- Tennis feature
What if ... Murray faced Lendl in his prime?
Editor's note: Our weeklong series of "What If …" scenarios are only hypothetical. We understand that a matchup of players from different generations comes with its share of things to take into consideration, such as the advancement of technology and the slowing of court surfaces in today's game. Some of these head-to-heads have an actual, albeit brief, history, with one player winding down his or her career; thus, we're not taking those into consideration.
For the sake of this series, we're assuming both parties are playing each other at their peak. It's just for fun, so enjoy and let us know who you think would win.
Matchup: Andy Murray versus Ivan Lendl
Case for Murray
Ah, the classic battle of mentor versus mentee. Murray had always been a brilliant player, but then Lendl came along and made him great. So great, in fact, that Murray is the hottest thing going in tennis right now. He is, after all, your 2013 Wimbledon champ, and in the process, he wiped away 77 years of futility for a title-famished nation. Murray is also the most recent winner at the US Open and the Olympics. That's a pretty sweet string of success for someone who had long been earmarked the best player in the land without a major trophy. And, for the record, Murray made it to the Aussie final, as well. So, it goes without saying that any doubts we had about Murray have long since dissolved.
The knock on Murray, of course, was his passive-aggressive approach, but, in the past year, he has shown he can produce stirring offense for long stretches, something that was readily apparent in the Wimbledon final, when he hit more than twice as many aces and had more winners than Novak Djokovic. Murray boasts a game perfectly suited for grass; he hits crisp groundstrokes, serves big and can wend his way in to net when he wants. Murray always knew he had to compete with an offensive mindset and dictate points to succeed, but the difference now is that he has the confidence to play that way.
In large part, Lendl is responsible for the rebuilding of Murray's mental game, and that can't be underestimated. Murray certainly didn't want history to look down upon him and wag its disapproving finger for his failure to win the one tournament he wanted more than any other. It was a huge burden he had carried for years, and it crushed him when he wasn't able to pull it off. Murray owes Lendl a ton of credit for his recent success, but Murray also didn't want to end up like Lendl and finish his career with missed opportunities. He need not worry anymore. Andy Murray is a Wimbledon champ.
The Case for Lendl
This guy isn't your garden-variety coach. He's an eight-time slam champ for goodness' sakes. Now, the one glaring gap in Lendl's resume is his failure to win Wimbledon, an impediment that probably grates on him to this day. And, as much as he can revel in Murray's success, it still had to hurt watching his student hoist that sweet gold cup. However, Lendl did reach the semis at the All England Club seven times, including two runner-up finishes. Not an awful effort, but if you're Ivan Lendl and you've expended an incredible amount of effort on winning, it's of little consolation.
But, please, he doesn't need your sympathy bubbles. Lendl was a ruthless player who wouldn't ever consider surrendering, not to John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker or any of the other competitors who ultimately foiled his Wimbledon dreams. For all the petulant behaviour from his protege, Lendl played with a no-nonsense, emotionless demeanour. Heck, his version of ecstasy is cracking a smile. So imagine Lendl taking the court against Murray at SW19: Without question, there would be an intimidation factor; that's something the other big three boys aren't giving you these days. Murray, even the indomitable and determined player he is today, might eventually crack under all that pressure against Lendl.
It might sound kind of ironic, but it says somewhere that a good teacher is a good listener, someone who should be open to feedback and critique. And, although he might be that guy now, that was everything Lendl was not in his playing days. He wanted to win - and win his way. Sure, Lendl never won Wimbledon, but his ambition and desire never yielded. And that's exactly why Lendl finished his career as an all-time great.
The Expert's Decision from Brad Gilbert
If you were to say this match was going to be played on clay, it's Lendl all the way. But on grass, that's a different story. Lendl wouldn't serve and volley for an entire year, and then, when it was time for grass, he did it all the time, and it was something he never perfected. So, that would be a problem against Murray.
More than any other surface, grass has changed the most from the era of Lendl to Murray. The older grass was slicker and faster. Today's slower grass helps Murray because of his ability to run and improvise. He'd be able to get Lendl in an uncomfortable position. Lendl would adjust his game, but Murray would still win.