In a semifinal match of the highest quality, defending champion, Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray to again reach the finals of the Australian Open. Murray fell victim to Djokovic in the finals last year in a lopsided straight sets win.
This year, though victorious, Djokovic needed five sets to get the job done. The match was still up for grabs at 5-5 in the 5th. At one point Murray was down 2-5 in the final set. Impressively, Murray did something that I had not seen from him previously when in similar situations. He dug deep, didn’t whimper, didn’t get the old sour Andy Murray look and he continued to forge onward as though he believed he could win. He did believe. His behavior was in stark contrast to the Murray of old.
At a number of critical moments during the match, when things became extremely tense, I saw a surprisingly less testy, calmer, more resilient player. A new and improved tenacious Murray was on display for the entire tennis world to see thanks in large part to the influence of his new coach, Ivan Lendl.
Ivan Lendl was often accused of being a boring player, lacking flair, no pizzazz. Flair and pizzazz don’t win majors. Ability, tenacity, hard work and belief do. Lendl was the consummate model of those traits. He won eight slams and played in the finals of many others. That’s eight more major wins than a host of players during his era who had flair and pizzazz achieved.
During his tenure in the 80’s and early 90’s, Lendl changed tennis. His conditioning was second to none and his approach to matches was methodically deadly. He practically ushered in the “big hitting” style of today. In my book, he is a legend.
Lendl is the answer to the Murray puzzle. The missing piece is now in place. Andy Murray is a changed man. He exudes a new maturity which fits him well. He is now ready to win a slam. He will win a slam. He may even win more than one. And when he fulfills the inevitable, it will be the wisdom and influence of eight time grand slam winner Ivan Lendl which will have provided the necessary push to get him over the hump.