Column: Fascinating rhythm

January 01, 2012, 02:00 AM | Staff Column | Nigel Graber
It’s New Year and I should be partying or drinking or watching Jools Holland. Instead, I’m fighting the magnetic pull of my computer, which connects me to the tennis media.

I can’t help it: guilty as charged. I find the tie-up between Andy Murray and new coach Ivan Lendl unfeasibly fascinating. Lendl’s 19 slam finals, eight consecutive US Open finals and the triumph of an iron will over a modest talent are intoxicating enough in and of themselves.

Equally fascinating is Andy Murray, the tortured Scottish genius who’s come to occupy an unenviable slot in the game’s history. No longer do people tentatively suggest that he ‘might be the most talented player of the last ten years not to have won a slam’.

Heck, no. That’s nonsense. The Scot is now indisputably and statistically the best player in the history of the sport never to have won in one of the sport’s four great amphitheatres.

Now, I say that with a backward glance towards Marcelo Rios. But a quick sweep over his résumé reveals one slam final and five quarters. Plus, the Chilean never made it beyond the quarters at Roland Garros and, if clay could have worn a basque, he’d have married it.

So, the fascinating element for me is the parallel. At 24, Lendl, an eight time slam winner, was also slamless. He’d appeared in four finals and lost the lot. They called him a choker, a sham, and worse, much worse.

So, let’s wind back to a sunny spring day at Roland Garros in 1984. It’s Lendl’s fifth slam final. And he’s two sets down to McEnroe. On clay. Yes. Johnny Mac on clay. Lose this and he’s dog meat.

Then fate intervened. A press guy had left his headphones off. There they sat, courtside, jabbering their way into the American’s subconscious. He kicked out, literally and figuratively, and lost his way, while Lendl came roaring back, face fired with glee, in a monstrous act of retribution and poker-faced justice.

Andy Murray is also 24. He’s appeared in three slam finals and has yet to win a set. Lendl could impart wisdom. On consistent serving. On the need for offensive tennis. On not allowing rhythm to be disturbed by external factors. On the importance of discounting grinding defence when it offers only a more complex route to victory.

But what will be most fascinating is if Lendl reveals his thought processes when he was two sets down in that fifth slam final.

If this liaison helps the Scot abolish anxiety and frustration and trust his attacking instincts going into the Aussie Open, Britain might, just might, be celebrating its first male grand-slam champion since 1936, a time when Greta Garbo was a fashion icon and ladies removed their hats after 6pm.
Staff Column | Nigel Graber
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add comment | 18 comments
Enjoyable read Smile
January 01, 2012, 02:31 AM
By Mark

Interesting article Nigel.  Thanks.  I hate to pour cold water over anything, but I'm a bit cautious about the AO as I feel it'll take a few tournaments before the improvements, especially on the mental side, really kick in.
January 01, 2012, 05:11 AM
By Aileen

Give me some latitude. I was plastered on alcoholic ginger beer when I wrote it.

Be interesting if we start to see Andy firing the ball directly at the net player and spending two minutes between points plucking his eyelashes when he needs to slow the match down.
January 01, 2012, 11:00 AM
By Grabcopy

Happy new year Nigel, read your posts on the other threads and was impressed with what you said.  I have a feeling you are more than happy with the pairing, do you think a GS is on the cards this year? 
January 01, 2012, 05:31 PM
By Iris

I'm thrilled with the appointment, but I think that 2012 is make or break, now or never. I'm discounting Rafa, at least until the clay swing, cos his shoulder's bad and his heart's not in it. I don't believe for one minute that Federer's back to his best. He's way too inconsistent these days, and prone to mid-tournament losses.

Being clinical, it may all come down to a Djokovic loss of form or an injury. Murray's pretty efficient at dispatching lesser lights these days (except in his post-AO funk), so I feel it's all going to come down to that Djoker match-up in the big events.
January 01, 2012, 06:14 PM
By Grabcopy

I would take a "lucky" draw with Rafa and Fed not in it and a less than 100% Djoko.  One slam is all that Andy needs to get that monkey off his back.  Am very excited at the new appointment after all Andy does not need someone to tell him how to play tennis he needs an experienced head to help him harness those emotions which sometimes spill over and spoil his concentration.  I think Lendl will bring something special to the table can't wait for 2012 tennis to begin.
January 01, 2012, 09:05 PM
By Murray Magic

Interesting fact that at 24 Lendl hadn`t won a slam either, hopefully working with a coach who has been there, done it and understands the pressure will give Andy the last push to winning a slam. Andys got the match play, he can vary his game when the need arises, he doesn`t lack in this area, he has the weaponry, but needs to focus his emotions. Perhaps working with a coach who was a top player (in the past Andys coaches haven`t been on a par with him as a player) will benefit him.

Sure Rafael Nadals struggling with shoulder problems at the moment (will be interesting to see how he plays at the AO), Gael Monfils defeating Rafael came as no surprise but for Rafael to be making so many unforced errors and to let Gael come back from 4-0 down in the second set certainly was, this wasn`t the Rafael Nadal of old but certainly the Rafael of 2011. I can`t help thinking his problem is more psychological than physical, his confidence must have taken a huge knock, six defeats in finals.
Plus he`s playing from the baseline too often causing him to hit the ball short, needs to come into the court more often, play nearer the net, be more aggressive, make his opponent fear him.
January 07, 2012, 07:54 PM
By penelopypitstop

Lol! What i meant to say was that NovakD had defeated him six times in 2011 and that his confidence must have taken a big knock!
January 07, 2012, 08:19 PM
By penelopypitstop

I just found your column.  Nice!  It's definitely a fascinating alliance with the parallels.

I couldn't believe how nutty JMac got over the photographer.   During the awards ceremony, JMac walked out before it was over.  I can't remember exactly when he walked out but it was quite early in the ceremonies.  I give plenty of allowances for GS runner-ups to be miserable at the podium but I still think they have to finish the ceremony.

JMac hasn't gotten over this loss.  I like listening to him during the GS coverage and in one French Open when he interviewed Rafa, he even asked to touch the trophy.  You could tell it still hurts him like it was yesterday.

January 30, 2012, 08:50 AM
By NDMS

Alcoholic Ginger Beer...hmmmmmm, well it seemed to bring the best in your writing.  Enjoyed reading it.  Go Andy!!!
January 30, 2012, 10:30 PM
By Apollo

add comment | 18 comments
Shenzhen Open: 22 - 28 September
How many Grand Slams will Murray win in his career?
1-2
3-5
6-8
9+