Andy Murray faces US Open Series footloose and coach-free
It started as a trickle, this leaking bucket of tennis coaches.
In the post-Wimbledon hiatus, Stanislas Wawrinka let go the man who had coached him since adolescence in favour of Peter Lundgren.
It was quickly followed by Nikolay Davydenko parting from brother and long-term coach, Eduardo. There is still no announcement of who might plug the hole, but the Russian is fast running out of options.
For now the trickle has become a flood with Andy Murray parting from his coach of two-and-a-half years, Miles Maclagan. The British No1 is in the midst of preparations for the US Open Series, yet there is no immediate replacement in the frame. It is a surprising turn of events.
By coincidence, the American who has been working with the LTA elite squad and GB Davis Cup team -a man who must know the Murray game very well -is leaving the British arena this autumn. That’s Paul Annacone but, by another interesting coincidence, his tie-up for a trial with Roger Federer was announced the day before the Murray split.
So who will provide sustenance and support to Murray during this important phase of the season, a time of year when he could lose ranking points as defending champion in the Canadian Masters and semi-finalist in the Cincinnati Masters?
According to the statement released by Murray’s management company, he will not review his coaching situation until after the US Open, so will depend largely on core support from his trainer Jez Green and physio Andy Ireland. But the X-factor is Alex Corretja, whose role has attracted assorted descriptions such as adviser, consultant, and part-time coach.
The Spaniard joined the Murray corner in March 2008 to advise him on his clay-court game, but Corretja has been a part-time presence ever since. It seems that too many cooks may have started to spoil the broth, with Maclagan questioning his role in what had become a rather crowded set-up.
Maclagan’s break with Murray is described as ‘amicable’ -as it should be. The fellow Scot has presided over a period of major advances in Murray’s career, including a rise to a high of No2 in the rankings and two Grand Slam finals.
But there is no doubt that Murray seemed to suffer a major slide in confidence after his loss at the Australian Open this year.
He made no impression during the rest of the spring hard-court season and followed it with a lacklustre clay season. Although things looked a little better on the grass of Wimbledon, Murray fell to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, and the rumour mill was already grinding away over tensions in the Murray camp.
Since a short holiday back in Scotland, Murray has been training hard in his second home and training base in Miami.
But to take his game to the next level -to win a Grand Slam -he needs to take a fresh look at his overall game. In essence, he needs to become the aggressor rather than the counter-puncher, effective though he is in that department.
Perhaps this is the start of such a campaign. Murray launches into his first North American tournament this week in Los Angeles thanks to a wild card, and according to his recent Twitter updates he has been knocking with Feliciano Lopez, an aggressive serve-and-volley player who could meet Murray in the semi-finals.
It is Murray’s first time at this event and the late decision to play across the other side of the States at such short notice suggests he is keen to get some match practice rather than simply stick to the month of training that was originally scheduled ahead of the first Masters in Toronto.
And Murray is coach-free: both Corretja and Maclagan appear to have flown home. According to Murray’s most recent tweet, however, he has enjoyed the company of an old former coach in Los Angeles: “My old coach Pato Alvarez came to watch me and Feli hit today. So good to see him, he was great to me.”
But Alvarez was dropped several years ago for being too focused on clay. In between that clay guru and the present one, there have been Mark Petchey, Brad Gilbert and, until last weekend, Maclagan.
Gilbert had a forthright, strong approach that Murray did not get on with. Maclagan has been the opposite: quietly patient and supportive. So what style will Murray look for in the next model?
Top of the pile appears to be Darren Cahill, the highly respected and experienced former coach to Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and, most recently, Fernando Verdasco. He was even trying out with Roger Federer for a while.
Cahill might just fit the bill. He has the resume, the playing experience, and the strong character to bring a substantial new X-factor to the equation. In practical terms, too, it has more legs than the try-out with Federer: Cahill’s family and broadcasting commitments are in the States and his unwillingness to move to Federer’s base for extended periods will not be such an issue for the Florida-based Murray.
Meanwhile, however, Murray is in charge of his own destiny for the remainder of the US Open Series. And who knows? If it all goes well, perhaps he will test the water of independence for a bit longer.
But beware Davydenko: he might just snap up Cahill for himself.