More to Murray than Lendl
IT IS no coincidence that Andy Murray's remarkable run in the second half of this year has followed Ivan Lendl's return as coach, but the world No.2 is always keen to stress that there are other key figures in his team.
Murray, who plays his first match in the Paris Masters on Thursday morning (4.30am AEST) against Fernando Verdasco, has won three tournaments in succession since the US Open in September - but Lendl wasn't even there to watch.
Jamie Delgado, who joined Murray's team earlier this year, was the main man in the Scot's corner when he won the titles in Beijing, Shanghai and Vienna last month, and is with him again this week as he continues his pursuit of the world No.1 ranking.
Murray will become the first British player to top the singles rankings if he wins the title in Paris and Novak Djokovic fails to reach the final.
"I spoke to Ivan (on the phone) for about half an hour just before Vienna and Jamie and I spoke with him a couple of times the week before I went to China, but that's been it,” Murray said. "Obviously we stay in touch through messages and stuff, but in terms of actual talking, that's been it.”
Lendl, who will be back by his charge's side at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London later this month, keeps in regular contact with Delgado wherever Murray is playing, but the Scot prefers to go about his day-to-day business by dealing with the man on the spot.
"Jamie and Ivan speak and stay in touch pretty much most days,” Murray said. "But when you have one coach who is there and another who's not around and doesn't know what the conditions are like and how you've been practising, I find it's much better to have the one that's on site as the one communicating with me.”
When Murray spoke to Lendl the weekend before last they did not talk about specific tactics or matches.
"I go through all of that with Jamie,” Murray said. "Whether they speak about it - which I'm pretty sure they do every day when they communicate with each other - I don't hear about it. I think that's a positive thing. I have one message coming to me directly and that's from the coach who's there with me.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, is in Paris without either of his coaches, Boris Becker and Marian Vajda, though the world No.1 insists there is no significance in their absence. The last time he played at a tour event with neither man present was at this year's Miami Masters, which he won. Becker has been attending a poker tournament in Nottingham this week.
"I have a very large team,” Djokovic said. "The people you see here with me are also part of the team. They have come with me to this tournament because that was part of the agreement of the whole team, including Marian and Boris.”
The results of Murray and Djokovic this year underline how difficult it can be to maintain form throughout a whole season, though the Serb did that in both 2011 and 2015, winning 10 and 11 titles respectively, including three at grand slam level in each year.
This year Djokovic was dominant until the end of the French Open, by which time he had won 44 of his first 47 matches of the season and had a huge lead of 8035 points in the rankings. Since Roland Garros it has been Murray who has taken charge, the Scot winning 41 of his last 44 matches and effectively closing the gap at the top of the rankings to just 415 points.
Djokovic's current run as world No.1 dates back more than two years to his second Wimbledon triumph in 2014. Murray first reached No.2 in the rankings more than seven years ago and has spent a total of 76 weeks at No.2, including 50 of the last 52 weeks.
Murray, Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Gael Monfils have all qualified for the season-ending World Tour Finals, which start at the O2 Arena in 12 days' time.
The remaining two places will be decided by this week's results. Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic currently occupy the last two qualifying places, but Tomas Berdych, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roberto Bautista Agut and Lucas Pouille all have chances of making the field if they have good runs in Paris.