Drink Every Time You Hear “The Lendl Effect”***

Wimbledon’s over and Andy Murray walked away with his second title at the All England Club, and third major overall, by dispatching of Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 in a crisp and routine fashion.

As a huge fan of the surly yet endearing Scot, I was thrilled to see him win.

In an era dominated by Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, Murray’s superb talent and dedication to his sport have often been overshadowed by the superior accomplishments of the other three. Adding another major gives more credence to the notion that he’s earned his rightful spot as a member of “The Big Four”.

Murray’s win is already igniting (probably premature) speculation that he might be in form enough to seriously challenge Novak Djokovic’s dominant reign as world number 1 by the end of the year.

Much of this enthusiasm comes from the belief that reuniting with his old coach Ivan Lendl at the start of the grass court season has given Murray that extra edge and motivation to finally start winning majors again.

More notably there exists a belief that Lendl’s presence makes Murray a fundamentally better player.

I don’t necessarily agree. Or at least, I think it’s premature to make that case.

On paper, that theory seems to be somewhat solid. After all, Murray won his first two slams with Lendl by his side, and never lifted another major trophy until winning the first slam he played with Lendl back on his team. So if we’re keeping score at home Murray/Lendl = 3 grand slams, Murray/every other coach = 0 grand slams.

But these slam wins only tell part of a much larger, more nuanced story.

However, if you watch enough sports you’ll find that sports media is much like any other media, with a preference for simple, repeatable storylines that often overlook the finer details.

During ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage they frequently posted up side by side statistics of Murray’s record with Lendl, as well as his last two years without Lendl, when he was mostly under the guidance of Hall of Fame player and Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. Commentators regularly noted the “clear difference” Lendl’s presence made.

Again, while it is true that Murray never won a slam with another coach, the rest of stats tell a less lopsided story.

Murray won a total of seven titles with Ivan Lendl (pre-return), and eight in the two years after Lendl departed. He reached four major finals with Lendl, but then managed to reach three more after him.

His overall win/loss record with Lendl was 113-26, winning just over 81.2% of all matches during that time. In the two years after? 144-35, winning right around 80.4% of all his matches. For anyone lacking basic math skills, that’s less than a 1% difference.

Murray also managed to do several things he’d never done while Lendl was his coach: Win a clay court title (three to be precise), make it to the finals of the French Open, and finish with a career high year end ranking of number 2 in the world in 2015.

Two other things to consider when examining Murray’s record pre and post Lendl:

Injury:

Murray had back surgery after the end of the 2013 season, and noticeably struggled for much of the next year. Lendl departed from the team in March of 2014, and Murray partnered with Mauresmo after the French Open that same year. His form improved as the year went on, but wasn’t really playing at the top of his game again until the start of the 2015 season.

 Novak Djokovic:

You know that guy I mentioned a few paragraphs above? The reigning world number 1? Yeah, turns out he’s pretty darn good. In these last 18 to 24 months he’s been nothing short of phenomenal.

Before his shocking third round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of American Sam Querrey, Djokovic had won the last four majors in a row, and six of the last nine since Lendl left Murray’s camp.

Dude hasn’t given up a lot of real estate to anyone in the slam department (or Masters 1000 department for that matter) in quite some time. Those three finals Murray made post-Lendl? All losses to Djokovic.

In fact, since 2015 up until the 2016 French Open, Murray’s results have been: Final, semifinal, semifinal, round of 16, final, final.

The round of 16 loss was an upset at the US Open to South African player Kevin Anderson. Other than that, Murray has had five losses in the final stages of slams. One coming at the hands of Roger Federer (also pretty darn good), and four coming from Djokovic.

So all of this raises the question: Did Murray magically win a slam again because of the elevation Lendl’s mere presence brought to his game? Or did Murray rightly take advantage of a draw where he didn’t have to face a player he wasn’t just straight up better than?

No offense to Milos Raonic, who is a very good player and who I believe will win slams some day. But as Sunday’s final showed, he still has work to do to truly challenge the likes of Murray (and Djokovic) in a best of five sets match.

To be clear, I think reuniting with Lendl is a solid move on Murray’s part. I think the fact that Lendl agreed to return, especially when he was reticent to coach other players on the tour (sorry Berdych) really gave Murray a psychological boost and a wave of increased focus and motivation. Not to mention, at this stage in Murray’s career it’s much easier to start up again with someone you already know and who knows you, as opposed to having to start from scratch with someone new.

I also think at the level Murray is playing right now, the margins are so small and any extra confidence and psychological strength Lendl brings to the team can be helpful.

But I also think it’s a little premature to be giving Lendl the amount of credit he’s getting in the press.

If Murray had the draw at any of the slams he played under Mauresmo that he did in this year’s Wimbledon, chances are he would have won that tournament.

Likewise whoever his coach had been coming in to this year’s Wimbledon, the luck of the draw favored Murray. It is exceedingly likely he would have seized this opportunity regardless of who was there sitting up in his players box, suffering from allergies.

***Thoughts On Balls is not responsible for any alcohol related injuries you might sustain if you take this literally. Seriously though, don’t do it. You will die.

 

 

 

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