Ivan Lendl normally prefers to stay in the background when Andy Murray is in action, but has been doing a round of interviews in Melbourne. Ralph Ellis says that's a good sign for the British star's hopes of upsetting Roger Federer in the early hours.
"Lendl is coming to the fray. He clearly wants his man to be more positive, and has taken the view that if his player won’t try to sow some seeds of doubt in the mind of the great Swiss star, then he’ll do it."
Ivan Lendl doesn't normally do interviews. Since he took on the job of coaching Andy Murray there have been no shortage of requests to talk to him, and they have almost all met with the same answer: "Thanks, but no thanks."
So it was curious to turn on the TV this morning and find it was Lendl doing all the talking about Murray's prospects when he faces Roger Federer in the Australian Open quarter-finals tomorrow morning. And it was every bit as curious to hear him talking up the prospects of the Wimbledon champion to move a step nearer adding another Grand Slam to his collection.
Murray himself has been taking a measured approach. The most he's said is that getting this far is already "a good effort". That's hardly a war cry, is it? It doesn't fill you with too much confidence that he's ready to go further, as you contemplate whether to back the Brit who is underdog in the market at 2.111/10.
But that's where Lendl is coming to the fray. He clearly wants his man to be more positive, and has taken the view that if his player won't try to sow some seeds of doubt in the mind of the great Swiss star, then he'll do it.
There's a sub-plot, of course - Lendl against Federer's new coach Stefan Edberg. In their playing days they were huge rivals on the court. In 1990 when Lendl had targeted his entire year around Wimbledon, the one major title he'd never held, it was Edberg who brutally ended the dream with a three-set demolition in just 107 Centre Court minutes.
Now he's returned to the game's major tournaments as mentor to Federer, and seems to have restored the bit of arrogance that made the Swiss star the game's greatest. After a year when he looked over the hill, he's been back to near his best and his win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to set up tomorrow's meeting was a clear statement of intent.
But Murray too looks somewhere near to his own highest levels. He's got to the last eight without much trouble, and there are good signs that surgery on his back has done its job. You can see it just looking at his backhand, which has added more weight and power thanks to more freedom of movement.
He has probably not had as much match practice since the turn of the year as he'd like, but he's had enough. The touch around the net looks as good as ever, and he's been serving well. He's also supremely physically fit - as Lendl himself said in that interview. "Andy has done a good block of work in Miami and a good block here and he's ready."
The draw for Melbourne hasn't been kind to Murray. If he's going to win this title he will have to do it the hard way, and the prospects of having to play Federer then Nadal then Djokovic have seen his odds to be champion slide out to 9.417/2. He's got the game to do it, and Lendl's influence will also make sure his mind is right.
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