A GENTLE ripple of applause breaks out around Wimbledon’s Aorangi practice courts. A pinpoint Andy Murray serve has struck its target, generating a metallic twang as it sends an empty and strategically placed tennis ball canister spinning towards the perimeter fence. Quick as a flash, Ivan Lendl glares over at the instigators of the interruption. “Why are you doing that when he has missed so many already?” he demands.

There is perhaps half a smile – this was a relaxed practice session involving British junior Barney Smith – but the point is serious enough. The Czech remains as uncompromising and unflinching now as he was 30 years ago, when his equal best run at this venue ended in a demoralising straight-sets defeat to Pat Cash in the final – the only major title he never claimed. If anyone knows the standards the Scot must reach to win Wimbledon it is Lendl.

“It reminds me a little bit of ‘87 when we had no rain and the courts played extremely fast,” says Lendl, at pains to point out that he isn’t an “agronomist”. “But I didn’t slip once [at practice]. It’s something I can’t influence so you just worry about what you have to do with the conditions you have.”

Loading article content

With all 16 of those still standing in the men’s and women’s draw in action, the first day of the second week goes by the nickname “Manic” Monday. Will all of the big four, relatively untroubled thus far, still be standing by close of play today?

Murray, hopefully showing little in the way of ill effects from being taken out of his comfort zone by Fabio Fognini on Friday night, faces another master of chaos in the form of Benoit Paire, a 28-year-old free spirit from France with form for partying hard in Rio and demolishing his racket collection. A reborn Rafa Nadal, appearing like the only genuine threat remaining in the Scot’s half of the draw, faces Gilles Muller, a big server from Luxembourg who took Nadal’s scalp 12 years ago. In the other half, Novak Djokovic is playing confidently and ostensibly faces a relatively simple assignment against France’s Adrian Mannarino, while Roger Federer’s title credentials will be tested by Grigor “Baby Fed” Dimitrov.

For his part, Lendl’s guess is that the cream will rise to the top. Just as it did in that see-sawing two and a half hours on Centre Court on Friday. While it has never been his style to turn cartwheels, he was delighted but not surprised that the Scot showed such grit to come through a few crisis points against Fognini.

“It’s Andy, I mean, you expect it, don’t you?” said Lendl. “That’s how people win tournaments – they fight. It doesn’t come easy. You have to fight and you don’t always play your best and you have to get through that and fighting is part of it.

“The top guys are top guys because they do things a little bit better than the other guys,” the Czech added. “Can they be beaten? Of course they can but in the end most of the time the top guys do win because they are a little better than the others.

“Whether it’s problem solving, whether it’s lack of matches for a while, dealing with distractions off the court – these guys are used to it.

“The top guys are better in stroke production, movement, physically, you put all that into a package and the package is slightly better than the guys below,” he added. “Yes, they can get upset, or the others can upset them, but if they play 100 times they are going to win a lot more than half and that’s because the package is a little more complete. All those guys are great players, anybody can win.”