8-time Slam champ Ivan Lendl helps USTA try to develop stars
Ivan Lendl is getting back into coaching to try to groom the next American tennis champion.
Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam title winner and former coach of Andy Murray, is working with about a half-dozen 15- and 16-year-old boys as part of the U.S. Tennis Association's player development program.
The 55-year-old Lendl agreed to spend 50 days over the next year with the group, including a training camp that began late last month.
''I enjoy working with younger players. You can form them and help them the most,'' Lendl said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''It's just fun watching how they try to learn. They ask a lot of questions. They try different things. They're just eager to get better.''
The USTA planned to announce Lendl's involvement Tuesday, along with that of two other former players who will be coaching young American pros: Mardy Fish and Jill Craybas. All three are on retainer with the USTA.
The recently retired Fish, once ranked as high as No. 7, and Craybas, who won an NCAA singles championship and reached the top 50 as a pro, will take part in preseason training camps from late November into December. Fish will work with at least a half-dozen men in California; Craybas will be with at least 10 women in Florida.
''It gives our players a chance to make a connection to, and get training from, other players who have played at the highest level and kind of gives them a perspective for where the bar is in terms of what they can accomplish,'' said Martin Blackman, who replaced Patrick McEnroe as head of the player development program in April.
Lendl was ranked No. 1, reached 19 Grand Slam finals, won 94 ATP tour singles titles and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2001.
As a coach, he helped Murray win the U.S. Open in 2012, and Wimbledon in 2013.
As for whether he might again coach a top-level pro, Lendl said: ''I don't know if it will happen, when it will happen, on what level it will happen. But if something comes along which makes a lot of sense, I am always willing to consider it.''
For now, though, he will spend time with the teens. They're also getting assistance from fitness trainer Jez Green, who worked with Murray, too.
''You ask them how they think they will be playing in the future, what kind of style, and who their heroes are. You evaluate and establish what the weaknesses are. And then you design a program to work on those weaknesses,'' Lendl said. ''I really enjoy helping them conform to the way they think they should be playing. Unless, of course, we totally disagree about how they should play.''
He added with a chuckle: ''If a guy who is going to be 6-foot-8 tells me wants to play like Rafa (Nadal), we will have more discussions.''
No U.S. man has reached a major quarterfinal since 2011; none has won a major singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. No American woman other than the Williams sisters has participated in a Grand Slam final since 2005.
''What has gone wrong? I'm not qualified to say,'' Lendl said. ''But I have had a lot of discussions with Martin ... on how I would like to see a young group develop.''
This week, there is only one U.S. man in the ATP's top 20, No. 11 John Isner. There are four in the top 50, seven in the top 100.
The U.S. women have Serena Williams at No. 1, Venus Williams at No. 7 - and a total of seven in the top 50, 13 in the top 100.
Blackman said ''a successful tennis federation model'' seen in other countries, including Spain, France and Australia, blends ''professional career coaches'' with a ''kind of organic retention of former players.''
''We had a little break in that connection with the last generation of American champions,'' Blackman said. ''What we're trying to do now is be a little more systematic and strategic about getting all of our past champions involved and re-engaged.''
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