Standing outside Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in a cowboy hat, Ivan Lendl spent Saturday afternoon reintroducing himself to old friends and foes.
As players and coaches streamed past, the man we know as “Old Stoneface” shook hands and offered deadpan put-downs, barely raising an eyebrow as he commented on greying hair or expanding waistlines.
With his fondness for spiky banter, Lendl is hardly your normal guru. And yet, he always has an inspirational effect on Britain’s greatest player – as if he were the Mr Miyagi of tennis.
As soon as Lendl steps into the stands, Andy Murray’s chest puffs out, his negative self-talk evaporates, and he starts to carry himself like the champion he is.
Interrupting his social session on Saturday, Lendl took a moment to speak to a small group of British reporters. During this short briefing, he put away the cheap shots, and his positivity shone through.
“All these guys have incredible determination,” Lendl said, when asked if he had been surprised by Murray’s ability to compete with a metal hip.
“They are just like bulldogs and they want to do things because it hasn’t been done before. If they set their mind to it, and they all do, then they can achieve amazing things. If I read it correctly, Rafa said [in November] he wasn’t even sure he’s going to be able to play again. He goes and wins the Australian Open, so, yes, these guys can do it.”
When Murray announced his imminent reunion with Lendl three weeks ago, he created quite the stir. Many felt that this could be a transformational moment. All Murray’s greatest achievements – the three grand-slam titles and two Olympic golds – have come with Lendl in his player box.
So what was Lendl’s own reaction when the call came in? Was he surprised? He paused for a long moment. “A little bit and … no. Andy said ‘Look, I don’t know how much time I have left and I want to go with people [where] I know what I’m going to get.’ That makes perfect sense, right?”
Would he have come back on the tour for anyone else? “Depends who that would be,” Lendl said. “But we have quite a long history with good results and a lot of good times. He really needs help and I’m happy to do that.”
The initial commitment is for a four-week training block at the United States Tennis Association’s national campus in nearby Orlando. Murray’s family will fly out for a couple of weeks in the middle, including a few days at Disneyland. “It’s going to be chaos,” Murray grinned.
Whether Lendl will then fly to England for the grass-court season remains to be seen. It depends on progress levels in Orlando. But the two men have already spent three days working together in Boca Raton, and both came away feeling enthused.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Lendl said. “But yet I was surprised pleasantly. I think Andy has been in a good place. Now that he and the staff feels that the hip is doing really well, you can start refocusing on the tennis stuff. That will be our goal over the next month.”
Murray’s results since the Australian Open have been in and out, in a quite literal sense. In six straight events, he has come through his first-round match only to lose the next one.
The most recent example came on Saturday. With Lendl back in the stands for the first time since their last parting in 2017, Murray went down by a 6-4, 6-2 margin to Miami’s top seed Daniil Medvedev.
Still, Murray was relatively upbeat in his post-match press conference. He was asked about his new coach’s mindset: did Lendl think that they could once again achieve great things together? “I don’t think he would have taken the job if he didn’t think that,” replied Murray. “I think he still believes it is possible.”
Lendl’s presence had one obvious and immediate impact during Saturday’s match. Despite being well beaten by a fluent Medvedev, Murray remained calm and fully present, rather than raging at himself, his equipment or his support staff in his familiar way.
“I think that comes from being clear in my head and believing in the things I’m working on and the people around me,” said Murray after the match. “I’m aware that I play better if I’m focusing on what’s happening down the other end of the court, rather than on myself and how I’m feeling.
“Psychology is a funny thing,” added Murray. “I can just go about my business because I believe that the results will come. So, yeah, we’ll see in the next few months.”