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Replacing coach Lendl no easy task, but only grand slam champions need apply

ONE week on from the news that Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl have split, the shock has just about subsided.

Dani Vallverdu, Murray's hitting partner, has been part of the Scot's team for a while.  Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Dani Vallverdu, Murray's hitting partner, has been part of the Scot's team for a while. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Player/coach relationships come to an end regularly, so an end to the partnership between Murray and Lendl should not be met with too much surprise. Few observers saw this one coming, though.

What is particularly unusual about it is that Lendl appears to have been the driving force behind the decision - because he wants to spend more time on other projects. Murray's hand was forced: he was never going to accept someone who was not fully committed to making him a better player. Murray was vocal about his disappointment, saying he was "gutted".

So the important question for the Scot is: Where do I go now? First, he will be in no rush to replace Lendl. When his previous coaching arrangement, with Alex Corretja, came to an end in early 2011, the Scot went nine months without an official coach until Lendl was appointed in December of that year. A similar situation is likely to be replicated.

The Venezuelan, Dani Vallverdu, Murray's hitting partner and some-time coach, has been part of Murray's team for a significant length of time, so is likely to take on many of Lendl's duties. This is likely to be a short-term solution, despite Vallverdu also having developed significantly under Lendl's gaze.

Many names have been tossed around in the past week as to whom Murray will choose as a successor to Lendl. There have been the usual suspects, led by Darren Cahill, who is part of the adidas Development Team and whom Murray already consults occasionally. Other established coaches have also been touted: Paul Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, has been mentioned, as has Larry Stefanki, whose former charges include Tim Henman and Andy Roddick.

But it is not easy to gain Murray's approval and it seems that the Scot, perhaps more than any other player, gives his respect most readily to those who have been at the top of the game and have experienced similar situations to himself and won major titles.

Leon Smith, the Davis Cup captain and one of Murray's first coaches, was initially the bookies' favourite, but I would be astonished if Smith ended up as the Scot's full-time coach. Firstly, he would probably have to resign from his position at the LTA, a post in which he is comfortable and has, to date, been successful. Secondly, while Murray was coached in his younger years by former journeyman players such as Mark Petchey and Miles Maclagan, it is unlikely that he can gain much from these types of partnerships.

Murray needs someone who knows exactly what it feels like to be in the heat of the battle, knows how it feels to be in a grand slam final and knows what it takes to be the best in the world. This sort of knowledge cannot be garnered from anything other than personal experience.

Some of the most interesting candidates who have been mentioned are Andre Agassi - Murray's childhood hero - and John McEnroe, but both seem to be non-starters. Agassi has recently said that his young family precludes him from a full-time coaching role, while McEnroe is too busy with media commitments to give the Scot the time he would require.

The former player route is the one most likely to bear fruit. Mats Wilander has not been mentioned, but the former world No.1 and seven-time grand slam winner could be worth a look.

The recent spate of former player enlistments was triggered by Murray and Lendl's success - and the benefits are obvious. Lendl gave Murray that extra few percent which the Scot was lacking and which was needed for him to win a major; anyone other than a former world-class player is likely to be able to add much to his near-flawless game.

Murray must select carefully. Maria Sharapova's partnership with Jimmy Connors lasted just one match: a split which was surely down to a clash of personalities. Novak Djokovic's tie-up with Boris Becker is still in its infancy but does not look as if it has longevity written all over it. The Serb has won just one title with Becker in his camp - in Indian Wells just more than a week ago - but, perhaps more importantly, the German seems uneasy at not being centre of attention.

At one set all in Djokovic's final against Roger Federer in Indian Wells, Becker saw fit to tweet: "Don't really understand? One player is playing the best tennis of his life and the other playing average . . . set all??"

It was less than professional by the German. Herein lies the problem with former players: their enlarged egos may well remain intact in retirement, which can lead to friction.

Finding a replacement for Lendl will not be easy for Murray but, if he gets it right, those two grand slam titles he holds could be doubled, even before the year is out.

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