SO THERE is life after Ivan Lendl. On a warm Friday night in Miami, Andy Murray took his first faltering steps into his new, coach-free existence and beat Matthew Ebden to begin the defence of his Sony Open title.
For half an hour, Murray’s support team bit their lips nervously. What would become of their man now that Lendl had forsaken him? In the two years they had worked together, the grim-faced old master had worked a special kind of magic on the Scot, instilling a new self belief in his charge and sweeping away the doubts to transform Murray into a serial grand slam champion. Without Lendl at his side, would those doubts overwhelm him again? As six break points went begging and the Australian journeyman took the first set, there was a whiff of panic in the night air.
No-one need have worried: Murray won 12 of the next 13 games and wrapped up the 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 win in double-quick time. This was Murray of old, the player we had not seen since Wimbledon last year. In the last two sets, he was hitting the ball cleanly and with venom, he was moving like a finely-tuned Ferrari and he was creating impossible winners out of nothing. He was even giving himself hell as in days of yore – and it was a good job the 60-second rant he delivered to himself after dropping serve at the start of the third set was screened well after the watershed. No, Murray was all right. Lendl may have been tucked up in bed by the time the world No.6 got off court, but the Scot was doing just fine without him.
“It’s not always about how you play or how calm you are on court, it’s about winning the tennis match, that’s what matters,” Murray said. “I won the next six games after that [rant]. Maybe it had nothing to do with that, maybe it helped, but I just got on with it and won.”
After the upheavals of the few days since the split with Lendl was announced, the win was the tonic Murray needed. He has not won a trophy since winning Wimbledon last July and in the weeks following that historic victory, he admitted that he lacked motivation. Ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a home champion had taken a huge emotional toll but by the time he had recovered from that, his back had given out on him and he opted for surgery to repair the damage.
The months since then have been spent getting himself back into top physical shape – a slow and tortuous business. Then, just when he felt that he was able to move and play freely again, Lendl gave him the bad news last Wednesday that he was off; their coaching arrangement was over. To say that the last nine months have been difficult is an understatement but Lendl’s departure has been the biggest blow of all.
“The last few days were distracting,” Murray said, “because it’s a big change and it’s something I need to think about a lot and find a solution for. But everyone goes through periods like this. It’s not distracting not having Ivan here because I’ve played many matches without him there.”
Lendl may be back to watch Murray’s next match against Feliciano Lopez – Murray has beaten the Spaniard in all eight of their previous meetings – but he will only be there to offer a little moral support.
Dani Vallverdu, Murray’s old pal from his days at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, will be in charge of coaching duties just as he has always been when Lendl was absent.
And just as the Wimbledon champion has learned from Lendl, so Vallverdu has also learned from the former champion’s wealth of experience. Whenever Lendl did not travel with the team, Vallverdu would be in daily contact to pick his brains about tactics, strategy and future opponents and, like Murray, the Venezuelan will have squirrelled away every nugget of wisdom.
After the Miami tournament, Murray will lead Britain in the Davis Cup quarter-final tie against Italy and only when that is finished will he have time to plan his next move. The bookies odds on any possible coaching appointments range from Vallverdu at 1-3 to take over permanently to Marcus Buckland, the Sky TV presenter, tipped at 500-1.
The last time Murray was between coaches, he called on the help of Darren Cahill, the former mentor to Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi. As one of his many roles in the sport, Cahill works for the Adidas player development programme and is always on hand to assist any Adidas-sponsored player. But back in 2010, Cahill said that he was committed to his job within the sports manufacturing company and to his job as a TV commentator with ESPN – he had no wish to go back into one-on-one coaching. On Friday, the Australian was spotted watching intently as Murray did for Ebden but who he was following is anyone’s guess – Ebden is a fellow Aussie, after all.
Bob Brett’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lendl – the former coach to Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic is helping the LTA overhaul their ailing performance department – along with any former champion or coach of note you care to mention. Murray is a proven champion and only a fool would not jump at the chance to work with him.
Murray is unlikely to rush into any new coaching partnership and replacing a character like Lendl will not be easy. And as Murray proved on Friday night: life goes on, Lendl or no Lendl.