I can’t tell you how long I’ve been putting off asking this question. Instinctively I wanted to give him a chance to get it together before drawing even more attention to his current run of form. Murray has been a top four player for several years. And yet he gets ignored the way players ranked in the 90s get ignored. First the tennis conversation was all about Federer. Then it became about Federer and Nadal. And for a while it was about Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But it has really never been about Andy Murray.
I first decided that Andy Murray might suck when I read reports in 2009 that he and on-and-off again girlfriend Kim Sears had broken up because of his video game addiction. I mean to say, what kind of twerp spends seven hours a day playing Call of Duty? I can only assume that a condition of their reconciliation was that he gave up this childish preoccupation. But bottom-line is, what the heck did this say about him?
I have to admit that I too drank the Kool-Aid when it came to Andy Murray. I did see him as the Brit to replace Tim Henman. While his brother Jamie was willing to toil away at doubles, Andy gave singles tennis a good run. And really, his top ten ranking is nothing to sneeze at is it? Clearly dude has got talent. But has he ever been in the Rafa-Fed-Djoko league? That’s the real question isn’t it?
For a minute we took notice when he teamed up with Brad Gilbert. But that was mainly because Brad’s version of tennis commentary was to repeat ad nauseam that his student was the best in the world, and to chatter on and on about how dominant Murray was going to be. If I was Murray I would have fired Brad for causing me so much embarrassment.
As it was, Brad did indeed help Murray rise from # 36 to # 11 in the rankings during their time together (16 months ending in November 2007). At the time Gilbert was contracted to the Lawn Tennis Association (British). In their first few months together, both men couldn’t praise each other enough. Murray heaped praises on Gilbert’s tactical know-how and his emphasis on physical fitness. And like I said, Gilbert talked about Murray like he was the second coming.
The honeymoon did not last long. Pretty soon, as he was getting walloped in matches, Murray could be seen screaming at Gilbert: “You're not giving me anything!” And after a while it was clear that he wasn’t. It was as if Gilbert had exhausted his bag of tricks, taking his pony to a spot just outside the cherished inner circle. Murray was clearly chomping for more.
Soon Gilbert had been replaced by a team of specialists all operating on Murray’s dime. And with career wins of over $15. million, Murray could afford the very best. This is the explanation he posted on his website: “Despite being injured for almost four months this year, I am pleased with my 2007 results and am very grateful for the help that the LTA have given me by providing Brad Gilbert as a coach but the time has come to move on to the next stage of my career. I am ranked 11 in the world and can now afford to pay my own way and so will now hire a team of experts, each to fulfill a specified role in the development of my tennis and fitness.”
The team of specialists included coach, Miles Maclagan (a former Davis Cup player born in Zambia to Scottish parents), and fitness trainer Jez Green. Other members of the Murray entourage include his long-time friend Dani Vallverdu, physiotherapist Andy Ireland, and on occasions his mother Judy Murray and his girlfriend Kim Sears.
The team approach, and the partnership with Maclagan were clearly successful, as Murray peaked at # 2 in the rankings, made it to the finals of two Grand Slams, and won 11 titles including four Masters Series. You’d think that with success like that Murray and Maclagan would have found a way to resolve their differences. But my sense of Andy Murray is that conflict resolution may not be his strong suit. I also wonder if he sometimes emotionally splits people into good guys and bad guys, and today’s shining knight runs the risk of being tomorrow’s reject. But this is of course pure psycho-speculation on my part.
(Part 1 of 2)