A fresh pair of eyes, a different voice offering advice: Andy Murray is hoping that Ivan Lendl’s return to the team will provide the inspiration he needs to kickstart his season.
The French Open starts tomorrow and this time last year it was the highlight of Murray’s most successful clay court swing as he reached the final and took the first set from Novak Djokovic.
But coming back this time, he admits that he is struggling to find the same motivation, the same drive, that carried him to the top of the rankings pile at the end of last season. Once he got to the top, he needed to find a new target to aim for. Maybe Lendl’s return will help him find it.
Thanks to a host of illnesses and injury in the past four months, Murray has not been able to work with Lendl at a tournament since January and the Australian Open. His coach’s long absence is not the root cause of his problems – after all, Lendl was nowhere to be seen when Murray was mopping up titles last autumn – but his return might just be the solution.
“I do think in this situation when I have been struggling, that having someone coming in with a fresh voice, different set of eyes, that can help and give you a different perspective,” Murray said. “And he’s been through some struggles in his own career, as well, when he was a top player, and he understands how to get out of it. He can definitely help me with that.
“If you achieve something quite big, it can be quite natural to maybe struggle for a few months. I have been training as well as I could the last few months but it’s just maybe in a couple of matches it’s just been a little bit flat.
“That’s where it is very important that when you do achieve something big, like when I won Wimbledon the first time, I felt like that was why I was playing, really. And I had achieved my biggest goal. It was, like, you feel a bit, I don’t know, a bit lost afterwards. You need to then reset your goals and, you know, maybe at times there has been a little bit of that.”
The draw has not made life any easier for Murray at Roland Garros and if he can get through the first round against Andrey Kuznetsov, the obstacles in his path become bigger and harder to overcome. Martin Klizan should lie in wait in the second round, a 27-year-old Slovak lefthander who loves clay and likes nothing better than to whip his forehand into the furthest reaches of the court.
They have only met once before, in Vienna last year when Murray was unstoppable as he headed for the No 1 ranking. But even though the Scot won that day, he still had to work for it in three sets.
The first seed on Murray’s horizon comes in the imposing form of Juan Martin del Potro, all 6ft 6ins of him, who should be sitting waiting for him in the third round. After that, he should face either the 6ft 10ins serving machine that is John Isner or Tomas Berdych for the chance to play Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals. Stan Wawrinka is pencilled in for the semi-finals and either Rafael Nadal – the title favourite – or Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, should, according to the seedings, be on the other side of the net in the final. But getting through that collection of talent and experience to reach the sharp end of the tournament may be asking too much of Murray in his current state of health and readiness.
Coming to Paris, he started to feel unwell on Sunday afternoon and he has been struggling to recover from a virus ever since. But even if he was feeling rough, he still pushed himself to practise and by yesterday, he was feeling much better – well enough to practise for three hours in the blistering sunshine. As Murray has always believed: the only way to play better is to work harder.
“The only way to get through it is to work your way through it,” he said, “keep working on your game, try to understand what’s not been going right. Although it’s very frustrating, you have to try to enjoy this part of what we do, as well, because, you know, the struggles are part of what make the good times so enjoyable.
“I need to enjoy my struggle a little bit just now and that will help me get through it quicker, I believe.”
Meanwhile, British No 2 Heather Watson’s bid to qualify for the French Open ended in a comprehensive final-round defeat by Dutchwoman Richel Hogenkamp. Watson, who has dropped to No 118 in the world, lost 6-0, 6-3.