May 9, 2016
Novak Djokovic extended his winning streak over Andy Murray in a hugely entertaining but ultimately predictable three-set victory in Madrid. And the Brit runner-up promptly split from his coach, Amelie Mauresmo less than twenty-four hours later.
Although the two events are not thought to be specifically related, Murray fans who have questioned his self-belief against Djokovic will not necessarily be entirely disappointed to see the likeable Mauresmo leave his camp, despite everyone’s affection for the former Wimbledon Women’s Singles winner’s personal qualities.
Top-level sport is a highly pressurised business and Murray praised the “calming influence” Mauresmo had exerted on his camp during nearly two years with the 2013 Wimbledon champion. Amelie also expressed how much she had enjoyed her time with Murray in what seems to have been an amicable split, by mutual agreement.
Their partnership had been a pleasant surprise in a sport where no woman had coached a top man previously. The new dynamic came across as charmingly refreshing.
But a sense of calm enjoyment, though not counterproductive in itself, is not enough to ensure success at the very highest level of tennis either.
With twelve defeats against Djokovic in their last thirteen meetings, it appeared to many that Murray had developed such an inferiority complex against the superb Serb that something needed to change – and quickly.
Ironically, Murray had played well in Madrid, having beaten Rafael Nadal convincingly in order to earn the right to face his nemesis.
And he managed to take a set off Djokovic, despite a slow start in the final. But just when Murray fans were dreaming of a rare victory for their man against the world number one, Andy faltered to fall 2-4 behind in the final set.
Disappointingly, Murray then squandered no fewer than seven break points in a marvellous yet excruciating final game of the match, before eventually bowing out, as Djokovic once again proved to be the stronger man mentally in a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Yet there were encouraging signs for the Brit in Madrid, as his second serve went through phases of looking much more solid than it had been earlier in the year, and his all-round movement on clay looked truly impressive.
But that’s just it. Even when Murray matches Djokovic technically and the match is in the balance, he finds a way to lose, almost as though he considers himself unworthy of victory these days against such an awesome adversary.
And that is why Andy’s split with Mauresmo might just be the best thing that has happened to him in the last two years, harsh as that may seem.
It will be interesting to learn the identity of the coach he wants to team up with next. Many would dearly love to see Murray mentored by the great John McEnroe.
Someone needs to toughen Murray mentally, in the manner that Ivan Lendl did prior to the Scot’s greatest successes.
Andy would benefit from someone with a bit of devil, rather than a soothing angel who makes life easier. Murray is a nice guy – almost too nice for his own good, some would suggest. So the last thing he needs is someone who can only play the “good cop” in his camp. He needs the “bad cop” much more right now.
This situation requires someone with the courage to disagree with Murray, someone who will tell him that it simply isn’t acceptable to settle for second best, even against someone as close to all-round tennis perfection as Djokovic.
Will Murray want someone like that again? Will he appoint anyone in time for Roland Garros later this month, or Wimbledon, for that matter?
It will be fascinating to find out. One thing’s for sure: if he chooses another gentle character to coach him, he will do no better against Djokovic than he has done for the last couple of years.
And yes, all this seems incredibly brutal and cut-throat, because how do you beat a man as formidable as Djokovic, who has left the entire tennis world in fear of his talent? Even the rediscovery of a mean streak might not swing it.
Remember, Novak’s victory in Madrid has taken him to an amazing 29 ATP Masters 1000 titles, moving him ahead of Nadal. He could end up as the greatest player tennis has ever seen.
But Murray has to try to do more than play bridesmaid in all of this. He puts himself through hell physically behind the scenes. Now he must have the courage to put himself through hell mentally.
Plenty of time to be a nice guy in retirement. As the famous actress, Dame Maggie Smith once said so memorably of Murray after a defeat at Wimbledon: “He needs more ‘animal’ in him!”
Time to find a coach who can deliver that animal magic.
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