Andy Murray’s impending fatherhood can inspire him to greater grand slam success – just like it did for Novak Djokovic, says the Scot’s former coach Brad Gilbert.
Murray is making his final preparations for the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on Monday, but the British No 1 could be forgiven if his thoughts were occasionally drifting home.
With his wife Kim due to give birth in mid-February, Murray has made clear he will quit the first major tournament of the year and fly back should news come that their first child is to arrive early.
It marks the start of a new era for the 28-year-old, as he juggles chasing down the irrepressible dominance of Djokovic with changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes.
Djokovic welcomed his own first child, Stefan, in October 2014 and has shown few signs of distraction, winning three out of last year’s four grand slam tournaments and cementing his place as the best player in the world.
Murray has already lost three times to the Serb in Australian Open finals, including last year, bu t Gilbert, who coached the Briton for 16 months from 2006, believes the baby factor will be a help not a hindrance.
“All you have to do is look at Djokovic who is one week younger, and he’s been playing unbelievable tennis since he’s had a son,” said Gilbert, speaking on behalf of ESPN.co.uk. “For an athlete, when you have good balance in your home life I feel like that should even make you better at whatever you do.
“That goes on forever even if tennis doesn’t go on forever at this level. Balance, and learning how to get it, is huge but I have no qualms that Andy will be able to deal with it and be able to balance both.”
If Murray needs advice he has it close by, given Amelie Mauresmo is back in position as his full-time coach following the birth of her son Aaron last August.
Balancing family with the hectic life on tour is not unusual for top players – Roger Federer is now father to separate sets of twins – and two-time Australian Open champion Chris Evert agrees Murray may be liberated by the experience.
“I just think when things outside of tennis in your personal life start to change a little bit, it depends on the person really because it can be a great thing,” said Evert, also a pundit for ESPN.
“It can inspire you – the marriage, playing the Olympics again this year, playing doubles with his brother – it could be a total inspiration.
“To some people it could be a distraction like, ‘Emotionally I feel torn. I really want to spend more time with my wife’.
“I think it depends on how Andy views it – as an opportunity or a distraction. I tend to think he’s going to view it as an opportunity.”
Murray will be in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic after the pair were seeded two and one respectively, but he could face Federer in the semis while a quarter-final match-up with Rafael Nadal would complete the nightmare scenario.
Federer and Djokovic were responsible for ending three of Murray’s four grand slam tilts last year and his slam record of two wins in eight against the Swiss, and one in 11 against the Serb, must improve if he is to turn the tide in 2016.
“There’s no doubt that Murray had his most consistent year last year,” Gilbert added.“But the last two years he’s had a poor record against Federer and he’s had a poor record against Djokovic.
“You can’t now hope to win a slam by hoping those guys lose. Potentially, like in this tournament coming up, if Fed is in his half of the draw, maybe he has to beat both of those guys to win a slam.
“That to me is the biggest part of the equation. He’s got to get more wins against those guys in slams.”