While the tennis world was busy placing bets on when Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker were going to split up, it was Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl who surprised us all by announcing they’ve pulled the plug on their fairytale partnership.
And it really was like a fairytale. The underdog tennis player who was perennially confined to second place was saved by the man who was in the very same position three decades ago.
During their two-year link-up, Murray has achieved what was previously believed to be the impossible. Not only did the Scot win two Grand Slams and end Britain’s 77-year wait for a home Wimbledon champion, but Murray also managed to get the poker-faced Lendl to crack a smile from time to time.
And on his part, the Czech legend turned his grumpy protégé into a positive competitor. With all the photos and footage of the pair joking around between practices, and in exhibition matches, it was clear that this wasn’t just a successful partnership, it was also a very happy one.
Unfortunately for Murray though, it turns out there is no happily ever after in this particular fairytale. The official reason given for the professional break-up is that Lendl wants to focus on his own “projects” including playing more seniors tennis around the world.
But it’s no surprise that many believe there’s more to the story than this. Why would someone quit after two very fruitful seasons when there’s still much more that could be achieved?
Reaching No1 in the world for example was surely a big enough goal the pair of them could have achieved together. It’s also terrible timing for Murray to go through a change. The 26-year-old has not been back at his best since he underwent minor back surgery late last year and is yet to reach his first final post-recovery.
Since Lendl had a huge impact on Murray’s psyche in the past, guiding him to his first major, this is a time the world No6 would have needed that kind of support. In fact, Lendl’s presence in the stands for Murray’s matches seems to have had a direct effect on his results.
The Scot won 83 per cent of his matches with Lendl in attendance but only 69 per cent with his coach absent. All this indicates that even though there is probably more to the story than what’s been revealed, it’s highly unlikely that this was Murray’s decision. And if it was, then it doesn’t seem like a very smart one.
A little over a year ago, Lendl said he could see himself coaching Murray until the end of his career, so this is quite a turnaround. It seems like an abrupt decision as well since Murray hasn’t even had the time to line up a replacement. This whole thing just doesn’t seem to add up.
Whatever the reason, Murray’s journey back to his best form might take longer than expected. A coaching change more often than not requires an adjustment period unlesss he hires someone he’s worked with in the past, which could be helpful in such circumstances.
Andy Murray has announced that he and coach Ivan Lendl have mutually agreed to end their two-year partnership, one that included Murray becoming the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years last year.
In a joint statement on Murray's official website it appeared Czech-born Lendl, himself a multiple Grand Slam champion, had been the instigator of the split.
“Working with Andy over the last two years has been a fantastic experience for me”, said Lendl. “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 said: “I’m eternally grateful to Ivan for all his hard work over the past two years, the most successful of my career so far. As a team, we’ve learned a lot and it will definitely be of benefit in the future. I’ll take some time with the team to consider the next steps and how we progress from here”.
In the two years that Lendl and Murray have worked together, the 26-year-old Scot has won Olympic Gold and historic US Open and Wimbledon titles, establishing Murray as one of the world's best players.
Murray is currently recovering from back surgery but hopes to return to Davis Cup duty with Great Britain for his side's quarter-final tie with Italy next month.
It was only his third event of the season, but Novak Djokovic going title-less for the first two and half months of 2014 might have set alarm bells ringing.
A set and a half into his Indian Wells final against Roger Federer, it seemed a very likely scenario as well.
When Djokovic was broken while serving for the match in the final set, many doubted he could mentally handle a tiebreak.
Instead, it was Federer who crumbled and Djokovic ended up getting a win he desperately needed.
Heading into Indian Wells, the Serb was over 4000 points adrift of world No1 Rafael Nadal in the rankings and had failed to defend two titles early on, losing a five-setter in the Australian Open quarters to Stanislas Wawrinka and a three-setter to Federer in Dubai.
Those sound like two very legitimate defeats to two worthy champions, and considering he ended last year with 24 straight wins to cap off a 74-9 season, just thinking that Djokovic was in crisis mode is actually laughable.
But in the bigger scheme of things, and hearing him admit to his own mental lapses on the bigger stage of late, Djokovic winning just two of the last nine grand slams is clearly not good enough according to the Serb’s own high standards.
He said he brought in Boris Becker to help him mentally but ended up winning his first title of the year – at a 128-draw event and beating an in-form Federer in the final – not with the help of the German legend but with his long-time coach Marian Vajda in his corner instead.
Djokovic’s muted celebration after he was forced to dig to incredible depths to overcome Federer was also very telling.
Along with the double-hug he had with Vajda, his reaction showed how much the title meant to him. Ultimately, it’s those brief moments of fortitude that pay off in the greatest ways.
The 4000-point lead Nadal had on him is down to 2230, he avoided losing to Federer for a second time in three weeks and he found his mojo at what could prove to be a vital moment in the season.
Federer’s resurgence is also one of many positive things that are happening at the moment.
The ‘Big Four’ are now back in the top-six in the rankings; we have an American return to the top-10 in the form of John Isner, we have a new slam champion in Wawrinka, and players like Alexandr Dolgopolov, Grigor Dimitrov and Ernests Gulbis who are stepping up.
Now bring on Miami, where tennis’ version of March Madness continues for two more weeks.
One question presents itself though, can Djokovic keep up his form with Boris Becker sitting courtside instead of Vajda?
We’ll find out in Key Biscayne, where the German is due to link up with the world No2 again.