Ivan Lendl would have been highly unlikely to coach anyone but world number four Andy Murray in whom he sees a kindred spirit with a similar wry sense of humour tested by multiple failures in grand slam finals.
The Czech-born 51-year-old was tormented by four straight losses in major finals but recovered to finish his career as one of the greats with eight grand slam titles in the competitive era of John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker.
Lendl turned down between “seven and 10 enquiries” to coach other players over the past 18 months but has thrown himself into a bear-pit with the 24-year-old Briton, whose agonising failure in three grand slam finals has disappointed a country clamouring for a first men’s champion in 76 years.
But the player once dubbed a ‘scary robot’ by American rival McEnroe said it was Murray who had shown courage to approach him ahead of the Australian Open, in full knowledge their relationship would be sure to attract the fiercest of scrutiny.
“So far he has done everything asked of him and I also admire his guts for hiring me because he had to know it would create a lot of interest and that it’s not going to go unnoticed and be a quiet thing and it ups the ante a little bit,” Lendl said in comments published by British media on Saturday.
“I see a guy who wants to win, a guy who wants to work hard. He has been a pleasure to be with and work with.
“Obviously I see the parallels between his career and my career and I want his career to end up like mine.”
Lendl lost his first grand slam final at the 1981 French Open to Swede Bjorn Borg and failed twice at the U.S. Open’s last hurdle and again at the Australian Open.
A potent and nimble baseliner with a huge forehand, Lendl won three French and U.S. crowns, along with two Australian Open titles, but lacking a strong net-game, Wimbledon, the game’s ultimate prize, eluded him twice.
He underlined his mammoth task to help Murray break his grand slam duck in an era of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, but played down the notion that he would seek to change his style or imprint his own aggressive game on the Scot.
Murray has been criticised for playing hot and cold throughout his career, but in the leadup to Melbourne Park has appeared quite Lendl-like in his game, attacking relentlessly on the way to the Brisbane International title.
Lendl has closely watched the other three members of the “big four” in men’s tennis but said his role would also be to ease the pressure on his moody charge, by wise-cracking to lift his spirits or absorbing the relentless media scrutiny.
“Obviously I really enjoy Andy’s sense of humour,” said Lendl. “Hopefully he enjoys mine. So, as I said, we’ve had good laughs -- I think that’s very important that it’s not only work but fun as well.”