He is hardly speaking in the interests of his own profession, but Darren Cahill believes it is "not a bad thing" that Andy Murray is going into the Australian Open, which started here today, without a recognised coach in his corner.
Cahill, who worked with Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt and is one of the world's most respected coaches, thinks Murray has been sensible not to rush into appointing a successor to Miles Maclagan. Alex Corretja remains a part-time member of the world No 5's coaching team but is not with him here.
"I don't think it affects his chances of winning this tournament too much," Cahill said. "During a player's career it's not a bad thing to problem-solve yourself, not have to always turn to a coach and rely on a coach to give you the answers you're looking for. I think it's part of the growing-up process. I think Andy's learning that and he's taking more responsibility for his career."
Cahill, who is part of the ESPN commentary team here, was considered a possible target for Murray, but said he had not been approached by the Scot. Cahill has commitments both to television and to the Adidas team of coaches, who offer support to the company's stable of players, which includes Murray.
The Australian recognises the huge challenge Murray faces in an era so dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have won 23 of the past 26 Grand Slam tournaments. The only other champions since the 2004 French Open have been Marat Safin (here in 2005), Novak Djokovic (here in 2008) and Juan Martin del Potro (in New York in 2009, when he beat both Federer and Nadal).
"It becomes a slightly psychological thing," Cahill said. "When you've got those two guys standing in your way, you don't have to knock over one of them, you've got to bowl down two of them. He's been capable of getting through one of them in the major tournaments but hasn't quite done the Juan Martin del Potro double yet.
"Once he does that I feel like he's going to win multiple majors, but I think it would be a tough ask for him to do it here in Australia in these conditions, especially if the sun comes out, because of the physicality of playing the five-set matches. But if he gets through to the semis and the final they become night matches for the men, so you're a bit shaded from the physicality of the conditions, and he has a real chance.
"I think the world of him as a player and also as a person. He's a great guy. I do believe he's going to be a major champion, so why not here?"
Cahill believes Murray has a good draw, particularly as he cannot meet Nadal or Federer until the semi-finals and final respectively. Robin Soderling, the man who replaced him at No 5 in the world rankings last week, is a potential quarter-final opponent, but in five visits here the Swede has only ever won two matches and never gone beyond the second round.
"Soderling's results in the Australian Open the past five or six years here have been miserable," Cahill said. "He did win Brisbane, beating Andy Roddick, but when you go back to a place where you haven't had success before it's not an easy thing. I think Murray will be pretty confident and very happy with his place in the draw."
Agassi, Cahill's former charge and another big admirer of Murray, believes the 23-year-old Scot deserves a Grand Slam breakthrough. "You are starting to hear talk that his time might be moving by him," Agassi told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper. "That just might be enough to get him intense and clear and focused on his goals or relax him just enough. And when he's playing his best he's a guy who can beat anybody – including Nadal and Federer."
Murray, sporting the new "intense green" shirt he will wear in this tournament, joined other stars in a series of exhibition matches yesterday to raise money for Queensland's flood victims. He gets down to business tomorrow with his opening match against the world No 101, Karol Beck.
Beck, who reached his highest world ranking of No 36 six years ago, completed a two-year ban in 2007, having failed a test for clenbuterol, a banned drug. Although he had some success on the Challenger circuit last year, he has won only one match at tour level since October 2009.
"When I started again it was really tough," the 28-year-old Slovak said yesterday. "The tennis is much tougher. All the players are running like crazy and playing really fast."
Beck, who is based in Bratislava, revealed an unlikely sporting hero when he said he was reading Ronnie O'Sullivan's autobiography. "We have some snooker clubs but it's a very new sport in Slovakia," he said. "A friend of mine has a table and I've tried it. It's really tough. My maximum break is just two reds and one colour."
Britain's Anne Keothavong fought her way through qualifying at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time yesterday to earn her place in the main draw. The world No 118, who beat Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4 in her third qualifying match, went into her first-round encounter with Russia's Arina Rodionova today knowing that victory would probably take her back into the top 100.
Elena Baltacha, the only other Briton left in the singles following Heather Watson's defeat on Saturday, was meeting Jamie Hampton, of the United States.Reuse content