Open warfare built Andy Murray
ANDY Murray did not know it at the time, but the Scot's scintillating US Open victory in September was forged in the hellfire of his Australian Open defeat nine months earlier.
Sitting courtside, betraying barely a glimmer of emotion, Ivan Lendl surveyed a familiar scene as Murray was cruelly denied in a tense semi-final stoush with eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
Murray, according to Lendl, experienced Grand Slam war for the first time during that brutal semi-final clash with the relentless Djokovic.
As winner of eight singles majors, each ruthlessly and methodically chiselled, Lendl revelled in donning the tennis equivalent of the full metal jacket.
He yesterday recalled challenging French Open monarch Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in 1981.
The experience, like Murray's denial against Djokovic last season, was a watershed.
"I've been in plenty of wars early," Lendl said.
"I had one with (Bjorn) Borg at the French in '81, but it's just different for every player. Somebody needs one (war), somebody needs seven (wars), somebody never learns to enjoy it and get through it and somebody gets through it more than others."
When Lendl stalked out of Rod Laver Arena last year, he was torn by conflicting emotions. There was the shuddering short-term disappointment of defeat. But, even more precious, there was the unmistakable glint of paydirt.
Murray might not have sensed it at the time, but he had struck gold.
"I think it was a really big match for Andy because he proved to himself that he can play with these guys," Lendl said. "Without that match here, he would not have won the US Open last year.
"I thought it was a really big match, especially coming from 6-3, 2-0 down and 5-2 down in the fifth back to 5-all and three break points.
"It was a whisker away from winning it but it turned out to be fairly inconsequential because he won the US Open in my opinion because of that match.
"I don't know if I would call it a lesson. It was experience of being in a war like that.
"Andy was in three finals before and he got blown away and he was never in a big match which was a war.
"They were sort of runaways. Once you are in that war - even that Wimbledon final was quite a war - you can start to enjoy it and be not afraid of it any more."
Murray has been in three significant battles since the Djokovic clash at Melbourne Park.
He lost the Wimbledon decider in five sets to Roger Federer, reversed the result with a barely believable demolition of the Swiss maestro in the Olympic Games gold medal match and then stubbornly defied Djokovic in New York.
Lendl said proof of Murray's Australian Open learnings came at Flushing Meadows when Djokovic shaped to destroy the Scot.
Murray had won the opening two sets. Djokovic the next two. Match levelled, the momentum was with the world No. 1.
And there were haunting precedents for the Scot. Like Lendl, Murray had lost his first four Grand Slam singles finals. The notion of stumbling to a fifth major defeat was unimaginable but, as old nemesis Djokovic took control, dread morphed to reality.
And then Murray exploded.
"The resolve Andy showed after losing the third and fourth set at the US Open was phenomenal," Lendl said.
"He has been a set and a break down here. He was being blown away and comes back. It's not unusual that you will have up and downs in the matches and you have to accept that as a player.
"You have to weather the downs and capitalise on the ups. That's what he did in New York. He weathered the storm."
And won the war.
As one of the most dominant players in tennis, Lendl was regularly panned for being robotic, emotionless, consumed by routine. Truth is, Lendl recognised strengths, addressed weaknesses and profited in an era cluttered with superstars - Bjorg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Pat Cash.
None, regardless of their exterior, was a shrinking violet. Lendl copped his share of beatings - and emerged tougher for it.
Unsurprisingly, the synergy between the pair is striking.
In practice with Murray, the Czech-born American repeatedly urges focus. Intensity is a recurring theme.
Lendl has told Murray there will be fluctuations in every match, but practice is where ironclad foundations are laid.
"Intensity is very important in practices and matches obviously," Lendl said.
"No matter who it is, whether it's a top-ranked player or a junior, the harder you practise, the easier it is in matches - in my opinion.
"In every match, in every tournament, you will have ups and downs - even if you are winning 6-2, 6-2. In every match, there will be something challenging you, so that's why it's important you have the mental intensity to step up to the line and produce."
Lendl, 52, is now in the second season of a bountiful collaboration with Murray.
He believes the best is still to come. Prompted about Murray's improvement since the pair began working together, Lendl is cagey.
"It's not up to me to judge. I would like to think so," he said. "I judge it internally by the things we need to work on but it's just not right for me (to judge).
"Andy is very good to work with. He works hard and once he works hard, it is easy to do good stuff."
Regarded as something of an odd couple and inanely pigeon-holed on the basis of shallow stereotype, Lendl and Murray are kindred spirits.
"We enjoy a good laugh, whether it's on his account, my account or somebody else's account - which is even better," Lendl said.
"We get along well."
So much so that Lendl and Murray have both signalled a willingness to continue indefinitely. "As long as it works for both of us, I can see myself being with him for the rest of his career," Lendl said.
"I have a lot of plans where I would like to see Andy end up with his game. I think (he can achieve) a lot more.
"I'm not going to say a number of Grand Slams, I'm just going to say where Andy is now.
"I take point A when we started working - now he's at point B and, when I envisage (where he can get to), I would say he's about 20 per cent there."
Lendl is acutely aware of Murray's unfinished business on Rod Laver Arena.
As much as Murray was desperately unlucky not to topple Djokovic in 2012, there is the heavy defeats of the 2010-11 finals.
And Lendl firmly believes Murray will soon end Great Britain's men's singles drought at the sport's high temple - Wimbledon.
"The question is `Is he going to win Wimbledon?', and know he will give it a good crack many, many times - not just once, not just in 2013 or 2014," Lendl said.
"He has quite a few years left in him and he's going to give it a crack.
"Both Andy and I would be disappointed if at the end of the day he does not win."
Slowly but surely, Lendl has wrought change in Murray's mindset.
To watch the duo on the practice court is to observe no such master and protege as a true partnership.
Lendl is no martinet, despite his still forbidding presence. Quite the opposite. His language is positive. His body language is purposeful.
Brief conversations are laced with advice, banter, suggestions and encouragement.
More than anything, Lendl is a teacher. He wants to uncover more of Murray's latent savagery.
"I think Andy is too nice sometimes," Lendl said. "You can only play the way you practise - there's no way you're going to play differently than the way you practise ... I want him to bury guys. To make it as tough as possible."
Heavy shades of Lendl himself.http://www.perthnow.com.au/sport/tennis/open-warfare-built-andy-murray/story-fnddkxkr-1226552313832