Andy Murray will not have coach Ivan Lendl as he looks to defend his title at Miami's 2014 Sony Open. It was going to be a difficult task anyway, but the Scotsman might have to look at a new approach to his career.
These have not been easy tennis times for Murray. The champagne bubbles had hardly gone flat from his 2013 Wimbledon title celebration before adversity set in. Back problems, surgery and four months off were not part of the plan. His "best laid career schemes had gone awry," to paraphrase another Scotsman, poet Robert Burns.
Since Murray's comeback in January, he has both spurted and sputtered. He has struggled to cross the finish line in matches in which he was playing well. He has lost to Top 20-caliber players Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic, but he has not defeated anyone more substantial than Gilles Simon. There have been physical struggles and mental battles.
Then his partnership with Lendl ended abruptly, the announcement coming just as Miami had tipped off.
All of this commotion swirls about like a dust storm, making it difficult to chart his course. He wants to move forward, but he needs more maintenance, fitness and confidence.
Meanwhile an early exit at Miami could drop him in the ATP Rankings from his No. 6 position to No. 8.
Murray has not fallen out of the race, but he's lagging behind.
It would be interesting to probe deeper into the minds of Lendl and Murray. The Daily Mail reported that Lendl chose to "to pursue other projects," including play on the Seniors Tour and run his tennis academy.
Murray also spoke in glowing terms of Lendl and their relationship, explaining in an ATP World Tour video interview that Lendl had "made a huge difference" to his game and team, and that Lendl is "a big part of my life."
Was there more than this? How about one or more of the following scenarios?
- Two years coaching may have been enough for Lendl. It's not always easy to tell just how much he enjoyed his role as coach. There was undoubtedly satisfaction in helping Murray get over the hump, but perhaps he also felt, deep inside, that Murray had already played his best tennis. The prospects of rebuilding Murray may have become wearisome.
- Murray might have felt burned out with Lendl's regimens and approach. Did he look up at Lendl's empty chair at Indian Wells, feeling at least a slight sense of abandonment or need? Did Murray want Lendl to choose between his schedule and the Czech's Seniors Tour ambitions?
- Perhaps Lendl would rather keep his own coaching resume polished and ready for another up-and-coming player. He could take a break now, pursue his other projects and bring in renewed energy and added experience for some hot prospect of the future, like Dominic Thiem or Nick Kyrgios. Right now Lendl walks away with the magic touch.
- There is only so much any player can gather from a mentor, and even a fruitful relationship can sour. Murray might have also felt that a fresh start was needed after a winter of despair. This might be what he needs to kick-start the next brave run at major titles.
Whatever the final motivations and details to their coaching relationship, they were a successful team. Murray won the 2012 Olympics gold medal, 2012 U.S. Open title, held the No. 2 ranking and holds the 2013 Wimbledon title. He clinched his place in the Hall of Fame. Lendl deserves kudos for his support and counsel. They get an "A" grade.
From Miami to Madrid
Sometimes a player can turn a coaching change into added motivation and fire. Maybe Murray charges through his first three Miami matches and goes toe-to-toe with Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. He seems far away from winning this match right now, but one match can be a leap forward. If he reaches the semifinals, suddenly his crown defense becomes legitimate.
Until Murray has another big win against the likes of Djokovic, Federer or Nadal, the doubts might ache or act up in his mind as well as his back. A win would likely signal that Murray has overcome any lingering residue in his comeback. This is what he sorely needs.
Now that Lendl has departed, will we see the more explosive Murray—meaning the feistier, scruffier Murray who can throw around more than a few choice words or bang his own head with a racket. It still happened with Lendl around, but there was more restraint, as if the elder Czech could command the kind of respect of Sir Sean Connery.
Will Murray now order a surplus of rackets, release his id and shout at the moon? What will we see over the next several months, and will his on-court behavior be either an asset or liability?
Will there be an upgraded Murray, a new Murray who can channel his experience and championship resume into greater success, more aggressive groundstrokes and more majors? Can he battle through his old rivals and younger challenges? Will Murray reignite the fire and passion and perhaps one day claim the No. 1 ranking?
We won't find all of the answers in Miami. There will be Davis Cup competition, a month off and then Madrid. A lot can happen from now until then, and Murray may find some answers and direction while languishing in clay-court limbo.
There will be soul searching, coach searching and perhaps a few surprises to unveil once he emerges from out of his spiritual Highlands, through the fens and into his Wimbledon defense.
The road ahead is arduous, but Murray has traveled it before.
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