Amélie Mauresmo had had her say and now it was time for Andy Murray to have his. And, after the Frenchwoman had revealed a few home truths about the world No 2’s split personality – fiery on the court and a gentleman off it – Murray had a clear message for his former coach yesterday: it had been her job to back him, no matter what.
Mauresmo had used an interview with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe to explain the true reason why she left her role as Murray’s coach – and foremost among those was the huge divide between the angry, tempestuous man who ranted and growled at his team during matches and the inquisitive, intelligent soul who worked with her on the practice court.
In the same paper yesterday, the Scot was given a right of reply and, while he held his hand up to all the charges levelled at him – yes, he was sometimes embarrassed by his antics on court and, yes, his rants to his team mid-match were sometimes a distraction – he also made it quite clear what he expected from everyone in his team.
“Obviously you never want to upset anyone when you’re on the court, but this happens in all sports,” Murray said. “It’s tough. It’s not always easy and perfect all of the time. It’s up to me to improve that side of things but also for my team to support me through it as well.”
But Mauresmo had obviously had enough and she and Murray announced their split two weeks ago. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it was easy to point to Mauresmo’s decision to sit away from the rest of the team at both the Miami Masters in March and his last match at the ATP World Tour Finals last November and come to the conclusion that she did not want to be the focus of another Murray meltdown. The Scot, though, begs to differ and sounded just a little tired of his critics cobbling together their evidence of his misdemeanours long after the fact.
“Sometimes, the coaches felt like they were being a distraction,” Murray said. “Sometimes if after a match, I’d been complaining about tactics or whatever, if they felt that they were removed from that situation, it would be less of a distraction for me.
“I think it’s easy to use that as maybe an excuse. But it’s only an excuse when things are going badly. I don’t hear that normally when things go well. People don’t go, ‘oh, he was getting frustrated with his box, that’s why he won the match’. It’s when you lose people always look for reasons why that may be and I’ve always been open to try different things – if my coach sits there or doesn’t sit there, I don’t think it makes much difference.”
As for his outbursts during the matches, Murray is trying to keep his temper in check and thinks that he has been pretty successful in that during the clay court swing this year – a clay court run in which Mauresmo has played no part. The conundrum is, as always, how far to give in to his emotional side – the part of his personality that stokes the competitive fires burning from first ball to last – and how far to keep his feelings in lockdown.
“I don’t think that when I’m totally quiet that it’s a positive thing for me,” Murray said. “I don’t think that’s positive. I think I need to express myself on the court. But it’s important to express yourself in a positive way too. So sometimes if you’re just being negative the whole match and you’re not saying to yourself ‘well done’ and fist-pumping when you play a good point, then that’s not really a good balance, so I have to show positive emotion as well and hopefully I’ll do that here.”
He was singularly unsuccessful in that for the first two sets against Radek Stepanek last night as their first-round match was suspended for bad light.
Handed a warning for an audible obscenity towards the end of the second set, the Scot’s temper was being sorely tested as the veteran Czech took control. Everything was getting to Murray from the state of his legs – “Destroyed my legs two days before the tournament. Idiot!” he grumbled – to his memories of the past week, seemingly a miserable five days judging by the number of expletives he needed to explain the problem. But what really ailed him was simply that Stepanek was getting the better of most of their exchanges.
That all stopped in the third set when Murray raced away with six straight games in 23 minutes at which point the Czech tried every time-wasting tactic he could think of, from fiddling with his contact lenses to taking a toilet break, as the light began to fail and he wanted the match called off. Stepanek got his wish at 9:22pm local time with Murray fighting his way back to 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 4-2. The world No 2, hopefully calmer and happier, will be back today to try to pick up where he left off.