The ruthless streak that has helped Andy Murray become one of the world's leading players was in evidence again yesterday when the 20-year-old Scot parted company with his coach, Brad Gilbert. Rather than look for a single new coach to replace the American, he now wants to work with a group of specialists.
Gilbert, whose contract still has 20 months to run, was recruited by the Lawn Tennis Association last summer, principally to work as Murray's coach. The Scot was ranked No 35 in the world when he teamed up with Gilbert and rapidly climbed into the game's top 10, but the relationship between the two men has been deteriorating since the summer.
When Murray missed Wimbledon with a wrist injury Gilbert felt he was being unnecessarily cautious. When Murray did eventually return in the summer he was clearly still uneasy about his wrist and a further indication of his worsening partnership with Gilbert came when he returned to Britain for a break before the US Open.
Even during Murray's highly successful autumn campaign, in which he came within a whisker of qualifying for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, it was clear that all was not well in the camp as the British No 1 surrounded himself with friends and family. Judy, his mother, Jamie, his brother, Patricio Apey, his agent, Leon Smith, his coach from junior days, and Carlos Mier, his best friend, all joined him on the circuit, providing a buffer between the player and his coach.
Gilbert, a fast-talking American, and Murray, a sometimes taciturn Scot, were very different characters and the latter is not the first person to find the coach difficult to handle. "Brad Gilbert is a great talker: in fact, he's always talking," Andre Agassi, one of the coach's former charges, once said. "He's got an opinion on everybody and everything."
Murray, who is on holiday in Miami, said last night: "Despite being injured for almost four months this year, I am pleased with my 2007 results and am very grateful for the help that the LTA have given me by providing Brad Gilbert as a coach. But the time has come to move on to the next stage of my career. I am ranked 11 in the world and can now afford to pay my own way and so will now hire a team of experts each to fulfil a specified role in the development of my tennis and fitness."
Gilbert was recruited in a ground-breaking move which saw his wages – at a reported £750,000 a year he was one of the world's highest-paid coaches – funded by the LTA. In spare weeks Gilbert has worked with other British players and coaches, but the vast majority of his time has been spent with Murray. The LTA will now discuss either a severance package or how to redeploy him.
Roger Draper, the LTA's chief executive, said: "Andy's success is vital for British tennis and he has become an inspirational figure for followers of the sport. It is essential that he has a team around him that will allow him to fulfil his potential. We are currently reviewing the situation in relation to Brad."
In less than three years on the senior circuit Murray has got through three coaches. "Andy is ruthless when it comes to things like this and he hasn't been wrong so far in decisions that he's made," Apey said last night. "People raised eyebrows when he went to Barcelona to train as a teenager, when he parted company from Pato Alvarez and when he split with Mark Petchey, but each time it proved to be the right decision."
Apey said he expected Murray to travel next year accompanied by a team of between three and five people. "We're going to take a completely different approach to things. We're putting together a team of people rather than looking for just one person. It will be like a golfer, who might look to different people to help him with specific things like his swing or his putting, or a football club, which employs various specialist coaches. Fitness will be a big part of it and it may well be a bit of a rotating team, with people coming in and out to give him specific advice on specific areas."
Murray will train in London later this month and then spend time in the United States, probably at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida. After a brief return to Scotland for Christmas he will begin his 2008 campaign at the Qatar Open.Reuse content