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With Ivan Lendl back in his corner, Sir Andy Murray proves why he's a knight
The former No. 1 saved a match point and outlasted Matteo Berrettini in epic fashion—proving, yet again, that he remains a tough out.
Published Jan 17, 2023
PRESS CONFERENCE: Murray reflects on a major moment
“It’s been nice talking to you,” Ivan Lendl said as our interview last spring neared its end, “but it’s time now for me to study some videotape for Andy.”
Oh, that’s right, I thought that evening. The talk with Lendl had been all about his career, capped off with a short update on what he was currently up to. Lendl and Andy Murray had once again agreed to work together. This would be their third go-round. How nice, one more ride around the block.
This installment of the Murray-Lendl partnership gave off the sound of a remote signal from a distant planet, light years removed from the brightly lit territory of their previous collaborations. Those quests had occurred during Murray’s peak years and major runs. What form would this journey take? After nearly four years with a triple-digit ranking, Murray had returned to the Top 100 barely a month before his latest coaching announcement.
And hadn’t Murray already retired, in a highly visible way? Four years ago at the Australian Open, I’d squeezed into a seat in the photographer’s pit inside a sardine can-like packed Melbourne Arena (now John Cain Arena) to watch Murray play his heart out before losing a five-setter to Roberto Bautista Agut. It was clear then that Murray’s right hip was causing far too much pain for him to continue competing. He knew it, too, and had even announced the end was near prior to the tournament, triggering an organized series of public tributes.
Praising Murray two days prior to the Bautista Agut match, Roger Federer had said, “We’re going to lose everybody at some point.” Past midnight following that defeat, Murray said, “I’d be OK with that being my last match.”
In team sports, retirement is a formal ritual. Papers are filed with the team and the league. New players fill the vacated position. Comebacks are possible, but often cumbersome, an intrusion on the existing organizational structure. Do your teammates even want you back on the squad? The collective body has changed. Can you really fit in effectively?
None of that exists in tennis. Murray had announced his retirement, devoted time to his family, gave the game he loved more thought, then opted to return. Why not?
But even as he’d clawed his way back onto the tour, Murray remained mostly a curiosity. A late 2019 tournament victory in Antwerp—the 46th of Murray’s career—had taken his ranking from 243 to 127. But there’d been no further title runs. Since that 2019 loss to Bautsita Agut in Melbourne, this man who’d reached the finals of every major—along the way earning wins over Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—had compiled a record of 7-7 at the Slams. Beat the Big Three? Heck, Murray hadn’t beaten a Top 20 player at a major since the 2017 French Open.
In an India Today article published last November, Murray was quoted as saying, “My reflection on the last four or five months is that I’ve not been doing enough work to perform at the level I need to. I need to change that if I want to get back to the top of the game.”
So late last year, there came an extensive training block in Florida, with Lendl. There was nothing fanciful about such training after day of work in the Florida sunshine.
“[I] just had very, very little distractions,” said the 66th-ranked Murray following his fifth-set tiebreaker win Tuesday over Matteo Berrettini (the man who’d beaten him in the third round at last year’s US Open). “I was totally focused on my training and on my tennis, the things I needed to do to get better. It's something that I'll definitely look to do at times during the rest of this year to make sure I dedicate enough time to the hard work and improving my game.”
Regarding Lendl, the 35-year-old Murray said, “I mean, obviously the past success that we've had gives me confidence in the relationship. Obviously most of my biggest wins have come whilst Ivan was part of the team. He's certainly not going to let me get away with, well, not working hard. He's always going to push me as hard as he can to try and get the best out of me. He obviously understands what it takes to get to the top of the sport. He did it himself as a player. He's obviously seen it with me whilst he's been coaching.”
But this is not merely a story about a contemporary player rebuilding himself under the guidance of a legend. The bigger tale is one of Murray and his devotion to tennis. Murray’s passion for the game has always been clear. Even in his teens, his tactical genius was apparent, revealed in a supreme ability to make smart decisions and keep opponents off-balance—as seen by the world when the 19-year-old upset world No. 5 Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2006.
There followed upgrades in strength, fitness and the continued quest to add more speed to his serve and forehand. Along with that was Murray’s bewildering penchant for screaming at his support team mid-match, a habit he has admitted is not always helpful. All these qualities have made Murray eminently human. They’ve also made him a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a resume that includes three Grand Slam singles titles, two Olympic gold medals and a year-end No. 1 ranking.
Next up for Murray in Australia: The winner of a match between Thanasi Kokkinakis and Fabio Fognini that was suspended due to rain, with Kokkinakis leading 6-1, 6-2, 4-2. Murray is 1-0 versus the 26-year-old, that win coming way back in a Davis Cup match in 2015 when the Aussie was still a teenager. Fognini and Murray have split their eight matches, the Italian winning their most recent, in 2019.
That same year, Murray was granted knighthood, four months following that soulful loss in Melbourne.
“All Knights must bleed,” wrote George R.R. Martin, author of the books that inspired the TV show, Game of Thrones. “Blood is the seal of our devotion.”
To the delight of tennis fans, Murray still lives to spill more.