In these days of wall-to-wall media coverage, it is rare for something to truly to come out of the blue, with little fanfare and very little, if any, forewarning. So the announcement on Wednesday that Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl are to end their very successful partnership was a real belter. I defy anyone to say they saw that one coming.
The timing of the announcement was strange enough. Murray and Lendl were due to be reunited in Miami this weekend after a customary break spanning Indian Wells, a place Lendl never liked as a player, rarely went and has made a habit of avoiding as a coach. The decision, both men said, was “mutual”, but is anything really mutual, when you break it down? It must have come from one of the two, and it seems from the statement that Lendl was the man to break, deciding he wanted to concentrate on new projects, including playing more on the Champions Tour, and of course, a bit more of his beloved golf.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Lendl told a handful of British reporters – whose job in no small part is to cover every cough, spit and fart when it comes to Murray – that the Scot had the ability to win the French Open. He seemed bullish about Murray’s progress since his back surgery and was talking only of the future, of the challenges ahead.
Looking back at that interview now, there were perhaps one or two hints that the decision might have been coming. The pair had not yet discussed the next training block, which usually would have been set in stone many weeks in advance, and when the topic of the International Premier Tennis League – scheduled for December – was mentioned, Lendl said Murray had not discussed his involvement with him.
Those things may be nothing, but what is sure is that the former world No 1 will leave a big hole behind him, having presided over the most successful spell in Murray’s career, winning the Olympics in the summer of 2012, lifting his first grand slam title at the US Open later that summer and then, the coup de grace, helping him to win Wimbledon last year.
Murray had turned to Lendl because he had been through the same things he had, struggling to get over the line in the grand slams but finding a way. Murray had instant and total respect for Lendl because of what he’d achieved and replacing that, and maintaining the calmness to play his best in slam finals, will be a crucial, and potentially difficult task.
It was notable that Murray should say he has learnt a lot from Lendl and that it will “definitely be of benefit in the future”. That bodes well, and could be a hint that he might go it alone for a while, albeit with the considerable help of Dani Vallverdu, who has been part of his coaching team for some years now.
Will he turn to another big name? Are there any big names, that he respects, available and willing? Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras say coaching’s not for them, just yet. Would Murray risk Jimmy Connors? Darren Cahill, part of the Adidas Development Programme, has helped him in coaching hiatuses before and may be consulted again. The Australian coached Lleyton Hewitt and Agassi to the world No 1 spot and is hugely respected. The British bookmakers priced up his old coach, as a junior, Leon Smith, as the favourite but the Scot would almost certainly have to step down as Britain’s Davis Cup captain, if Murray wanted him.
What’s also going to be interesting is how Murray handles this period of his career, however long it may be. Lendl was widely credited with helping Murray become more aggressive and he has come too far to go back into his shell now. But Lendl also helped Murray realise that his on-court demeanour, and body language, was hurting him. Murray improved hugely in that area, so it’s to be hoped he has learned that lesson and can cope on his own when things are not necessarily going his own way.
In one way, the timing is good. Once Miami is out of the way, the clay-court seasons begins, where Murray has very few points to defend and can relax, even if it’s not his best surface. By the time he gets onto the grass, and thinks about trying to defend his Wimbledon title, he should have sorted things out in his mind as to where he wants to go next.
Perhaps he already knows. Providing he is fully fit, Murray has the ability to win more grand slam titles. His rivals for those slams have already mopped up many of the big names, in varying fashions. It will be fascinating to see where Murray goes next.