating “if you work hard and you lose there is only one solution, work harder.”

The biggest problem for Lendl is travel. “I hate being on the road with nothing to do and being miserable,” he said before hinting that every trip he goes on is based on its effortlessness to find a local golf course.

Lendl added there are parallels between himself and Andy as far as humour, work ethic, planning and goals that have made their relationship an easy one. “If Andy came to me and said I want to serve and volley like McEnroe, I would look at him and try and guess whether he is serious or not. If he is serious, I am going to talk him out of it,” he states smirking.

One of the most meticulous players in his own right, Lendl was a systematized and calculated perfectionist. Whereas McEnroe was a sensitive and volatile artiste Lendl was an emotionless planning cyborg who never smiled.

When confronted by a room full of coaches eager to learn from one of the best the game has ever seen, Lendl was anything but the machine he appeared as on court. In truth he was more a stand-up comic with his audience in the palm of his hand.

The smile came as quick as the sarcasm. One coach in attendance asked whether Lendl would ever consider coaching on the WTA to which Lendl replied “Are you drinking? I have a wife and five daughters so I know better than to coach on the WTA.”

He reflected briefly on the beginning of his tennis journey in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia where his first coach installed vital fundamentals in him ultimately laying the foundations of his success. He spoke how as juniors they played in groups under 12, 14 then 18 and how the younger players had to learn to outsmart the older bigger players. He revealed how he moulded his own game to take on the players ranked above him, such as improving his stamina to outlast McEnroe or developing a low slice backhand to frustrate the Connors forehand.

Another coached probed as to whether Lendl in his prime could compete with today’s generation. “When you measure the past by the present you just have to look at swimming and track and field. There is no equipment but the times are faster. In the modern game I would be slaughtered.”

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