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Coaching/Mentoring Case Study – Getting to No. 1

How did Ivan Lendl first help British tennis player Andy Murray, now ranked number 1 in the world, take his performance from ‘good to great’? This is a great example of what can be achieved through mentoring.  Please note we are not claiming any Morgan Clarke involvement in this case, it’s just a good story exemplifying the value of mentoring.

Background/The Challenge

Back in 2011, Andy Murray after 6 or 7 years’ experience on the professional tour, was wealthy, and had been the winner of a number of minor tournament.  He had also lost four Grand Slam finals in a row and was seeking to appoint a new coach/mentor to enable his career to transition to the next level.  He wanted to win a Grand Slam (i.e. Wimbledon, US Open, French Open or Australian Open) tournament.

Ivan Lendl, himself a former world number 1 professional tennis player from the 1980s/1990s, also lost his first 4 Grand Slam singles finals before winning the fifth, and then going on to win a total of 8 Grand Slam titles during an impressive tennis career.  Lendl joined Murray’s coaching team at the start of 2012.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is about supporting, challenging and encouraging people to develop themselves, improve their performance and become the person that they aspire to be.

In the workplace it is now established as a popular way of helping people to progress in their careers.  It is a partnership between 2 people (mentor and mentee).  The mentor is often a more senior, experienced person who will provide guidance and help the mentee to find the right path towards success in their career.

Ivan Lendl’s Approach to Mentoring

“I didn’t come in to this job to have a good time, I came here to help Andy win” said Ivan Lendl as he looked-on poker faced while his mentee Andy Murray became the first British Men’s Wimbledon finalist in 76 years!  No celebrations for Lendl.  Winning the tournament was the aim, not coming second.

As Boris Becker says, “Credit to Andy for having the courage to make such a high-profile step, because it would have been easy to settle for a more comfortable appointment – somebody who he could have bossed about and listened to when he felt like it.  He (Lendl) won’t be happy with Andy standing at No.3 or No.4 in the world, he will be driving him on to No.1”.

Murray acknowledges that he couldn’t have won either the 2012 London Olympics gold medal, or the US Open or Wimbledon in 2013 without having Ivan Lendl as his coach and mentor.  Becker once again, referring to Lendl says “you are talking about a guy who knows the difference between winning and losing a Grand Slam.  Having that insight has helped Andy Murray get over the hump in his career”.

So how long is a mentoring relationship?  “Both Andy and I were saying ‘give us six to nine months’” the 53 year-old Lendl said.  “Do the maths.  You can help somebody, clearly, in a very short period of time.  However, it takes longer than that to help more, for the progress to set in.  You can not do that in one week, you can not do it in one month.  I hope that we are not yet anywhere near where Andy can get”, said Lendl in 2012.

Murray, having emulated his mentor in winning his first Grand Slam final (U.S. Open 2012) at the fifth attempt, then looked to use his triumph as a springboard to attain a new level of excellence – and many more major championships followed – Wimbledon 2013 and 2016, Olympic Singles Champion 2012 and 2016, and now the first British Men’s tennis player to be World Number One since the 1930s!

What was Achieved?

“It is the ability to emerge triumphant from such arduous struggle that Lendl has instilled” according to sports writer Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph in 2013.

Let Murray himself take up the narrative.  Being interviewed having just emerged triumphant from winning the US Open in 2012 – “I was doubting myself right up to a few minutes before going on to play the match.  It’s something I have never done before.  I have been in this position many times (four) before, and not managed to get through”.

So what did Ivan Lendl actually do?  When invited to describe the precise changes that he had engineered in his mentee’s game, Lendl stonewalled:

“I’m not going to discuss this!  Andy still has many matches to play against the top guys.  If I tell you what we worked on, what we planned to work on, or even if I dissect any of his matches, I am giving away information.  And as you saw in the final, the margins are so small that letting slip any detail that might help somebody else – if just for a couple of points in the match – would be suicidal”.

“I just try to pass on to Andy what Tony Roche [Lendl’s own coach] passed on to me, and what I learned on my own”.

“I didn’t come in to this job to have a good time, I came here to help Andy win”.

When Murray ended the 78 year drought and became the first British man to win the Men’s single title at Wimbledon in July 2013, I think it was fair to say ‘job done’ to his mentor.

(This article was first published in 2013.  In 2014 Lendl and Murray ended their 2 year partnership.  Lendl re-joined Murray’s coaching team in June 2016.)