Early signs suggest Lendl’s influence could lead to starring role at grand slam

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What the sport of tennis has gained in Andy Murray, the art of acting may have lost.

The Scot’s repertoire of facial expressions and testosterone-fuelled mannerisms are as wide-ranging as his arsenal of shots and strokes, and through this epic five-setter we were treated to the lot.

There was no bicep twitching – Murray is past that – but there was a physique-flaunting fist-pump as early as the second game and sundry growls and grimaces.

His veins throbbed, his cheeks burned bright red, his teeth glistened like fangs and his eyes narrowed in occasional icy, over-the-net glares at his world No 1 and nemesis Novak Djokovic.

All too often, Murray appears just a few missed shaves and a chainmail suit – or a couple of double faults and a misjudged lob – away from the Scottish hero role we want him to play.

But, for now, he remains typecast in the role of the plucky British loser in a golden age for the sport.

His coach Ivan Lendl hails from the Czech city of Ostrava, a place built on the twin industries of steel and coal, and there is undoubtedly a new diligence and resolve about Murray’s game. There were points contested yesterday that, if played a year ago, would have seen him simply capitulate.

A mesmerising fifth set was a case in point. Djokovic was sauntering into his final date with Rafael Nadal, leading 5-2 and commanding the ball beyond Murray’s reach with every shot and victory seemed imminent.

And yet, after four-and-a-half hours, there was still a glint of life in Murray’s eye and fuel – albeit just fumes – left in the tank.

His comeback to 5-5 was followed by a march to three break points and he was on the brink of earning a chance to serve for the match. The drama was a dream for those willing this brilliant contest to rumble on indefinitely, if a nightmare for newspaper page planners.

Was the Lendl factor at play? Has a man who competed in 19 grand slam finals, winning eight of them, already targeted and attended to the black holes in Murray’s game over the winter break?

In the end, Murray’s imperious fightback only made ultimate defeat all the more torturous, but there were crumbs of comfort from his positive, attacking approach which had the Serb rattled, particularly in the second set.

There were still malfunctions at crucial times on the backhand, the forehand and the serve, but nothing that cannot be ironed out on the training court between now and Paris in the Spring.

Murray’s error count was 86, Djokovic’s 69 – on such narrow margins legends are made and broken.

The latter struck 184 winners to Murray’s 161, but this statistic is distorted by the one-sided 6-1 fourth set which the Scot ultimately sacrificed to conserve himself for the final onslaught.

But what also made the difference in the Serb’s favour as the pendulum swung backwards and forwards was that personal belief in abilities that only comes when you have won a grand slam.

Djokovic has four under his belt, and while his dramatic celebrations after securing match point betrayed a sense of relief, he would at no stage have doubted his talent.

Murray must be hoping that if you cannot buy a grand slam title, the next best thing is to hire someone who has won several, and while we have clearly seen the Lendl effect in Melbourne he has some way to go before he can help the Scot scratch the biggest itch in British sport.

It may be a while yet before the likes of Liam Broady and Joshua Ward-Hibbert, the prodigious young duo who won the boys’ doubles title this week, assume the responsibility from Murray because, on this evidence, our nearly man will yet grow into a leading role.

In the meanwhile, Djokovic, the latest in a line of popular champions, prepares for another major final with Nadal – “It’s going to be physical so I need to do some push-ups tonight,” he said after this classic five-setter.

yp.sport@ypn.co.uk