By Alix Ramsay
It was only a couple of months ago that Andy Murray was reminiscing about his first few practise sessions with Ivan Lendl. It was their second anniversary and, looking back, he remembered the nerves and the excitement before he took to the court with his new and famous coach. It was, he thought, a little like going out on a first date: he was keen to impress, eager to please and not quite sure how it was all going to turn out*.
But now, as he faced the defence of his Sony Open title alone, Murray looked and sounded like a jilted lover. He and Lendl had decided to go their separate ways. Or, rather, Lendl had decided that enough was enough. The split was amicable enough – Murray cannot speak highly enough of his former mentor while Old Stone Face would still be sitting in the players’ box this week, cheering on his former pupil – but Scotland’s finest was, in his own phrase, “gutted”.
There was a third party in this break up, an awkward bugger by the name of Life. Lendl’s life. And in that packed schedule, there was not enough room to devote weeks and weeks every year to travelling around the world with a 26-year-old grand slam champion. If Lendl did not have the time to do the job properly, he did not want to do it at all. After two years, two grand slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, their relationship was over.
The news came as a shock to the rest of the world but Murray had suspected something was up for a while. He had travelled to Indian Wells alone, as usual (Lendl has never liked the place), but intended to have a long chat with his coach over dinner when he returned to Miami. The meeting had been planned for some time – a chance, Murray hoped, to set out their plans for the next few months – but once the starters and pleasantries were over, the conversation became serious. It was just as the world No.6 had secretly feared – he was being dumped.
“We sat down on Saturday evening, we went and had dinner,” Murray told a little gaggle of British reporters who had gathered at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. “We chatted for an hour about other stuff, and then we chatted about us moving forward.
“I just feel like, to make a change and to make a difference, you need to spend a decent amount of time with the player. Ivan completely understands that as well. And that was why we decided to stop working together, because it wasn’t going to be of benefit to anyone doing the job half-baked. It had to be done properly. That’s what Ivan’s like.
“That night it was tough. He was a big part of my life. And the next couple of days on the court were not particularly fun. I was gutted but I still think the guy is great. It’s not like anything has changed there.
“We both agreed it was a nice conversation over dinner. He is going to come and watch my matches here. I will be disappointed for a few weeks but you have to move on. Who knows, maybe it is the spark that I need.”
In their first year together, Lendl spent 25 weeks at Murray’s side. Last year, that dropped to 20 weeks and this year it was clear that they would have even less time on court together. In the official statement released on Wednesday, Lendl claimed that he needed to spend time his own projects – he runs a tennis academy in South Carolina – and that he was going to play more seniors’ events this season. Then again, the seniors’ tour is hardly a fulltime job and he was running his academy when he first joined forces with the Scot. And when they first got together, Lendl said that the time was right; he was ready to go back on the road and give up his precious time at home.
“If he had come to me four years ago I would have to say no, because we had five kids at home,” Lendl said back in 2012. “Now we have four kids in college, and we have just one at home, which my wife can handle in the weeks I’m away. So the timing is right. Would it be even better three years from now? Yes, obviously, because she would be out of home and college as well, but I would be 55, so that wouldn’t be right – and Andy would be older. The time is right, we have raised the family, I have taken my time away from the game. I have recharged my batteries and now I’m ready to work hard again.”
But two years on, things have changed. Lendl was never a fan of the relentless travel of the tour. A man of little patience, he does not like to waste time and hanging around in airports, queuing for security checks and waiting in customs halls drives him crazy. But he knew all about that when he agreed to take on the coaching job. Something must have changed in Lendl’s life.
It may just be that the old champion has more family responsibilities these days. At the end of last year, his father, Jiri, died at the age of 89. As Lendl has no siblings, that leaves no one else to care for his newly widowed mother, Olga.
His relationship with Olga was less than easy when he was growing up and it was she who pushed him and harried him to be better, to work harder and to be utterly focused on success. It was that upbringing that taught him to present a ruthless poker face to the world no matter if he was raging or quivering inside and it was her influence that made him the champion he eventually became. It took time for him to realise that fact but once he had made a life and a hugely successful career for himself in America, he was able to recognise that he may have worked hard for his fame and fortune but it was his mother and father who made him. His mum may not have been touchy-feely or warm and fuzzy but family matters to Lendl and if Olga needs him now, he will do whatever he must.
So Andy Murray is a single man again. As he looks around the room for possible partners, he realises that he is a little late to the party – all the top totty has been snapped up. Edberg is paired with Federer, Becker is flirting with Djokovic, Ivanisevic has been snapped up by Cilic and even Michael Chang has fallen for the charms of Kei Nishikori. There are a few fantasy figures around – Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras – but they have shown absolutely no interest in the coaching scene.
And, anyway, Lendl was one-off. There was no one like him as a player and, for Murray, there can be no one like him as a coach. All Murray can hope for is that he learned enough from the old master in their two years together to last him a lifetime.
*For the record: Murray’s first date with Kim Sears involved a trip to the cinema via the amusement arcade on Brighton Pier (they were only teenagers at the time). They played a game of air hockey and Kim imagined – and hoped – that her new beau would be a gentleman and let her win. Alas, no. Murray barely let her win a point and absolutely marmelised her. Luckily, they moved on to the more neutral and less competitive environment of the movie theatre and loved blossomed. Eight years later, they are still together.