Lendl and Murray share a winning bond
WHATEVER happens in the concluding stages of this US Open, Andy Murray's imperturbable coach Ivan Lendl is convinced their work together is bearing a rich harvest.
''I think he is ready to go and win,'' said Lendl, who has fostered an intimate bond with his new charge in just eight months.
Neither of these two men is perceived as much of a people person, and yet they have meshed together like Velcro this season.
Andy Murray reacts during his semi-final against Tomas Berdych. Photo: AFP
Murray, the Olympic champion, advanced to the final by defeating Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych 5-7 6-2 6-1 7-6 (9-7) on a blustery Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Murray will face either defending champion Novak Djokovic, the Serbian second seed, or Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer.
And yet, while Lendl takes firm control of Murray's preparation for individual matches, the most surprising thing about his coaching style is the lack of any dictatorial swagger. We might have expected him to chew gum and throw his weight around like the grizzled hard-nut in a Hollywood boxing movie: ''Drop and give me 50, boy.'' But in reality, he has been almost retiring.
Lendl is careful not to overstay his welcome once the day's work is done: ''I understand that, previously, that was one of the issues. There was too much time spent together, and that can get on everyone's nerves.''
So he heads off to the golf course, or the house he has rented for this fortnight in Westchester, New York State.
As for the big tactical questions, such as how to stop the power players dictating too many rallies, Lendl has resisted the urge to lay down the law. A fiercely independent thinker himself, he prefers to hang back and encourage Murray to reach his own conclusions.
''Andy asks a lot of questions,'' he said. ''Sometimes he surprises me with his questions, because some come out of nowhere; so, obviously, he has been thinking about it. The more questions he asks, the happier I am. It shows he wants to learn. I don't like to push things on him unless I have to, as I do at times. He can pluck what he wants from this closet, that closet or that closet. I really don't know at times which is the best one for him - or whether any of them are right. Only he knows what he is struggling with inside, at times, and what he wants to know.''
For one small example, we can rewind to the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami in April, where Murray performed one of the peculiar rituals of nervous tension that led Virginia Wade to come out with her infamous ''drama queen'' put-down. Playing Janko Tipsarevic in the quarter-final, Murray lost the first set and kept grabbing at his stomach and blowing out his cheeks as if he felt he was about to vomit.
It was only after downing a couple of antacid tablets from the doctor that he settled to win the match.
On the practice courts later in the week, Lendl could be heard gently probing Murray about his symptoms. It was clearly a sensitive area and he was both subtle and sympathetic - a far more sophisticated student of the human condition than anyone who caricatured him as a cold-hearted automaton would ever have guessed.
In his own career, Lendl was a fine example of a champion who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, changing the dynamic of his entire sport through his attention to detail.
In the words of Berdych, who grew up idolising Lendl: ''He brought extra to everything: more practising, gym, fitness, running and all those things that these days you cannot live without. That makes him even bigger than he has been in his time.''