Veterans corner limelight

John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon singles winner, seeks to bring a grass-court edge to big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic (right).
John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon singles winner, seeks to bring a grass-court edge to big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic (right). PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Perhaps one of the biggest things that Lendl helped Murray (left) with when he first coached the Scot was the ability to return to focus when he got distracted.
Perhaps one of the biggest things that Lendl helped Murray (left) with when he first coached the Scot was the ability to return to focus when he got distracted. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

McEnroe's role ignites talk of classic rivalries with foes Lendl, Becker as Wimbledon begins

LONDON • Much as the focus is on who will be the last man standing come July 10, one of the most bitter rivalries in tennis will also be renewed off the court at Wimbledon.

The Championships start today and former world No. 1s Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, coaches of Andy Murray and Milos Raonic respectively, will relish the bragging rights should their players win the Grand Slam title.

Lendl, in his second spell coaching Murray, and McEnroe, recently hired as Raonic's coach, engaged in a feud lasting over a decade when they were players and now they are back in opposition 24 years after they last glared at each other across the net.

They met 36 times from 1980 to 1992, with Lendl winning 21 of their encounters, including a famous fightback from two sets down in the 1984 French Open final.

Those gruelling battles forged a lasting enmity, to such an extent that in his autobiography, McEnroe said Lendl was "a very strange guy, to put it charitably - with an odd, harsh demeanour - kind of bullying and babyish at the same time".

  • The coaches' impact

    Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray

    Perhaps one of the biggest things that Lendl helped Murray with when he first coached the Scot was the ability to return to focus when he got distracted.

    As a player, Lendl was remembered for his relentless focus; nothing would distract him. This will be a good trait to have as Murray needs to be on his toes as he aims to topple Novak Djokovic.

    John McEnroe, Milos Raonic

    Raonic has become increasingly confident with his movement and ground-strokes. He mentioned that McEnroe has helped him with the way he is becoming more positive and energetic on court.

    The American's big-match experience has also taught Raonic how to play specific points and how to make his presence felt to opponents.

    Boris Becker, Novak Djokovic

    Many were surprised when the world's top player called upon the services of the colourful German two years ago, but the decision seems to have been based on a desire to find a way of bringing a touch more aggression to his game.

    It has paid off handsomely, as Djokovic won three of the four Grand Slam events last year and he is on course to improve on that this season - having won the first two, including completing his career Grand Slam at the French Open earlier this month.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The old enemies are on much better terms these days but, given the contrast between the icy Lendl and the fiery McEnroe, there will be plenty of eyes trained on the courtside coaching box.

Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam winner, has returned to working with Murray two years after the United States-based Czech called time on a successful spell that saw the Scot win two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.

Intrigued by the 56-year-old's success with Murray, as well as former world No. 1 Boris Becker's even more fruitful partnership with Novak Djokovic, seven-time Grand Slam champion McEnroe decided he wanted to have a crack at coaching as well and Raonic brought him on board.

The 57-year-old appears to have made a positive first impression on the world No. 9, who reached his first Queen's Club final on June 19 but was beaten by Murray.

Fittingly, the old foes are facing each other 26 years after Lendl beat McEnroe in the Queen's semi-finals in what proved to be one of the last matches in their great rivalry.

But Murray, who won Wimbledon in 2013, played down the presence of the veterans. "Obviously the coaches are there in the box, and they are doing their best to help us and prepare as best as they can for the matches.

"(But) they can't serve for us at an important moment and they can't hit a return for us on break point."

Meanwhile, world No. 5 Stan Wawrinka became the latest player to jump on the "super-coach" bandwagon by joining forces with former All England Club champion Richard Krajicek this month.

The Dutchman knows a thing or two about playing at the heartland of grass-court tennis as not only did he triumph in 1996, he was also the only man to have beaten seven- time champion Pete Sampras at Wimbledon between 1993 and 2000.

"It's been going well so far. Richard has a lot of experience as a player," said the Swiss, who is bidding to conquer the only Major where he has yet to reach at least the semi-finals. "He used to be an amazing tennis player, really aggressive on the court, serve and volley a lot."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

WIMBLEDON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Veterans corner limelight'. Print Edition | Subscribe