Nothing in sport lasts forever, and often things don’t last very long at all. But that said, I was stunned when I heard that Andy Murray has parted company with his coach Ivan Lendl.
Murray and Lendl were a match made in heaven. Lendl was exactly what Murray needed – he ticked every box, and elevated him to the absolute pinnacle of the game.
So why have they gone their separate ways? And why now?
Reading between the lines it seems that there are a few possibilities. Though I was shocked when I first heard the news, after that initial reaction I started to think that perhaps it is a good time for the two to part company. Murray might feel that Lendl had taken him as far as he could; or Lendl might have had enough of the travelling, and wanted to re-dedicate himself to developing his string of tennis academies.
Realistically speaking, the impetus for the split is more likely to have come from Murray, not least due to the generous pay deal that Lendl was receiving – rumoured to be around £1m a year.
There is another possibility as well. Given his displays of late, people have started to question Murray, wondering whether he has lost the edge that he found in 2012 and for much of 2013, and suggesting that his utter desperation to win had faded.
Some might suggest that his split with Lendl is another symptom of that – but I don’t buy it. I certainly see the fire still burning in Murray, and can’t see any signs of it dwindling. You have to remember that it’s only recently that he’s been fully fit after his back surgery last year – and to my mind he’s still not quite match sharp in the way that he needs to be.
And that’s something that makes the timing of this split make more sense. The Miami Masters will be something of a fresh start for Murray. I believe he can do extremely well in Miami, and after that he heads into the clay season, where there will be almost no pressure of expectation on him.
He didn’t even play Roland Garros last year, for example, so every match he can win there will be a bonus – both in terms of his career, and in terms of his ranking. There will be no real pressure on him, in fact, until he gets to Wimbledon – and not only is he well-used to handling that, it’ll be a lot easier than it has been in the past thanks to what he did last summer. I really believe that, despite a shaky start to 2014, he’s got every chance of having a fantastic season.
The only big question is what he does next. He’ll have saved a huge chunk of money, the question will be whether he invests that in a new coach now, or whether he waits to see how he does on his own.
If he does go for a new coach, the question is who? There will be a number of British coaches slobbering at the mouth at the prospect of potentially teaming up with him, but I think he’s gone way beyond the point where the usual suspects could help.
For Murray, more than for any other player, I think the choice of coach is centred around the level of respect he has for the man in question. Lendl had Murray’s respect in spades, but who else could step forward? McEnroe is too busy with his media work, Agassi said openly just the other week that his young family precludes him from doing any high profile coaching. Becker is already working with Novak Djokovic, but given the way that’s been going it’s hard to see that lasting much longer.
Who else is out there who could tell Murray something he doesn’t already know, in the way that Lendl did? I just don’t know.
One man who does know, though, is Murray himself. Make no mistake, he’s a very, very bright man, and will not have made a decision like this without having thought through all the ramifications.
And it’s very possible that he has decided that, right now, he doesn’t need anyone else. He already knows his game, he already knows how to win a Grand Slam, and his self-motivation is already off the scale. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him do what Federer did for several years when he was world number one: going without a permanent coach at all, and just speaking to various coaches on an ad-hoc basis as and when he feels he needs a bit of technical guidance.
Only time will tell, of course, but if he’s thinking that way, Murray is right. Lendl was his guide to the top of a mountain that he’d not been able to climb; but Murray now knows the way up – and he knows better than anyone else how to get himself back up there again.