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Andy Murray

 

Nerves naturally emerge in the psyche of even the biggest-name players when they compete on the main stages in Grand Slam tennis, but for Andy Murray, those nerves even extended to the practice court in the early stages of his partnership with the steely Ivan Lendl.

Calling on big-name players of the past to try their hand at coaching is nothing new on tour, but the British world No.4 has led the way in a run of recent appointments of stars from the 1980s or beyond.

Novak Djokovic calling on Boris Becker and Roger Federer taking on Stefan Edberg are the two highest-profile examples of former Grand Slam champions guiding current Grand Slam champions heading into Australian Open 2014.

Murray – who will make his Grand Slam return from back surgery against 112th-ranked Go Soeda in Melbourne – admits there is a subconscious effort to impress at training when you’re under the watchful eye of a former great, even likening it to impressing a potential new girlfriend.

“That's definitely there at the beginning of the relationship. It's kind of like, yeah, I guess any relationship that you have. If it's with a woman, you know, I would try to impress my girlfriend a lot more the first few months I was with her than I do now. I guess that's natural,” Murray mused on Saturday.

“The first few months when I was working with (Ivan), yeah, you're kind of nervous going into practice sessions and stuff. That's a good thing. It shows that you care and want to impress him.

“But then over time, you get used to having him around. It's not quite the same. But that happens in a lot of different relationships.”

Pushed on whether this translated to no more flowers for girlfriend Kim Sears given the couple have been dating for some time, the Scot clarified a discrepancy in the analogy.

“She didn’t get many flowers at the start either,” he smiled.

Murray has won just two of his five matches since returning from back surgery after last year’s US Open; one of those was against a wildcard ranked outside the top 1000 in the world.

However, the signs were positive that the Scot was hitting his straps in a solid 7-6(1) 7-6(4) exhibition match loss to Lleyton Hewitt at Kooyong on Friday.

Still, the 2013 Wimbledon champion was keeping his expectations for the next fortnight in Melbourne in check.

“You never know. I've done a lot of training the last few months; it's just I haven't played many matches. So, you know, if somehow I can work my way into the tournament, feel a little bit better every day, then I might start to raise those expectations,” he said.

For Murray, a player who had long struggled with the weight of expectations as the next British Grand Slam champion, getting a feel for the conditions, his opponent and where his body is at physically in a match situation is the bulk of his battle.

However, the pressure of competing on big arenas at a major can creep back in after a change in routine.

“Well, obviously there's pressure and nerves and stress and stuff, dealing with playing in front of big crowds again when you've been away from that for a few months. That doesn't just straight away feel normal again. So that's obviously different,” Murray said.

“You can often wake up, no matter how much training you've done, often after the first match of the year, you might have been training for four weeks in December, you can wake up after playing the first match and feel terrible just because you're going that few per cent harder.”

The Djokovic-Becker and Federer-Edberg teams have also emerged in those months Murray has spent on the sidelines, and he too has followed the news with interest.

He sees the added major-winning star quality only stretching so far unless the players uphold their end of the bargain. But there was no denying the Grand Slam-winning factor Lendl, Edberg, Becker, Goran Ivanisevic (with Marin Cilic) and Michael Chang (with Kei Nishikori) brings to the table.

“I think it’s good for tennis to see all of these great players back involved in the game,” Murray said.

“It doesn't matter how good the coach is; you can have a great coach, but if you don't put the work in, you're not going to get results. We'll have to see who puts the work in.

“Guys that have won majors know how to win tennis matches. They'll understand tactics, pressure situations. They'll understand the mentality you need to have going into major matches. And they'll have a better understanding of sometimes why you'll make certain decisions on the court because of that pressure, whereas if the person hasn't played, it's difficult to understand that.”

In two-time Australian Open champion Lendl’s case, he will be hoping for a taste of Melbourne Park glory from the other side of the fence. It would be even better for him if it comes at the expense of his great rivals from the 1980s and early ‘90s.

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