ANDY MURRAY is at peace. At peace with his coach, his team, his game, his form and his life.
The result of this newfound calm is that he is playing better with every round that passes, he is looking more like a grand slam champion in waiting.
Not even the fact that today he takes on Tomas Berdych, now coached by Dani Vallverdu, can upset the Scot’s sense of inner calm. Vallverdu is one of Murray’s oldest friends and, until last November, he was his assistant coach. But the two parted company amicably enough after a dismal end to the ATP World Tour Finals – Murray was crushed 6-0, 6-1 by Roger Federer – but, clearly, things had not be right in Team Murray for some time.
“It’s not an easy thing to do [to keep the whole team happy],” Murray said. “Everyone has to contribute towards that, it’s not just up to the player, the whole team is responsible for communicating properly and getting things done correctly.
The tennis player’s job is to show up and give 100 per cent in training sessions on and off the court, to communicate with the team how you’re feeling and things you feel like you want to work on and then, after that, it’s really up to the team to put a plan in place and come up with the goods. To prepare you as best as you can be prepared for these sort of events. It’s certainly not only down to the player.
“Everyone might have different opinions but, clearly, the way things ended last year at the O2 wasn’t the best way to end the year. But maybe there were some reasons for that. For me, I think things right now are much, much smoother and calmer and everyone’s a lot less stressed out than at the end of last year. You want to know that everything’s taken care of. If one person in a group of four or five isn’t doing part of their job properly then the whole team weakens. So you need everyone to be pulling their weight, really. When that’s the case good things happen.”
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Certainly, Murray has been thriving in a relaxed and happy environment in Melbourne. Newly engaged, he is here with fiancée Kim, while the other woman in his life – Amélie Mauresmo – is making her mark on Murray’s strategy and approach to the job. His serve is working more efficiently, he is trying to stamp his authority on opponents from the very first ball and he is varying his tactics with every match. Grigor Dimitrov could not find a way to get on top of him, while Nick Kyrgios simply had not a clue what Murray was going to do next. The Scot is oozing with confidence as approaches today’s semi-final.
“When everyone is pulling in the same direction, things are going to improve,” Murray said. “I feel like I made some big improvements, to my game and physically, in the off-season, and I think that has showed so far. I enjoy working with Amélie. She gets on very well with my team too. She has a good personality to coach and also a lot of experience as well so I’m happy with the way it’s working.
“When all of your team members are comfortable and happy, when everyone’s getting on and there’s good dialogue and communication then you’re going to be able to make improvements and, obviously, things off the court as well have been good and positive for me.
“I’ve got some things to look forward to later in the year with Kim, and, when you’re content with things and happy in the people you’re surrounding yourself with and are in a good place, that’s a positive.”
There is still the question of looking up to the players’ box and seeing Vallverdu sitting in Berdych’s entourage. It is hardly uncommon for coaches to switch players but the fact that Murry will bump into Vallverdu in such an important match so soon after their split may have come as a bit of a surprise.
It is not just that Vallverdu knows Murray’s game inside out, he also worked alongside Mauresmo for six months. He has seen what she is trying to do for and with her charge and that may be key today. Vallverdu has tried to make changes to Berdych’s game – the Czech is more patient, more willing to think through a problem rather than try to hit his way out of trouble – and he knows exactly where Murray’s weaknesses lie. But, even so, Murray is not flustered.
“I think one thing I would say is that Tomas will be 30 this year,” Murray said. “It’s very difficult to change your habits and the way you do things at that age. There are improvements that you can make but certain tendencies and habits, things that you’ve been doing your whole career naturally, are very difficult to change. So you just have to go with what you know. And maybe there will be a few things here and there that Dani may be able to help him with but there are a few things that I know that Dani thinks about Tomas’s game as well. So you just get on with it.”
Berdych is of the few players to have a winning record over the world No 6 – he leads their rivalry 6-4 – but the last time they met in a major semi-final, Murray came through in four sets. It was blowing a gale that day at the US Open in New York and the tall Czech could not deal with the conditions. The weather in Melbourne may not be quite as fierce, but the blustery breeze has been causing all the players problems. All bar Murray, that is.
“He turns defence into attack so quickly,” Lleyton Hewitt said, drooling over the prospect of today’s encounter. “It is like playing against a brick wall. He will go close to winning this tournament. But he is now facing a player who is red hot. It will be a great match. Tomas Berdych’s power against Andy Murray’s finesse.”