So when the silver-haired American revealed recently that he “didn’t get a call from Andy” about coaching him after his split with Amélie Mauresmo in May, tennis was spared what might have been the most combustible partnership in the history of the sport.
McEnroe – whose temper lit up the 80s, most memorably at Wimbledon – admits he would struggle to contain his own temper if Murray started ranting at him during a match. “I don’t think I would be able to handle that for too long,” the former champion said on Monday night. “It might be a very short relationship. I understand that he may think that’s how he ticks, or whatever it is. Some of it is understandable, but other times it’s like, ‘come on’.”
The obvious problem is they are too similar – which is why McEnroe thinks Ivan Lendl is probably the ideal coach for Murray, and that their reunion last week might inspire a return to the Scot’s winning ways in majors.
“You be Sigmund Freud and you tell me. It would seem that is not a total coincidence. But I don’t think he was yelling too much at Mauresmo either, as far as I could tell.”
That is open to debate, but Lendl’s stern, statue-like presence at courtside does seem to have given Murray pause for thought, even if he exploded a couple of times at Queen’s last week on the way to winning a record fifth title – against McEnroe’s new pupil, Milos Raonic.
While McEnroe understands there needs to be emotional space between player and coach, he “gets” Murray. It is easy to see why. “I mean, why hasn’t [Nick] Kyrgios called me?” he asks rhetorically, referring to the Australian’s on-court meltdowns. “People would think, if you’re going to coach someone, it should be him. That would seem to be the perfect combination, or it could be the perfectly disastrous combination.
“The same with Andy. He’s much quieter and his energy is very different from mine but that part of it is very similar. It’s probably the part that we’re not the most proud of. I’m sure that if he could take some of it back, he would.”
It cuts both ways, of course, this futile exercise of trying to be calm under pressure when the heart is urging the head to scream. When McEnroe erupted during his first-round match against Tom Gullikson at Wimbledon in 1981, yelling “You cannot be serious!” at the chair umpire, the imperturbable Scot Edward James, he came close to losing it over just a line call – but didn’t. He won in straight sets, was fined $1,500, and went on to win the title, beating Bjorn Borg in the final.
However, as he confessed years later, “I can tell you from experience that, when you get that pent-up and crazed, it can be distracting. It cost me the match in the 1984 French Open final when I lost to Lendl [after winning the first two sets].”
Murray, meanwhile, is in as good a place as he could wish to be going into Wimbledon next week. If he can recapture the steel that inspired him to win the title in 2013 – with Lendl looking down from his box as he beat Novak Djokovic in three sets in the final – he has, “a great shot”, according to McEnroe.
McEnroe will be perched in the BBC commentary box for much of the time (and says he would relish commentating on Raonic’s matches, which would be a first). And Lendl will be back in his usual spot, a row or two in front of Murray’s parents, with Jamie Delgado by his side now as the chief organiser, rather than Dani Vallverdu, alongside condition Matt Little, the team’s most vocal cheerleader.
For now, all is well. But a storm is rarely far away.
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