Murray and Lendl Reunited:
No Phoney Beatlemania Here
Two legends push for former glory as Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl look to write a definitive summer anthem at SW19. Can they reproduce the magic of yesteryear?
Whether it be rock-n-roll or tennis, there is a certain undeniable charm to the reunion tour. Granted, some are nothing but money plays—the over-the-hill artist hits the road, hoping to pay off a bloated second mortgage—but others can stir our souls and rekindle magical emotions. In other words, it all depends on the band, and the connection that has been cultivated with fans over time. This summer, on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon’s All England Club, tennis fans will re-experience a dynamic duo that rocked their world not so long ago. A two-man outfit that churned out chart-topping hits in the 2010s, featuring edgy Czech Ivan Lendl as the stoic provider of backbeats and Andy Murray, a hair-raising vocalist with the panache of the Who’s Roger Daltrey and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant all rolled into one.
Heavy metal thunder on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. How could it not be amazing?
This summer we will find out, for better or worse, what Andy Murray has left in the tank, and whether or not Lendl’s influence can be the talisman for the Scot’s stagnant game. Early signs point to a renaissance. The three-time Slam champion surprised everyone by taking a late wild card into Madrid in early May, where he defeated Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov in succession. It wasn’t the world-beating 2016 version of Andy Murray (he left the tournament after retiring due to a stomach bug), nevertheless it was a step in the right direction. The man with the metal hip has been steadily rising up the rankings of late, albeit at a snail’s pace. In February, the Scot returned to the top 100 of the ATP rankings for the first time since 2018. This summer, as he threatens to re-enter the top 50, we wonder: how high can the 35-year-old climb?
“It still ultimately is going to come down to Andy making some adjustments and changes, and being willing to be flexible,” former coach Brad Gilbert tells Courts. “He is still at the mercy of the draw, where he is ranked. He has to be more efficient in his matches.” Gilbert, a former World No 4 who also coached Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, has a point. It often looks like Murray is trying to play the tennis of a 25-year-old, while his 35-year-old body has other ideas. Perhaps it is out of habit. Murray, being the consummate fighter, willing to grind, and priding himself on maintaining an elevated level of consistency, wants to show off the miracle that is his body, surgically repaired and metallically enhanced.
Many think he leans on his body too much, however. “I look at the rally length on the ATP spreadsheets that I get, and he’s consistently playing some of the longest rallies on tour,” says Craig O’Shannessy, an analytical guru who has worked with Novak Djokovic and many other current tennis stars. “Just for his age, he should not be doing that, and for his age with a metal hip he should definitely not be doing it. He needs a greater hunger to throw the first punch during points.” Gilbert takes the same view: “If he was moving the same as he was at 25, then I could say that he would be able to play the same way, but if you are a basketball player and you can’t leap out of the building anymore then you have to figure out other ways to be successful,” he said. “He definitely is not moving like he once was. He hasn’t all of a sudden dropped off a cliff, but I think that he has to figure out some different ways how he can be more successful with his game.
“I think he’s skilled enough, but sometimes it takes somebody to tell you what you need to do, which maybe Ivan can do.” Lendl has convinced Murray to play a more bruising brand of tennis before, so why shouldn’t the 62-year-old be able to do it again? The Czech, an eight-time Slam champion who held the No 1 ranking for 270 weeks, has always had the magical ability to reach Murray in a way that nobody else could. If he can convince Murray to trust his shotmaking once again, the pair could produce a throwback performance for the ages at Wimbledon. “The one big thing with Ivan is that there is a massive element of trust with the two, I think that’s the one crucial aspect to what he and Ivan have going together,” Nick Lester, former ATP pro and current tennis commentator, tells Courts. “Andy believes and trusts in what Lendl has to say, there’s a huge amount of respect between the two. You look at Ivan’s career, the way that he went about his business, the incredibly strong mind that Lendl had back in the day, the absolute iron will. And there’s so much of that in Murray isn’t there? The willingness to just constantly prove people wrong, to constantly strive for more.”
Lester also liked what he saw from Murray in his first event since officially beginning training with Lendl. He says Murray already looks more proactive. “I think I’ve seen that this week, I thought when the opportunity was there to take it on, he was doing so,” he said of the performance in Madrid, adding that Murray was returning more aggressively and serving better as well. If he’s playing that well on clay, it seems a no-brainer that the former world No 1 will be able to translate those improvements to grass, where he owns a career record of 110-23, including two Wimbledon titles and an Olympic gold medal with Lendl by his side.
“Let’s be honest, there are a lot of players that come into the grass season unprepared,” Lester says, adding: “I always say this about the grass court season: there are a select group of players that really prioritise it, and I think Murray is going to benefit from being one of those for sure.” Of course, there is no guarantee that the duo will hit all the high notes during their reunion tour. Murray is 35 now, and the step he lost to age gets exacerbated by the step he lost from multiple hip surgeries. But fans can be certain of the important item: Murray will play with passion and will continue to inspire, regardless of the result.
Rock-n-roll doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect. It just has to have that energy.
The Murray-Lendl duo certainly has the energy—and the talent to continue rising up the rankings. “He can keep rising,” O’Shannessy says. “Things have got to go right, he has to play the right way, he has to remain injury free. He has to get some momentum, to build confidence. Get the crowds behind him. But a renaissance of Andy Murray is possible.” Maybe—just maybe—the renaissance will end in a deep run at Wimbledon.
“I think he has a better chance in a major than in some of these tournaments where he has to play three or four days in a row,” Gilbert says. “He needs a good draw, more than anything he just needs to get through that first week of Wimbledon. And if he does, maybe he can make a deep run.”
Story published in Courts no. 3, Summer 2022.