Conspiracy theorists may conclude that if Lendl is walking away for the second time in five years, the stone-faced coach does not believe that Murray will be able to compete for the major titles again. Lendl is not one to hang around.
The first time the two worked together, between 2012 and 2014, their relationship was going swimmingly until Murray won his first Wimbledon and then lost his way – suddenly the motivation was not at quite the same level as before. A couple of months later, Murray had surgery to repair a longstanding back problem. That ended his season in early September and he knew that it would take months to get back to full fitness once he came back to the tour.
Those in the know reported that Lendl’s response to this was not a sympathetic offer of help and support but, rather, a request to let Lendl know when Murray would be able to work again. By the following March, Lendl announced that he was leaving and, at the time, Murray was distraught.
Lendl came back to the fold at the start of the grass court season last summer. He oversaw Murray’s second Wimbledon victory and second Olympic gold and was back in parade for Murray’s first ATP World Tour Finals success. That secured the end-of-year No.1 ranking but, having achieved that goal, Murray’s motivation wavered again.
Then came the succession of illnesses and injuries culminating in the hip problem that was aggravated in the semi-finals of the French Open. During that time, Lendl had only worked with his charge in Australia in January and again at the French Open and on to the grass court season. By the end of that, Murray was seriously hobbled.
Rehab and recovery from the hip issue is still work in progress and while Murray is going to Miami for his traditional off-season training block with the intention of playing in Brisbane and then the Australian Open in January, he has made it clear that he will not play until he is fully fit again.
As a result, Lendl’s departure did not register highly on the Richter Scale of breaking news.
But what now for the Scot? He has in place his regular team including Jamie Delgado who, presumably, now steps into Lendl’s shoes as coach-in-chief. It was Delgado who marched every step of the way around the circuit last year as Murray won nine titles and climbed to the top of the rankings and it is to Delgado that Murray turns whenever he needs anything (Delgado lives only a few miles from Murray’s Surrey mansion).
The first goal will be to get Murray fit and back on court again. From there, the team can assess the state of the Scot’s stamina, strength and form and make plans accordingly.
Then, perhaps, will be the time for Murray to find a new coach – or maybe not. Delgado was his support, adviser and help last year and it worked all right. Maybe at the age of 30, Murray will stick with what he knows and see where it takes him.
As the Scot contemplated his next move, David Goffin did the unthinkable and beat Roger Federer 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the ATP World Tour Finals singles final. After six defeats on the bounce to the mighty Swiss, Goffin had hoped that he could do something a little different yesterday. But what exactly did he do to secure that first win?
“He played better,” Federer said, taking his defeat well. “That was a good plan.”
For a set, Goffin was nervous and tentative but then he started to lean into his returns, Federer’s level dipped and the quiet Belgian was on his way to victory. When it was over, he looked gobsmacked while Federer, smiling like a proud big brother (he is fond of Goffin) was just looking forward to some time off at the end of a stellar season.
“It’s kind of disappointing to finish on this note,” Federer said, “but whatever happened today is less important than if I look at the entire season. With that season, I’m extremely happy.
“I’m just looking forward to some time off now, away from the match court, away from the pressure, then hopefully play well in Australia. I had the best time of my life there this year, so can’t wait to go back there.”
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares felt pretty much the same way – yesterday’s result was going to take a while to forget but overall, the season had not been too bad, particularly for Murray who collected two mixed doubles grand slam titles over the summer. As for yesterday, they lost in the semi-final at the O2 to Henri Kontinen and John Peers, the defending champions, 7-6, 6-2.
They stood toe-to-toe with Kontinen and Peers for the best part of a set, digging themselves out of trouble as they faced three set points on Soares’s serve, but they could not hold the champions back in the tiebreak. And once Kontinen and Peers took the lead, they never looked back.