Sunday, May 15, 2011

The enigma that is Andy Murray

I am only speculating about Murray’s psychological state. But what is fact is that the partnership with Maclagan ended abruptly in July 2010. At the time Murray explained: “It wasn’t necessarily something that Miles wasn’t bringing. We had a chat when we were in Miami about how we saw things. We all saw things pretty differently.” The “we” in question referred to Murray, Maclagan, and Alex Corretja who in April 2008 had been brought as a part-time consultant. And soon enough it was announced that Corretja had gone from part-time advisor to full-time coach in the Murray entourage.

Things went swimmingly until the 2011 Australian Open where Murray was walloped in straights by Novak Djokovic. It was an embarrassing loss. And as in the previous year, it presaged a series of other humiliating losses, the worst of which was to Donald Young at Indian Wells, and a week later to Alex Bogomolov Jr. in Miami. Next thing you know, Corretja was fired. (The public word was a mutual and amicable parting.)

I read somewhere that Murray was pissed that Corretja hadn’t traveled with him to Australia. With his marriage and two young children, plus tennis commentating commitments, Corretja’s part-time role was possibly more suitable for him than being a full-time traveling coach. But the latter is what Murray apparently felt that he needed. I guess Murray is the kind of player who needs that constant inspirational presence in his box. He is no Federer who can go for extended periods relying on his own wits. He is no Nadal who allows Uncle Toni regular time-outs from following him around the world. Murray instead seems to thrive on having an entourage.

But Murray also seems to have a tendency to pass blame. When he is winning, all is well. But the minute he loses, it’s the coach’s fault. As I said before, he seems to split people into good guys vs. bad guys, and when he loses, the coach becomes the bad guy who must be fired. This crappy unprofessional attitude may serve to protect his ego, but, in the long run, will prevent him from gaining insight into his inability to accept responsibility for the brain-dead choices he sometimes makes during matches.

ATP coaches are not allowed to tell the pro what to do during the match; it is up to the pro to figure it out himself. This single fact separates good tennis players from great ones. Great tennis requires in-the-moment adjustments to your opponent’s thrusts and parries. Some failure is of course inevitable, and it is up to the pro to learn from past mistakes. While a coach can help you to deconstruct an opponent’s game, it is up to the player to go out there and execute. Given his limitations, Murray would have done perfectly on the WTA which does allow courtside coaching. He would then never ever need to yell “You're not giving me anything!” to his coach in the middle of a match.

Murray still has not settled on a permanent replacement for Corretja. For a while a rumor floated that he was considering hiring Ivan Lendl. Instead he is currently working with the Adidas coaching team, an entourage that includes the excellent Darren Cahill. Murray has been ecstatic in his praise of Cahill (the new good guy?). And to be fair, Murray seems to be becoming aware of his tendency to be out with the old and in with the new, because he was quoted as saying: “I also need to remember the guys that I have been working with for a long time now and the sort of input they have given me”. Baby steps.

I agree with Murray’s self-assessment that his game needs to improve. He has all the shots but as a tactician he can be deficient. Whereas Djokovic seems to plan strategy two and three points ahead, Murray often seems reactive to what is going on only at that moment. A good coach can certainly help with this.

But in order to achieve his self-stated goal of getting to the next level, Murray will need more than improvements in his tennis technique. His primary problem seems to lie between his ears. He needs to work on becoming mentally stronger. His slump-fests after losing in majors are nothing short of embarrassing. The great ones are resilient; they bounce back. They don’t go off and lick their wounds for months on end. And most of all, they don't blame others for their losses. They man up and take responsibility.

I’m not the only one with this opinion. Read carefully the words of Andy’s brother and sometime doubles partner, Jamie, in an interview with The Scotsman in March 2011:
Andy could do with some advice from the right person. He is good enough to get to that next level, but he needs that something extra that’s missing. He needs to find it from himself more than someone else. It's a mental thing. He has all the ability in the world. Maybe it's his approach to tennis. If he does go a different route, you have to give your trust to that person. You have to let your guard down a bit, listen to the guy and accept he’s giving his opinion.”
Wise words from an older brother. You think Andy will listen or is his head too thick?
(Part 2 of 2)


Erik G. said...

Really enjoyed reading your series on Andy Murray. His performance in the AO final certainly caused many to scratch their heads and wonder what was going on upstairs for the young Scot. It's interesting that Murray has basically traded in one entourage (Miles/Alex/Jez) for another (Cahill/Adidas/Jez/Judy). Andy has said he wants one coach to be with him full-time but it's like he needs a group-think to support him. The semi in Rome where he double-faulted away a chance to close out Nole's streak suggested he's afraid, not of winning, but of winning "big" i.e. Slam finals, major accomplishments like ending Djokovic's streak, etc. I could be wrong and he could turn it around in 2011, but it's been a strange year for Murray so far.

tennischick said...

Agreed. You sum up in one paragraph what I labored to say in two articles. Murray seems to be dependent on an entourage. And when things go wrong -- which they sometimes do, disastrously -- he blames the coach and finds someone else to fit into his entourage. I'm all for players having the right kind of emotional support. But the great ones know how to go out there and figure it out for themselves.