As the season draws to a close and the matches are running out for the world’s two top players, there is a marked absence of super-coaches in Paris.
Novak Djokovic, clinging to his No 1 ranking by his fingertips, has opted to come to the BNP Paribas Masters without either Boris Becker or his No 2 coach, Marian Vajda, while Andy Murray, breathing down the neck of the Serb for that top ranking position, is in town without Ivan Lendl.
But while Djokovic has claimed that going solo this week was “part of the agreement of the whole team, including Marian and Boris” and, instead, is here with his new spiritual adviser, Pepe Imaz, Lendl is still very much part of Murray’s support team. He may be on the other side of the Atlantic, but Lendl is still watching over every move Murray makes.
That the race for the No 1 ranking should boil down to the final two events of the season is hardly surprising. Murray and Djokovic have carved up the year between them with the Serb winning 44 matches and losing three until the end of the French Open and Murray winning 41 matches and losing three since the end of the French Open.
Murray, who is on a 15-match winning streak and has won his last three tournaments, has not seen Lendl since the US Open in September. Instead, he has turned to Jamie Delgado for advice and guidance. The laid-back and likeable Delgado may not have the profile or the celebrity status of Lendl (or the slightly threatening poker face) but he is just as big a part of Murray’s team and whenever the Scot needs anything, Delgado is always there. And the Englishman is in constant touch with Lendl as the two coaches plot and plan for the matches ahead.
“I spoke to Ivan on the Sunday when I was in Vienna [last week],” Murray said. “I spoke to him for about half an hour. We spoke before I went to China; a couple of times on the phone that week beforehand with Jamie as well on the phone but then that’s been it since the US Open. And I didn’t speak to Ivan last week in Vienna about any matches or tactics for any matches; I go through all of that with Jamie.
“Whether they speak about it – which I’m pretty sure they do every day, communicate with each other – I don’t hear about that which I think is a positive thing. I have one message coming to me directly and that’s from the coach who’s there with me.
“Obviously we stay in touch through messages and stuff but, in terms of actual talking with Ivan, that’s been it. But I think Ivan and Jamie speak and stay in touch pretty much most days.”
Lendl will be in London for the ATP World Tour Finals, but by then his charge may already have grabbed the top place in the rankings. To do that, he must reach the final in Paris at the very least and then hope that Djokovic does not pass the semi-final stage. Murray’s first step is to beat Fernando Verdasco today and, having beaten the Spaniard 11 times in 12 previous meetings, he will not need a huge amount of coaching from either Delgado or Lendl which should make life a little easier.
“I do think when you have two coaches there, the communication’s a lot easier,” Murray said. “When you have one there and one somewhere else who’s not around, they don’t know what the conditions are like, how you’ve been practising and these things. It’s much better to have the one that’s on site being the one that’s communicating, speaking with Ivan – for example – and feeding back to me in his words, really.”
It is unlikely that Becker will have any words of wisdom to impart from afar to Djokovic this week – he has spent the past couple of evenings playing poker in the Devilfish Cup in Nottingham. Whether he will be required to offer words of wisdom once this season is over and his contract is up for renewal, only time will tell.