IT IS a partnership which has secured two Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon, and an Olympic gold medal, but after two years of glittering success, Andy Murray dropped a bombshell yesterday when he announced that he had parted company with Ivan Lendl, the coach credited with overhauling his game.
The world No 6 revealed that he and Lendl have decided to bring an end to their fruitful relationship as part of a review of the Scot’s coaching team.
In a statement on his official website, Murray said that both men had “mutually agreed” to the move.
Murray, who last summer became the first British man in 77 years to win the Wimbledon singles title, added that he now planned to “take some time” to consider how he will reshape the close-knit team around
him to “progress” in the rest of his career.
The end of the partnership will have come as a surprise to many tennis observers, given the success that Murray has enjoyed since teaming up with the former world No 1, who captured no fewer than eight Grand Slam titles during his own playing career.
After taking up his position in Murray’s corner at the start of the 2012 season – following on from the likes of Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja – Lendl helped guide the Dunblane player through the most successful
period in his career to date.
Lendl, like his protege, lost early slam finals in his career, and it is widely believed that he helped add steel and mental strength to Murray’s game, allowing him to finally fulfil his promise.
That summer, he defeated Roger Federer in the final of the Olympic men’s singles competition as well as winning a silver medal in the mixed doubles with Laura Robson as his partner.
Murray then became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam final by beating Novak Djokovic over five sets at the US Open and, last year, beat the same opponent in the final at Wimbledon.
In the aftermath of that famous triumph in SW19, Murray credited Lendl with helping him “learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past.”
He explained: “I think he has always been very honest with me. He has always told me exactly what he thought. And in tennis, it’s not always that easy to do in a player-coach relationship. The player is sometimes the one in charge. I think sometimes coaches are not always that comfortable doing that.”
What next for Murray?
There had been no hint of a rift last week when Murray was struggling through the early rounds at Indian Wells, no clue of what was to come. The fact that the world No 6 was feeling physically better than at any time since his back surgery last September was a positive sign and the fact that he was furious with himself for letting slip a potentially winning lead against Milos Raonic in the fourth round was the clearest of indications that he was getting back to normal.
He hates to lose at the best of times but, when he loses through sheer sloppiness and lack of concentration, he is his own harshest critic. Murray cut himself no slack after that miserable morning’s work.
As he headed across the United States to Miami to begin his preparations for the Sony Open, Murray was determined to get back on the practice courts to sort out his game. It was a typical Murray response to a crisis of form and confidence – when in doubt, work harder.
That Lendl had not made the trip to California was the least surprising element of the story. As a player, Lendl never came to terms with the conditions in the dry, desert air and, after reaching a couple of finals in Indian Wells, he gave the place a wide berth for the rest of his career. As a coach, he left Murray to his own devices on the west coast and, instead, focused his attentions on training closer to home in Miami. Lendl has a house a couple of hundred miles away in Bradenton and has his own junior tennis academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina, about 500 miles north of the city.
With Murray owning a condo in Miami, his grim-faced coach felt more comfortable working in Florida.
With the benefit of hindsight, it may be possible to argue that Murray’s poor form was down to the forthcoming split. If, before the tournament in Indian Wells, Lendl had told him that he wanted to move on, it might have been enough of a distraction to cause Murray’s mind to wander. The Scot, like most people, likes everything in his personal and professional life to be calm and in order so that he is free to concentrate on his work. If he was fretting about the future, his focus may have been a bit blurred as he stumbled through his three matches in the desert. That, though, is purely conjecture.Right from the very start of his career, Murray knew what he wanted from a coach. When he left the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, he was just 17 and was working with Pato Alves, a hugely experienced coach. That relationship lasted only a matter of months. The 70-year-old Alves wanted to shape his charge into a typical, Spanish counter-puncher, Murray wanted to be an aggressive baseliner in the Andre Agassi mould.
From there, Murray moved to Brad Gilbert, via a spell with Mark Petchey, but it soon became apparent that all was not well – not even Agassi’s former mentor could provide the Scot with the information and support he needed. After a little more than a year, Murray made the decision to fire the motor-mouthed Gilbert and set about assembling his own team of advisors. Throughout all of this, the Scot was always the boss, even if he found that position stressful at times. When things were not going well, he was the one who had to make the tough decisions and firing men much older than himself, men with impressive reputations and CVs, was difficult. No matter, he did what had to be done. But, with Lendl, it was very different. Lendl was always the leader. He was open and honest with his pupil and encouraged Murray to be the same with him, but the respect that the younger man had for his teacher was obvious. The Czech eight-times grand slam champion knew how to win major titles and Murray listened to his every word and did what he was told.
From the way the split was announced, it sounds as though it was Lendl’s decision to end the arrangement. And it sounded very Lendl-like. He had been hired to help Murray overcome the one hurdle left in the Scot’s path – winning a grand slam final. That was achieved within nine months when Murray beat Novak Djokovic in five gruelling sets to win the US Open title. At last, Murray had found someone to guide him through the nerves and the self-doubt and lead him to that first major title. That Murray was able to go on and win Wimbledon from there was all the proof Lendl needed that his job was done. Murray was now a serial champion.
“Working with Andy over the last two years has been a fantastic experience for me,” Lendl said in an official statement. “He is a first-class guy. Having helped him achieve his goal of winning major titles, I feel like it is time for me to concentrate on some of my own projects moving forward including playing more events around the world, which I am really enjoying. I will always be in Andy’s corner and wish him nothing but great success as he, too, goes into a new phase of his career.”
Those projects of Lendl’s include playing on the seniors’ circuit, something he has done more and more in the past couple of years, and concentrating on his tennis academy. His record as a player was one of the best in the sport’s history – eight grand slam titles, 94 titles in all, 270 weeks spent as world No 1. His record as a coach was almost as good. From a standing start, he jumped in at the deep end with the young Scot and turned the perennial finalist into a true champion.
Murray always knew he had the talent to beat anyone; Lendl showed him how to use it.
“He’s made me learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past,”
Murray said after winning Wimbledon. “I think he’s always been very honest with me. He’s always told me exactly what he thought. And, in tennis, it’s not always that easy to do in a player/coach relationship. The player is sometimes the one in charge. I think sometimes coaches are not always that comfortable doing that.
“But he’s been extremely honest with me. If I work hard, he’s happy. If I don’t, he’s disappointed, and he’ll tell me. And, when I’ve lost matches, like last year after the [2012 Wimbledon] final he told me he was proud of the way I played because I went for it when I had chances. It was the first time I played a match in a grand slam final like that. He’s got my mentality slightly different going into those sort of matches.”
What will happen now is anyone’s guess. Murray said last summer that he would happily work with Lendl until the end of his career and replacing such a huge figure in his life will be hard for the world No 6. Then again, Lendl did not always travel with his charge and was happy to leave Dani Vallverdu in charge of running the support team in his absence. Vallverdu, Murray’s best friend from his days in Barcelona, remains at the head of Team Murray and he, too, will have learned a lot from two years working with Old Stone Face.
Until Lendl came along, no-one in Team Murray knew what it felt like to win a major championship. Now everyone has that experience – Lendl has shown them how it is done and what it takes to do it again. And Lendl will always be at the end of the telephone should Murray feel the need to call – the two men are still friends, even if they are no longer working together. Murray may choose to go it alone from now on, relying solely on the stalwarts of his team, or he may look for another full-time mentor. But, whatever happens, Lendl’s legacy will last forever. Ater two years spent listening to an old champion, Murray will never again doubt that he can win another major title.