Of all the advice and information that Ivan Lendl has given to Andy Murray over the past 12 months, the one question he could not answer was how the “Muzz” was going to feel as he played his first Grand Slam match as a Grand Slam champion.
“Old Stone Face” knew how he felt when he began his 1984 Wimbledon challenge having grabbed the French Open title just a couple of weeks before. But Lendl is not Murray. No one knew how Scotland’s finest would feel when he stepped out on to the Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday to face Robin Haase. Nervous? Relaxed? Confident? Cocky? Pressured? Who knew?
As it turned out, Britain’s first Grand Slam winner in 76 years felt pretty darned happy as he dismissed Robin Haase in a swift and impressive 97 minutes, 6-3 6-1 6-3, at Australian Open 2013.
He had felt good coming into the tournament – good enough to pick up the Brisbane title on his way here – but quite how he would deal with the business of starting another major campaign, with all the pressures and nerves that that brings, while knowing that he had already achieved his life’s ambition by winning the US Open last September remained a mystery.
“I have no idea how I'm going to play here,” he had warned. “I have no idea how I'm going to feel when I go on the court. I said I feel more relaxed. But I don't know the day when I play my first match, I could be unbelievably nervous. I don't know what effect it will have on me until I'm put in that situation.”
Now, we Brits are a picky bunch. Having spent the past seven years heaping pressure upon poor Muzz’s shoulders – and having criticized him for failing to cope with the expectation by failing to win a major championship – we are pleased to know that he is feeling relaxed. Yes, Andy, but not too relaxed. You can’t afford to take your eye off the ball. Don’t you go getting complacent on us.
Fortunately, Murray is an intelligent young man and has been around long enough to spot a British journalist in search of an angle a mile off.
“I'm very revved up,” he pointed out carefully and pointedly. “That's not the issue. I didn't at any stage say that I was 'very relaxed.' But I didn't work hard in Miami in the off season to come in and just not be focused or too relaxed or anything like that. I didn't train over there for four weeks to come here and put in a really bad performance. I plan on playing well here.”
And play well he did. Very well indeed.
Potentially, Haase could have been an awkward customer. The last time they met was in New York in 2011 when Murray needed five, long sets to get the better of the Dutchman. But that was back in the pre-Lendl days, the days before Murray had been persuaded to take the bull by
the horns and play to his own strengths rather than to his opponent’s weaknesses.
This time around, Murray wasted as little time and less energy brushing aside his spindly opponent and moving into the second round. The Scot is planning on staying in town for a couple of weeks and he cannot afford to be careless in the early rounds. So, after a couple
of games to find his range on his forehand – the first warm day for some time had speeded up the court conditions considerably – Murray set to work.
Haase tried everything he could think of (leather it, feather it, drop it and slap it) in one extended rally but nothing worked. He then tried throwing caution to the wind and started welting every forehand he could get a racket string to. That didn’t work either. Apart from the
occasional moment of brilliance – and a couple of returns took the breath away – he could not touch Murray.
At the other end of the court, the US Open champion was looking rather good. Save for a couple of dropped service games, he did everything that Lendl could have asked of him. He served well (73 per cent accuracy rating there), he returned well and he broke Haase eight times. That was just as well because, as Murray revealed on court, Lendl can be a bit of a stickler.
“In front of the cameras, our relationship is going well, yeah,” Scotland’s finest chuckled. “It’s a bit different behind closed doors. He works me very hard. He is very open, very honest; he doesn’t lie to you. He tells you exactly how it is. That’s just what I needed.”
And exactly how it is now is that Murray is through to the second round and an appointment with Joao Sousa from Portugal, the 6-4 6-1 6-4 winner over Australia’s John-Patrick Smith. Lendl will be pleased but there is plenty of work to do – another six rounds if Murray is to get his hands on another major trophy. But at least the Muzz now knows what it feels like to play a grand slam as a grand slam champion. And it feels good.