Andy Murray's coach Miles Maclagan reflects on a marvellous year for his charge
By Mark Hodgkinson in Shanghai
16 Nov 2008
Watching brief: Miles Maclagan puts Andy Murray through his paces
Call him Mr Mellow. No, not Andy Murray, but his coach, Miles Maclagan. Murray once observed that almost the only time that Maclagan is not "pretty mellow" is when he is losing at the tennis football warm-up game that they like to play on the practice court. Maclagan's calm, modest nature has meant that he has not had the credit he has deserved for helping Murray to put together what has arguably been the most successful season by a British male tennis player since the inter-war Fred Perry.
Not that Maclagan will have minded flying under the tennis radar, of course. "I'm pretty low-key in style," said the Zambian-born Scot, who held match points against Boris Becker in the first round at Wimbledon in 1999, but whose greatest achievement in tennis has come this year in coaching Murray to a grand slam final, finishing as the runner-up to Roger Federer, and taking five titles.
"At times, for example at the US Open, Andy had suddenly got to the final and I thought: 'Holy smoke, as far as coaching is concerned this is the sort of thing you dream about'. I hadn't realised it. We do talk among the team and when Andy's playing Federer in the final of a grand slam or in the semi-finals of a Masters Series, we sometimes have to pinch ourselves a little bit. It does hit you every now and then. But at other times, when you're practising and competing and having fun, it's just like we're a group of guys travelling around the world with a few tennis games interspersed."
At the end of last season, Murray sacked Brad Gilbert, an American coach who could never be described as mellow or modest – and also a man who would never stop talking, who would not use one or two words when he could get away with a thousand. Soon afterwards, as Murray started to assemble a squad of advisers and consultants, he asked Maclagan whether he would like to work with him. And so Maclagan became an important figure in the making of Murray the grand slam contender.
The most important event after the slams – and one which is switching to London next season – is the Masters Cup. Murray's run in Shanghai ended in the semi-finals when he was beaten in straight sets by Nikolay Davydenko. Murray was understandably tired after Friday evening's three-hour group win over Roger Federer, and playing against the Russian can be like hitting forehands against the Great Wall of China – the ball just keeps on coming back.
More than anything, what appears to have struck Maclagan after the year they have had together on the tour is Murray's lust for competition. No one is ever going to accuse Murray of being mellow.
"I thought a lot of him when we started and my respect for him has grown over the year, especially in the last few months. To have seen it from the inside has been incredible. It's not just on the tennis court that he's competitive, it's all-round. He finds a way to get into it and charges himself up," said Maclagan, 34,.
"I've been fortunate in working with Andy to see a little bit more of Roger and Rafa as well, and they have an unconditional competitive streak inside them. Roger is very gracious and beautiful to watch, but there is a steel streak of competitiveness in there. To witness that close up – and I've seen it to a degree with some of the other players as well – is when you realise that the unyielding competitiveness is the overriding characteristic of these top guys."
Maclagan has delighted in Murray's achievements, which brought the world No 4 around £2.5 million in prize money over the season. Before Wimbledon, things did not come so easily to Murray. But, post-Wimbledon, he played some terrific tennis, with wins over Rafael Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic. This year, Murray turned the big three into the big four.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the year that he was going to win two Masters Series and get to the final of a slam, I would have bitten your hand off," said Maclagan. "I think Andy has found his game style."
But already thoughts have turned to next season, the year that could see a British male win a grand slam for the first time since Perry in 1936. After a short break, Murray will soon be training in Miami, in an effort to become even more of a physical force on the tennis court. Murray wants to have three more pounds of muscle on him before he appears at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi in the New Year, to be followed by attempting to retain his title at the ATP event in Doha, and then competing at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. At Murray's side will be tennis's Mr Mellow.
Murray versus Top three in 2008
Murray 1-3 Nadal
Masters Series (Hamburg, clay) Nadal won 6-3, 6-2 R16.
Wimbledon (grass) Nadal won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Qtr-final.
Masters Series (Canada, hard) Nadal won 7-6, 6-3 Semi-final.
US Open (hard) Murray won 6-2, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
Murray 3-1 Federer
Dubai (hard) Murray won 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 R32.
US Open (hard) Federer won 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 final.
Masters Series (Madrid, hard) Murray 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 semi-final.
Masters Cup (Shanghai, hard) Murray won 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 RR.
Murray 2-1 Djokovic
Masters Series (M. Carlo, clay) Djokovic won 6-0, 6-4 R16.
Masters Series (Canada, hard) Murray won 6-3, 7-6 Qtr-final.
Masters Series (Cincinnati, hard) Murray won 7-6, 7-6 final.
Five titles: Doha, Marseille, Cincinnati Masters, Madrid Masters, St Petersburg.
Year-end ranking: 4.
Prize money: £2.5m.