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Good thing comes to an end . . . but the lessons remain

THE news that a tennis player has parted company with his coach should be greeted with the same shock that once accompanied the announcement that Liz Taylor was looking for a bridesmaid.

Andy Murray is now embarking on another stage of his career, without coach Ivan Lendl, right. Picture: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Andy Murray is now embarking on another stage of his career, without coach Ivan Lendl, right. Picture: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The timing of Andy Murray's break with Ivan Lendl may have caused a mild start but the Scottish tennis player has had half-a-dozen official coaches to nearly match the late Ms Taylor's seven husbands.

At 26, Murray now embarks on another stage of his career but this latest parting will be marked with deeply held and lasting respect.

The contract with Lendl was based on a handshake and it was never going to last. It had a specific sell-by date, even though no-one mentioned it when both announced their partnership in December 2011.

Basically, if Lendl did not help Murray over the line in a grand slam then the Scot would have had to have moved on. Then again, once Lendl had helped Murray win grand slams (Wimbledon, the US Open plus an Olympic gold medal) there was not a strong reason for to remain.

Lendl, never one to submit to a secondary role, has other projects, most notably his academy in South Carolina whose prospects will not have been hindered by his first coaching job proving so successful.

The departure, then, is easy to explain. The impact the Czech-born Lendl had on the Scot is similarly obvious. When Ivan met Andy, Murray was a serial loser in grand slam finals. Lendl, who went on to win eight grand slam championships, could sympathise with the Scot. He, too, had lost four finals in majors before finally taking the French Open in 1984.

It was in defeat, though, that Lendl proved his worth. Murray returned to the locker room in deep dismay after losing to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final. He had cried on court but the depression was even deeper when he reached his locker with an aching fatigue and, yet again, without a major championship.

"Ivan told me he was proud of the way I played because I went for it when I had chances," said Murray.

Lendl, too, told Murray that he would never again play a match under such pressure. Murray won the next grand slam, the US Open, after losing a two-set lead. He had learned the truth of Lendl's statement. He could and would cope under enormous pressure. An Olympic gold and a remarkable straight-sets victory over Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final gave Murray his lifetime's ambition.

So what now?

Murray now has a chance to pause and reflect. His recovery from back surgery has led to a slip down the rankings. However, he is convinced the back issues have been alleviated and is determined to push on.

His relationship with Lendl will continue in some form. The pair are allied by a similarly dry sense of humour and by a work ethic that champions must possess. They are also perfectionists.

Lendl's technical input to Murray was limited; after all, the Scot was ranked No.2 in the world long before he hired the coach. He urged the Dunblane player to be physically more aggressive by standing inside the baseline and he tweaked the Murray forehand. The most significant impact, though, was on Murray's psychological well-being.

Lendl could tell Murray he knew how it felt to lose in major finals, he appreciated the difficulty of throwing a ball up to serve for a grand slam title, he shared the experience of being criticised by the press for perceived under-achievement. Lendl had shouldered the pressure and had not only endured but prospered. It is why that conversation after the Federer defeat at Wimbledon was so appreciated by Murray.

The Scot has said he will not appoint a coach quickly. There is no need to given that Dani Vallverdu, his friend and hitting partner, has served in the role before and Judy Murray, the Fed Cup captain, can be relied upon to provide scouting reports at grand slams. Lendl can be consulted by phone and Darren Cahill and Sven Groeneveld, fellow associates at adidas, will be available for advice as in the past.

There has been speculation that Leon Smith, who coached Murray as a junior, could reprise the role. But the Glaswegian has an influential and increasingly powerful role at the Lawn Tennis Association and it is difficult to see him relinquish this - and regular contact with his young family - to go on the road with Murray.

Similarly, attempts to tie Murray with Andre Agassi, his tennis hero, may be rooted more in hoopla rather than in reality. Cahill, in an interview with The Herald, said he could not foresee the American taking on a coaching role when he is so involved in educational projects.

Murray, then, may choose to head into the clay season, and possibly Wimbledon, without a new recruit.

He has options for immediate technical advice and he has no longer the desperate need for the psychological support that Lendl provided.

"I don't know if anybody can do as well as Lendl has done with Murray because Lendl and Murray to me was the perfect, right from the get-go, combination," said Chris Evert when considering the partnership for Herald Sport.

"Lendl's strengths were Murray's weaknesses at that point, which was focus. Lendl was so ice-cold out there, really had that determination. He was unemotional. I think that's what he's helped Andy Murray with."

Lendl will now spend more time at his South Carolina academy and on court on the exhibition circuit. Murray must prepare to defend his title at Wimbledon but with a strength imbued by his experience and by his association with Lendl.

The coach has departed. His lessons, though, remain.

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