Andy Murray’s hunt for a permanent coach continues
As the British No1 leaves a disastrous hard-court season behind, his search for a permanent mentor goes on
So just who has offered their services to Andy Murray since his search for a coach began last autumn?
Because according to the interview he gave at London’s Queen’s Club this week, there have been quite a few offers “from ex-players and coaches on the tour”.
Whoever they are, it appears none of them has been willing to put their own life on hold while they follow the tennis bandwagon from tournament to tournament, continent to continent, training base to Grand Slam.
Which is why Murray has revealed that he will rely on the team involved in his sponsor Adidas’s player development programme, Darren Cahill and Sven Groeneveld, as an interim, short-term solution while the search continues.
“In Rome and Madrid, they’ll be there,” he said. “And if I don’t find someone before the French, I’ll use them up to the French and see how it goes.”
Murray’s search for that permanent someone has already seen nine months and two Majors come and go since he parted from his coach of two-and-a-half years, Miles Maclagan, last July.
The separation marked a firm line under a poor six-month stretch that began after Murray’s loss to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final.
It was a period in which Murray seemed short of ideas, lacking in confidence and out-of-love with tennis, so his announcement of a fundamental shake-up in his camp was no real surprise.
The time that has since elapsed without a resolution of his coaching set-up, however, has been a surprise, especially in the light of a slump in Murray’s tennis following this year’s Australian Open that puts even last year’s dip into the shade.
Meanwhile, the views of assorted commentators have steadily filled the vacuum, and when the likes of Martina Navratilova have an opinion, everyone listens: “He’s got the talent but he’s got to get tougher mentally.”
Murray initially delayed his search until after the US Open Series but asserted that he would make a decision ahead of the 2011 season.
However, each subsequent statement has given little indication of a long-term solution. Indeed the most recent announcements have, if anything, muddied the waters.
After losing his opening matches at both Rotterdam and Indian Wells this spring, Murray made hitting partner and best friend Dani Vallverdu a permanent fixture in his corner.
“From last summer’s hard-court season until the end of the year, Dani came to every single tournament apart from one,” Murray said.
“At the start of this year, he was in Australia and then I didn’t see him for five or six weeks and that might have been a mistake on my part as we do a week’s training and then I don’t see him.
“I think it’s important to have a bit more continuity because otherwise the dynamic changes quite a lot.”
It looked, therefore, as though one piece of Murray’s confidence jigsaw was in place: the moral support and consistency of his friend from junior days.
But hot on the heels of a third opening-match loss -to world No118 Alex Bogomolov at the Miami Masters last week -came the surprise announcement from Murray’s management company of his separation from part-time consultant Alex Corretja after a three-year association.
Corretja’s input has always been spasmodic. The Spaniard did not travel to the Australian Open, for example. But his expertise is very much on the clay -he was twice a finalist at the French Open -and the clay season is just getting under way.
So the timing of the Corretja break-up, quickly followed by the Adidas team tie-up for the weeks leading up to Paris, suggests that the appointment of a permanent replacement is still some way off.
But does Murray really have too much to worry about? He parted from Maclagan after a good run at Wimbledon where he lost to eventual winner, Rafael Nadal, in the semis.
He then went on to enjoy a good autumn season, as though the freedom -or perhaps the need -to make his own decisions had engaged both his enthusiasm and self-belief.
After reaching the finals of the Los Angeles Open, he won the Canadian Masters in Toronto, beating both Nadal and Federer to do so.
There’s a lot of people I’d like to work with in principle, but it’s not that easy.
Andy Murray on his search for a new permanent coach
His aggressive, attacking play against an in-form Federer in the final was a reminder of just what great weaponry Murray has at his disposal when used offensively.
His subsequent performances in Cincinnati and the US Open saw relatively early losses, but both were in hard-contested matches against players finding their best tennis: Mardy Fish in Cincinnati and Stan Wawrinka in New York.
Murray then took the next Masters of the season in Shanghai, beating Federer in the final again, and fell to finalist Gael Monfils in the quarters of the last 2010 Masters in Paris.
And though he didn’t win the World Tour Finals title, Murray was one half of arguably the best match of the tournament in his three-hour plus semi-final battle with Nadal. It was a rousing and gutsy performance, comprising 22 aces and -possibly overlooked -the majority of the points: 114 to Nadal’s 109.
So at the end of 2010, Murray could reasonably have looked back at his six coach-less months with some satisfaction.
He could also, perhaps, have viewed his loss at this year’s Australian Open with some pragmatism.
He reached the final of his third Major for the loss of just two sets and was beaten by Novak Djokovic, the man who had already beaten Federer in the semis, who has dominated every tournament since, and who has beaten Federer or Nadal in the final of each one of them (in fact both men at Indian Wells).
Perhaps it is this surge from his friend, Djokovic, that has taken the wind out of Murray’s sails.
Not content with playing in an era dominated by two giants of the game who have all but closed the door on every Grand Slam -Federer and Nadal have won 21 of the last 24 titles -Murray is now watching a third man take even those two apart.
Whatever the reason, his confidence was clearly fractured again by his Melbourne loss, as his downcast comments at the Indian Wells press conference show.
“I played badly, I didn’t move well and I’ve got to try and find a way of getting it back,” he said. “It’s my job to get myself energetic, motivated and, when you’re behind, to find a way to get yourself back into the match.
“I didn’t find any energy at all, I just couldn’t get it going and there was nothing good from the match.”
So who might refresh the Murray confidence and tactics on his mission to outplay the three men who now stand in the way of a first Major?
Ivan Lendl works in Florida and was at the Miami Masters on the day Murray lost his opening match there. Like Murray, he played several Slam finals before taking his first title, and word quickly spread that the eight-time Major winner had put out feelers to the Murray camp.
But with Murray’s latest announcement, it seems as though that partnership has been discounted.
Murray also seems to have given up on tempting Cahill, who was one of the men in the frame after Maclagan’s departure, into a permanent role.
“He’s someone I’d like to work with,” he said. “There’s a lot of people I’d like to work with in principle, but it’s not that easy. He has a contract with ESPN, and a deal with Adidas and a limited time I can use him for.”
Murray elaborated on the difficulty of finding someone “who can be at the Slams, help me at the big events, and in the build-up to them, someone who’s been there, understands the pressure.”
As he pointed out, a lot of the obvious candidates have families and don’t want to be on the road for the 35 weeks a year that Murray needs.
While the search continues, however, he should take heart from someone who’s been in the same place. Federer pointed out that he, too, struggled with up-and-down form until he hit 23, and has spent his own extended periods without a permanent coach.
So when Federer says Murray “is too good a player to continue like this – he’ll be OK,” there is surely reason to be patient for a while longer.