Among all the people who are out of work in our struggling republic, the one I’m least worried about is Ivan Lendl. Coach to Andy Murray until a few days ago, Lendl was as prudent as he was spectacularly successful in his salad years on the pro tour. He doesn’t need Murray’s money, and Murray got what he needed from Lendl -- a leg up over the final hurdle in his career.
But while winning a Grand Slam title (two, in Murray’s case, as well as a gold medal in Olympic singles) is the ultimate capstone on a player’s career, the difference between a player and a coach is that the former can’t drop the racket and walk away as easily as the coach can put away the wrench and put his feet up when he’s fixed a guy.
That final hurdle? It multiplies. Murray has four lying in his path as I write this, and that’s just this year. That’s why this is an important week for the 26-year-old from Dunblane, Scotland. He’s the defending champion at the Sony Open an ATP 1000, which started Wednesday. He’s said all the right things since his return from minor back surgery, but lately he’s doing some of the wrong things.
In his tournament appearances thus far in 2014 (he missed the entire fall of 2013 because of his back problems), Murray is 14-5. He hasn’t made a final. More telling, he’s lost to three guys outside the top 20, including No. 40 Florian Mayer in Doha.
The loss to Mayer was understandable; it was in the first week of the new tennis year. Murray, still ranked No. 4 at the time, then had a good Australian Open, losing in the quarters to No. 6 Roger Federer. Murray was feeling so exuberant and optimistic afterward that he jumped into the fray in Rotterdam after further boosting his confidence with two sleek and slick Davis Cup wins over unthreatening Americans.
You could forgive Anglophiles from all over the world -- those folks from whom Murray has never been able to hide -- for leaping to their feet, waving their Union Jacks and screaming, “Go-o-o-o-o An-dey.”
But not so fast.
In the weeks since he made the quarters in Rotterdam (losing to Marin Cilic), things got a little dodgy for Murray. He had a good tournament in Acapulco, taking a semifinal loss to No. 22 but oncoming sensation Grigor Dimitrov. After the loss, Murray declared that his workload (matches over four consecutive days) for the week convinced him that he was finally, fully and hopefully irrevocably fit and in full control of that hard-to-characterize game. (Murray plays jazz compared to Federer’s classical or Rafael Nadal’s heavy metal.)
Murray seemed set to dole out some punishment at Indian Wells, in the first Masters 1000 of the year. Then the pre-Lendl Murray re-emerged. He made baffling decisions, blew leads, and he created problems and then bitterly complained about them as he lurched through three tough matches, flaming out after being in firm control of his fourth-round match against No. 11 seed Milos Raonic. (Now there’s a guy who could use Lendl’s services).
Perhaps it’s significant that Lendl was not present. In Lendl’s absence, Murray once again fell into the clutches of the Whine Monster. All the negativity that once seemed to hold Murray back appeared to return, flowing into the vacuum left by Lendl like scotch whiskey filling a flask.
Since his return, Murray has fallen from No. 4 to No. 6, for which his reward has been a potential Miami quarterfinal against No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic.
Murray might not be out of work, but I’m more concerned about him than about the guy who is.