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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Coach party

14 January 2012

12:00 PM

14 January 2012

12:00 PM

Nobody ever seemed to have a good word to say for Ivan Lendl, though I personally enjoyed his general cool implacability. But why so disliked? It wasn’t as though he stood in the way of British tennis glory: Lendl’s career coincided with headlines that read ‘British Wimbledon hopes extinguished as Jeremy Bates loses rain-delayed first-round match’. No, we didn’t take to Lendl because he didn’t smile much and was as undemonstrative as you could get, the perfect bad guy to put in front of lovable showmen like Boris Becker, Pat Cash and Henri Leconte. Lendl was the last chip off the old Communist Bloc. If Rocky IV had been made about tennis, Dolph Lundgren would have played the baddie and he would have been called something like, er, Ivan Lendl.

What we do love in Britain is a coach, preferably a winning coach, no matter where they are from: Sven, Fabio, Duncan Fletcher, Andy Flower, Sir Clive, Sir Alex, The Special One, Jurgen Grobler. To that list we may soon be adding one Ivan Lendl. Andy Murray’s appointment of Lendl as his coach would appear to be a shrewd one, and the combination is undefeated after the Scot took the season-opening Brisbane Invitational.

They’re made for each other: Lendl may have won eight grand slams more than Murray, but early on he had a similar reputation as a bit of a choker when it came to major finals, finally winning one at the fourth attempt. Lendl found it hard to get his message across, something Murray should relate to as he finds the Dunblane drawl to be the language of both victory and defeat. The biggest similarity of all might just be their peers. Lendl turned pro in the Borg/McEnroe/Connors era and Murray has Federer, Nadal and Djokovic squabbling over the prizes he covets, not least the Australian Open which starts on Monday.


If Lendl is the last piece of the jigsaw that can turn Murray’s undoubted talent into a grand-slam winning weapon then we will see him in a whole new light. He would be in demand on the talkshows and the fashion pages, ever-present at awards ceremonies; At home with the Lendls would be enchanting television. Meet Ivan and the fragrant Samantha, the beauty who watched on as the crowd booed Ivan the ­Terrible back in the day, and their five (count them) sporty daughters — three golfers, a rower and a horsewoman.

•••

Can anyone tell me why squash isn’t an Olympic sport? It’s the ultimate amateur game, unlike tennis; it’s extraordinarily physically demanding; and we Brits are pretty good at it. Plus, to judge by the World Series finals on Sky Sports this weekend, it now makes terrific television. The age-old problems of squash on TV — a tiny ball, and the brilliance of the players masking quite how difficult it is — are largely solved. Come on Jacques Rogge, give countless squash fans something to look forward to in Rio.

•••

Here’s a tale of two gaffers. Never write off Fergie: still getting a win out of Scholes and co, and getting the best out of Rooney (though quite what that late lamented Old Trafford old boy George Best would make of a match ban for getting pissed five days before a game beggars belief). Meanwhile in west London, the Premier League is a much duller place without Neil Warnock in it. It must be odd to be given the old heave-ho when someone else is so clearly being lined up. On the other hand, it’s happened to me and it’s not too bad.

Roger Alton is an assistant editor at the Times.


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