How Murray turned his tears into another tilt at Australian title

The Scot needed six months – and the help of his mum and his mate – to recover from last year's final defeat, writes Paul Newman
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The Independent Online

The courts are still blue, the River Yarra still flows serenely past Melbourne Park and Andy Murray is through again to the final of the Australian Open.

You could be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed in the past year. But when you consider what the 23-year-old Scot has gone through since his tearful departure from last year's tournament – "I can cry like Roger, it's just a shame I can't play like him," Murray said after losing to Roger Federer in the final – the fact that he will again be on centre stage tomorrow in Rod Laver Arena must rank as one of his finest achievements.

In the last year, Murray has been criticised for pulling out of a tournament, for experimenting with his game during competition, for not playing for his country and for failing to recruit a high-profile coach. He has played poorly for weeks on end, looked miserable in making early exits from majors and won fewer titles and matches. At the end of it, nevertheless, he is once again within touching distance of realising his lifelong ambition of winning a Grand Slam title.

Having played the best tennis of his life en route to last year's final, the defeat to Federer was just the start of Murray's problems. In the aftermath, he said he needed in future to focus hard on the Grand Slam events, but in doing so he appeared to take his eye off the ball elsewhere.

Within a fortnight of leaving Melbourne, Murray was criticised by the Marseilles tournament director for withdrawing late for the second year in succession. Another two weeks on and he was at the centre of more controversy after revealing that he had experimented with his game during a second-round defeat to Janko Tipsarevic in Dubai.

There was continuing criticism of his failure to play in the Davis Cup as Britain lost to Lithuania, while on the court he lost to Robin Soderling in Indian Wells and to Mardy Fish in his opening match in Miami. Murray admitted at the time: "I haven't been tough enough on the court and that's what's most disappointing. You can kind of get away with playing badly – I don't really mind that – but mentally over the last few weeks I've been really poor and unacceptable."

Worse was to follow on clay in Monte-Carlo, where Murray admitted to playing "rubbish" in losing his first match to Philipp Kohlschreiber. His game picked up in Rome and Madrid, but a moody Murray was crushed by Tomas Berdych on a cold and damp evening at the French Open.

Murray played well at Wimbledon before losing in the semi-finals to Rafael Nadal – no disgrace there – but trouble had been brewing within his camp, with Miles Maclagan, his main coach, wanting more control. While Murray does not enjoy the experience, he has never been afraid to fire his coaches and Maclagan went the way of Pato Alvarez, Mark Petchey and Brad Gilbert. It might have seemed that his season was heading for another crisis, but it proved a turning point.

After deciding that he would not rush into appointing a long-term replacement, Murray turned to his nearest and dearest. Judy, his mother, who had been playing an increasingly important role in organising Team Murray, became a regular fixture on tour, as did his best friend, Dani Vallverdu, a fellow student in their teenage days at the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona. Vallverdu, who had been an occasional hitting partner, had just finished his business degree at university in Miami.

With the easy-going Alex Corretja still a part-time member of his coaching team, Murray felt comfortable again going into the second half of the season. Gone was the discord generated by Maclagan's demands.

Apart from a grimacing third-round defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open, he finished the year on a high. Murray won Masters Series titles at Toronto and Shanghai and took part in one of the matches of the year when losing to Nadal at the O2 Arena in London.

Ignoring those who said he needed a coach who knows what it takes to win a Grand Slam title, Murray decided his ad hoc arrangements had worked so well that he would continue with them this year.

Looking back, Murray admitted that he had "lost direction" at the start of 2010. He said the loss here to Federer had hit him hard, especially as he had thought he would win. "I was disappointed with how I performed on the court," he said. "Everyone was asking: 'What's going on? What's the problem? Is there something wrong with your coaches?'

"I thought: 'Hang on a second, I've just had the best start to a season in Australia.' I think everyone's entitled to have a few bad days at the office, which I unfortunately had after Australia. I started to over-analyse a few things.

"I lost to the greatest player of all time. It was hard to take, because I put a lot of effort into it. But I lost to Federer. The guy is unbelievable."

Gilbert, who coached Murray for 18 months from the summer of 2006, said: "When I started coaching him almost five years ago he had this five-year plan that his game was going to blossom. He felt it was going to happen at the Australian Open. Everything was lined up and I think he had a hangover from that."

The presence of Vallverdu has been crucial. With Corretja not here, Vallverdu is the man Murray turns to when discussing tactics for a particular match. The Venezuelan has also been the ever-present figure on the practice court, in his courtside box and even in the apartment they share here.

"He doesn't have a whole lot of experience in terms of technical advice, but he's played hundreds and hundreds of matches, he's watched a lot of tennis and he played loads of matches in college," Murray said. "I've known him since we were 14 or 15 years old, so he knows my game. He has a good dialogue with me – better than I have had with a lot of my coaches.

"I do have to come up with some tactics myself, but that's been the one thing that, since I was young, I was always quite good at. I trust Dani. I trust his judgement. If you talk to him he knows a lot about tennis. It definitely helps having him around – and my mum as well."

Murray added: "It can happen in sport that the people around you are also in it for themselves, whereas right now the people who are with me are right behind me and will do whatever it takes to get me ready in training and preparation, down to the small details. I enjoy it. Everyone is working in the right direction."

The entourage – introducing Team Murray

Jez Green

Physical conditioner who works closely with Matt Little, who is not in Melbourne.

Andy Ireland

Physiotherapist called 'Needles' because of his acupuncture skills. Also works at the LTA's National Tennis Centre.

Daniel Vallverdu

Became friends with Murray when they trained together at Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona. Has become a regular part of the team.

Judy Murray

A former national coach, Murray's mother oversees Team Murray and also helps to scout future opponents.

Alex Corretja

Former world No 2 and now part-time coach. Not in Melbourne.