LIKE the song says, breaking up is hard to do – and it is certainly a lot harder than Andy Murray had ever imagined.
The Wimbledon champion had never been dumped before but when Ivan Lendl handed in his notice in March, saying that he could no longer find the time to devote himself to the cause, Murray felt that stomach-churning sense of loss that everyone feels when they have been given the push. He had fired coaches in the past – Murray has had seven mentors in his nine years on the tour – but no-one had ever walked away from him. Even in his private life, he has been happily with Kim Sears since his teens so getting the brush off was a completely new experience. And, clearly, it still hurts.
“I knew at the time it was tough because normally you are the one who makes that kind of decision; the decision was kind of made for me,” he said sadly as he left the Mutua Madrid Open after a crushing defeat to Santiago Giraldo in the third round. “The whole point of having a full-time coach is to bring that structure, goals, a long-term plan and to kind of stick to it. I still have, obviously, those goals in my head, the things I want to try and achieve, but you do also need help. All players need help and that’s why you’ll find pretty much every single top player will have a coach for those reasons.”
At the start of the week, Murray had sounded confident and upbeat: he wanted to have a new coach in place by the start of the French Open or, failing that, by Wimbledon at the latest. But just a handful of days later, he was not so sure. Finding the right man in the next few days, getting to know him and his working methods, explaining what he wants from his coach and when – this cannot be done overnight.
Lendl had been the perfect fit in every way. The two men got on well together, they shared a mutual respect and they were inordinately successful. It was not as if Murray had done anything wrong; he had listened attentively, he had done what he was told and he had won major titles. And then Lendl decided he really didn’t have the time for this anymore. “You never know how player-coach relationships are going to work,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of people when I started working with Ivan who thought it was never going to work – it just kind of shows that you never know exactly how things are going to work out.
“I think I can find a good replacement, someone who can motivate me and get me kind of learning and improving again because that’s the most important thing. You don’t want to stay still or start to go backwards at all; you always need to keep improving because the field gets better all of the time. So that’s what I need: I need to have someone who’s going to teach me new things and help me learn.
“Ideally I would have someone there but I also don’t necessarily want to start working with someone like three days before a slam because I also think that’s not ideal. You want to spend a bit of time with the person beforehand and the French Open is still a big, big goal for me and I don’t expect to have results or play like I did against Giraldo when I arrive in Paris.”
The last time Murray was in a final it was a blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon on Wimbledon’s Centre court and he was about to make history. Since then, the combination of emotional exhaustion after winning Wimbledon, the comeback from his back surgery and now Lendl’s departure have scuppered his chances on three different continents, from the US Open to the Australian Open and now on to the European clay. It is not the end of the world but it is not quite the confidence boost he wanted before he goes to Roland Garros and SW19.
So, the search for a new coach goes on. Murray is wary of hiring someone too quickly – on the rebound, as it were – but he needs to find someone soon. As he has discovered to his cost, being a single man on the tennis tour is not all it is cracked up to be.