While Andy Murray was sweating his way past Vasek Pospisil in the scorching desert sun and claiming his place in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, his potential next assistant coach was dolled up in sequins and Lycra and was trying to jive his way into the judges’ hearts in Sweden’s version of Strictly.
Nifty footwork may be important in tennis but snake-hips and the ability to smile no matter what are not the skills most players look for in a new coach. No matter – Murray is hoping against hope that, when Jonas Bjorkman is finally voted off Let’s Dance, he will sashay his way into Team Murray and become the perfect partner for Amelie Mauresmo, his head coach.
“I actually don’t know how he’s doing,” Murray said of Bjorkman after beating Pospisil with relative ease 6-1, 6-3. “He messaged me just now. I haven’t asked him. But it’s Saturday – I think he would have been dancing tonight so it sounds like he’s probably still in.”
That will be a blow for the Scot. He cannot wait to get the Swede over to the US to see whether Twinkle Toes gets on with the rest of Murray’s team. After a deeply average month alone while Mauresmo was on Fed Cup duty with France following the Australian Open – two quarter-finals reached, two quarter-finals lost – Murray wants someone standing at his shoulder every week he is on the road.
When he was younger, there were times when he relished working things out for himself but now that he is older and wiser, Murray knows himself better. Now, he can admit to his weaknesses and is more than willing to ask for help to cure them.
The moment he got to Glasgow for the Davis Cup tie against America, his form improved. The lead player in a tight-knit group with everyone pulling together towards a common goal, he was a different man. No other event comes close to the atmosphere of the Davis Cup but to have that same common objective and with a similarly driven support network around him at all times could be possible. And Bjorkman, sans sequins, could make it happen.
“Look, for me, in February, not having a coach there for me, that doesn’t work for me,” Murray said. “It’s something that I obviously want to get sorted as soon as possible just to keep working on the correct things and having someone there who can tell me where I’m going wrong – I need that.
“And it’s something that I’m way more open to than I was at the beginning of my career. I listen much better to my team and my coaches and Davis Cup was obviously great. I had people around me there, obviously – Leon Smith, Nick Weal and Colin Beecher – and you’re working on specific things. I did a few little bits and pieces with Louis Cayer as well. So, I was working on things and had a clear direction in the four or five days build-up in what I wanted to do and how I was going to play the matches and the tactics so, hopefully, everything works out well with Jonas and that will be OK.”
He has Mauresmo back at his side here in California and her influence has clearly made a difference. Ivan Lendl never came to the west coast – he never liked the tournament, even in his playing days – but Mauresmo has been out on the practice courts with her charge for the past five days and oversaw his demolition of Pospisil. This event has been a banana skin for the Scot for the past few years but this week he is relaxed, cheery and gradually getting the hang of the awkward conditions.
Saturday’s match was not spectacular – Pospisil was hopeless in the first set and ropey in the second – but Murray did exactly what was required to get the job done.
“I thought I did a good job,” he said. “I controlled the ball well today. But it’s not easy, so it’s something that in every match you need to be right on it and not take your timing or anything for granted. You need to respect the conditions and make sure you’re very sharp. It’s tough because it’s not that easy to control the ball here. The balls are lively, and when it’s warm like this – I think it’s in the mid‑90s – it’s tricky.
“I thought I played quite a smart match, played solid. I didn’t go for too much, but I also felt like when we were in the rallies I was dictating them, keeping him pinned in his backhand corner, and pushing him further and further away from the baseline. I thought it was a good start.”
Today, he will need to replicate those smart tactics against Philipp Kohlschreiber, the world No 29 from Germany. They have played twice before with honours even but Murray’s win at the French Open last year took a lot of lung-power – he edged home 12-10 in the fifth set.
The German has been hitting with Roger Federer here and, while he admits to taking a pasting from the world No 2 on the practice courts, he is convinced that the experience has helped his game. He certainly looked in fine fettle as he waltzed past Tim Smyczek 6-3, 6-1 on Saturday.
“It’ll be a tough match,” Murray said. “I think he quite likes the conditions here. I saw a little bit of his match this morning and he looked like he was playing well.
“He obviously plays his best on the clay, I would say. He plays with a lot of topspin so in these conditions where the ball is bouncing quite high, I think he quite likes them. So it’ll be a tough match. I’ve only played him a couple of times and last year at the French was very hard so I’ll need to play well to win.”