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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Positive Leadership: Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl

Much has been said recently about Andy Murray's need to find help if he wishes to be the world #1 and win majors. Boris Becker has advocated that he seeks support from former world #1, Ivan Lendl. 

This is what Lendl has to say about success and highlights why he may be the extra resource Murray needs on his quest to reach the top.
By Eddie Binder 

Recently, I talked with Ivan about his approach to developing his skills, assessing his competition, achieving the leadership position and sustaining that position over time to achieve such excellent results in tennis.  Ivan also has a keen interest in business, so we also discussed how his tennis career offers relevant and compelling insights to business.  

Following then are excerpts from our conversation.

Question:   How did you approach setting the right objectives for your career over time?

Ivan:  When I first started playing junior tennis, my goal was to be better than all other players on the European circuit in my age group.  When I turned pro, the top 100 and top 50 were my goals.  I turned professional at 19 in 1979, and made the top 20 in my first full year on tour.  I was ignorant at first about rankings.  All I cared about was playing because I loved playing.  By the end of 1981, I was ranked #2 in the world but could not achieve my ultimate goal of becoming #1 for three years.  So, I had to change my approach.

Question:   What did you do differently to become #1?

Ivan:  My progress on the professional tour was so fast that I didn’t think about improving.  Then, when I could not get to number one, I sat down and asked myself what I needed to reach my goal.  I identified three areas … I needed to learn how to play a slice backhand and return left-handed serves better (Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were key competitors at the time); and I needed to get quicker.  So, I found left-handed college players who would serve to me for hours on end.  I needed to work on my skills so I could trust my sliced back-hand against Connors or McEnroe in the fifth set of the U.S. Open, if necessary.  It was hours of practice and then hitting that shot in lesser tournaments and early rounds of majors before I knew I could hit that shot under the pressure of a fifth set in a major.  To gain quickness, I turned to a track and field coach who had worked with Olympic athletes.  He outlined several drills that would be right for my goals and I did the drills day-in and day-out without fail. 

Here is the issue, you may be able to identify the things you need to do to improve, and a lot of people are able to do that, but you are never sure that you are doing the perfectly right thing.  Most people are not able to stick to it.  That’s the biggest difference I find.  When you work on something new, you have to give it a long time.  Don’t give it two weeks and say it doesn’t work.  If it doesn’t work after six months, then look at things and see if you need to make adjustments.  But do not give up too early.

Question:   Once you began working on the weaknesses you identified, how long was it before you achieved the desired result?

Ivan:  15 months.  I started my work in early summer of 1984 and became #1 after the 1985 U.S. Open, in which I beat McEnroe in straight sets.  (Note:  Ivan also went on to win the U.S. Open in 1986 and 1987 as well.)  The key for me was knowing that I had to make changes to improve.  But I also was never quite sure I was going about it in the right way.  You can never be 100% sure the changes will work.  A lot of guys give up when they don’t get immediate results, they don’t stick to it.  You have to be incredibly patient.

Question:   After you became #1, what were the factors that enabled you to sustain leadership for such a long period?

Ivan:  It’s attributable to several factors.  First, you have to believe that you are that good.  You did not just get lucky and win a lucky match or two.  You have to believe that you are that good and deserve to be #1 because of achievement, not by default.  Second, my goal was always to win majors, and winning majors took care of #1.  I have seen guys who have had the goal of being #1 and once they achieved it, they had nowhere to go.  Setting the proper goals is critical.  The third was to always ask myself “how can I get better?”  The reason I wanted to get better was so that I could stay #1 longer because my competitors were constantly asking themselves how they could beat me and they worked to improve.  Once you reach #1 you can sit back and do nothing, or you can sit back and analyse again.  I realised that my competition was changing and therefore I needed to change my practice routine.  This helped me to improve and widen the gap and keep them at bay the longest possible time.  

So, you know, Eddie, there is a correlation between sports and business.  There are two kinds of success.  One kind of success is to be the best and be happy with that.  The other kind, which I believe in, is to know that I am best the best now but I want to be the best three years from now and I was prepared to do what was necessary to do that.'


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