Ivan Lendl, now best known as Andy Murray’s transformative coach, is also considered one of the all-time greatest singles tennis players, racking up some 94 singles titles – including eight majors – and holding the world no.1 spot for 270 weeks.
Born in Czechoslovakia and ‘defecting’ to the US, Lendl is thought to have effectively invented the modern game with his then ground-breaking focus on nutrition, training and preparation.
Now Superga, the Italian sports shoe brand, have marked his return to the limelight with an Ivan Lendl line, including the re-issue of the style he wore as a junior player.
Is there a difference between playing and coaching?
“I look at them in the same way. During play you have about 20 seconds between points to figure out what just happened, why it happened, do I like what happened and, if so, how do I keep it happening, how do I make sure it doesn’t change, and, if I didn’t like it, what do I do to change it.
[And even now] between points I’m still trying to work out what’s going on, how changes can be made and so on. Sometimes you get a chance to talk to the player – because there’s a rain delay or something – so you have to be prepared. I’m looking for patterns, unusual stuff, anything that looks out of the ordinary.”
Aside from golf, one of your hobbies now is training German Shepherds. Does that help when it comes to working with players?
“Sure there are similarities in training a tennis pro and training dogs. You have to do consistent work. You have to know what you’re doing. And you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
Are the results equally satisfying? Would I rather have a dog at heel or a tennis pro achieve? Mmm. I don’t think the one excludes the other…”
It’s been said that you don’t teach tennis, but victory. Does that ring true?
“I’m very competitive. When my kids [two of Lendl’s daughters are pro golfers] were little I’d say ‘ok, first one to the garage door’ and if they beat me it was because they were faster than me, not because I let them.
I don’t think that’s a hard lesson. Anything else is, I think, counter-productive. You have to feel good about what you’ve earned because you’ve earned it – not because someone gave it to you.”
Any ‘ivan Lendl’ lessons in tennis coaching that you’d apply to life in general?
“I’d say that if you’re satisfied with less, it’s hard to achieve more. You can look at tournaments and sometimes there’s that qualifier or ‘lucky loser’ who gets to the final.
And they usually never win the final because they’re already happy to be where they are. They’ve already over-achieved and so when things start to go badly for them in the match, they quickly start to fizzle out. You see it over and over.” ML