The relationship between a professional tennis player and their coach is a curious one. On the one hand the player is the employer, paying for the services of a coach. On the other, the coach is in charge, setting drills and dictating training sessions. So who is the real boss?
Perhaps more akin to a consultant than a direct employee, the role of a coach varies widely depending on both the player’s personality and the coach’s philosophy.
Some partnerships are destined for failure. Maria Sharapova’s partnership with Jimmy Connors last summer lasted one match, while at the other end of the spectrum Rafael Nadal has never known another coach apart from his uncle Toni.
Andy Murray’s announcement on Wednesday that he had parted company with coach Ivan Lendl was largely met with surprise – the pair had forged a successful relationship since the former world No.1 joined Murray’s team at the beginning of 2012.
Lendl presided over the most successful period of Murray’s career, helping to guide him to his first Grand Slam title at the US Open before his historic Wimbledon victory last July, not to mention Olympic gold at London 2012.
“I’m eternally grateful to Ivan for all his hard work over the past two years, the most successful of my career so far,” Murray said. “As a team, we’ve learned a lot and it will definitely be of benefit in the future.”
Lendl, who has recently played a number of exhibitions in the United States, as well as London as part of the World Tennis Day celebrations, will now focus on “some of his own projects”.
“Working with Andy over the last two years has been a fantastic experience for me”, he said. “He is a first class guy. Having helped him achieve his goal of winning major titles, I feel like it is time for me to concentrate on some of my own projects moving forward including playing more events around the world which I am really enjoying.
“I will always be in Andy’s corner and wish him nothing but great success as he too goes into a new phase of his career.”
Murray’s decision to appoint Lendl in December 2011 was something of a gamble. While the former world No.1 and eight-time Grand Slam boasted an impressive trophy cabinet, he had no real experience coaching experience.
However, the comparisons between the pair were obvious – the Czech-born Lendl fell in four Grand Slam finals before tasting major glory – Murray had lost three when he appointed Lendl, and after falling in the 2012 Wimbledon final to Roger Federer, Murray also lifted his first Grand Slam title at the fifth attempt.
“He’s made me learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past. I think he’s always been very honest with me,” Murray said of his coach after his victory at Wimbledon last year. “He’s always told me exactly what he has thought and in tennis it is not always that easy to do in a player-coach relationship. The player is sometimes the one in charge.
“Sometimes coaches are not always that comfortable doing that but he’s been extremely honest with me. If I work hard he’s happy, if I don’t he’s disappointed and he will tell me.
“If I work hard, he's happy. If I don't, he's disappointed, and he'll tell me. He's got my mentality slightly different going into those sort of matches. He's made me learn more from the losses that I've had than maybe I did in the past.”
Prior to hiring Lendl, Murray had been without a full-time coach for almost 18 months after parting company with Miles Maclagan (now Sam Stosur’s coach) in July 2010.
With his long-standing team of Jez Green, Matt Little and Dani Vallverdu unchanged, Murray is unlikely to rush into appointing a replacement. In the short term he could turn once again to Darren Cahill and other coaching expertise available to him at the adidas Player Development Program.
“I’ll take some time with the team to consider the next steps and how we progress from here,” said Murray, who is in Miami this week defending his Sony Open title at Crandon Park.
Lendl’s experience helped Murray learn how to bounce back from tough losses and turn him into a Grand Slam champion inside nine months. Now, as the reigning Wimbledon champion enters a new phase in his career, Murray will take time with his team to assess his priorities and what he needs from his next coach before appointing a new employee, mentor, consultant or boss.