Andy Murray will make his first move without Ivan Lendl at the Sony Open in Miami tonight. The Scot will play Australia’s Matthew Ebden in the second round on the Stadium Court at 21:30. With his recent form being very up and down, how he does is going to be eagerly watched by a tennis world curious to see how he does without the man who helped him turn his career around.
Murray became a two-time Major Champion under the eye of Lendl. That last slam came back at Wimbledon 2013. Since then, Murray has been quite far from slam-winning form. At the US Open, playing as defending champion, Murray was knocked out by Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets. The Swiss was in great form, but Murray was suffering from a back injury he had picked up earlier in the clay season and had been playing through. After the US Open loss, Murray decided to undergo back surgery and was out for the remainder of the season.
It has been a tough road coming back. An early defeat in Doha to Mayer. A quarter-final loss to Federer in Melbourne. A first loss to Cilic in Rotterdam. A semi-final third set tiebreak loss to Dimitrov in Acapulco. And then defeat to Raonic in Indian Wells. It was after that defeat that Murray and Lendl sat down, discussed the future and realized the partnership had, in Murray’s words, “run its course.”
For many, it was a surprise the partnership lasted as long as it did. Murray had gone though a string of coaches including Mark Petchey and Brad Gilbert and had a reputation of being a difficult customer. Or Boss might be a better word. Lendl though seemed to be the missing link for Murray. The Scot’s temper was less fiery, he stepped inside the court and controlled points with his improved forehand, and he had never looked fitter. And, crucially, the Slams came. Without Lendl, the question is going to be whether or not more of those slams will keep on coming.
When Murray makes his first move without Lendl in Miami, the tennis world will get a good idea. Miami has always been a happy hunting ground. Murray has won two titles there, with the last one coming last season. The Scot managed to edge past David Ferrer in a third set tiebreaker in a match played in the humid windy conditions that has made the event one of the most prestigious on the tour. In that match, Murray’s much improved fitness came to the fore, but this year is a different story. Back then Murray had won the Brisbane title, competed in the Australian Open final, made the quarter-finals of Indian Wells and was no. 3 in the world. This year he has only played 6 events since coming back, including the Davis cup, lost before his seeding in all of them, and is ranked sixth.
Ebden will provide a stiff test in the second round. The 26-year-old Australian is ranked 67 and will come in feeling confident after his 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Lukasz Kubot in the first round. That tough win was Ebden’s first in five tournaments and will have gotten him used to the conditions in Miami. Conditions Murray is very used to. The Scot lives in Miami and spends two to three months practicing on the center court. He will need that familiarity. If he gets past Ebden, Murray could face Feliciano Lopez next, Tsonga after that, and then Indian Wells champion and old rival Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Murray does not expect the first move he makes since splitting with Lendl to bring success in Miami. The Scot says he knows he is not match fit. And the transition from having a coach of Lendl’s stature to going it alone might have some psychological consequences in his first couple of outings. The results will be much talked about. Just as people wondered whether Murray would ever win a Major, they now wonder if he will win more after not just back surgery but losing a man who helped turned around his career.
Commentary by Christian Deverille