Inside Team Murray
As you have wandered around this beautiful city of Melbourne, have you encountered a bald chap in an ill-fitting pink tracksuit? Or a pale bloke in deely-boppers and boob-tube? And, as you crossed swiftly to the other side of the street, have you ever wondered who they were?
Chances are, they are part of Team Murray, the gang of experts who have helped and supported Andy Murray on his journey to the Australian Open final. And they have just lost a bet with the boss.
For the first few years of his professional career, Murray tried a string of individual coaches as he searched for the perfect voice to guide him on his way. But by the time he had parted company from Brad Gilbert, his third coach in as many years, Murray had come to the conclusion that this one-on-one business was not for him. Tennis is an individual sport and Murray is single-minded, but when he is not actually at the office, he likes a bit of company.
An extremely smart and funny guy, the Muzz has a fairly low boredom threshold, and the tedium of training, travel and practice can get him down. With a group of mates around him, the hours in the gym and the days on the running track are a bit more bearable, and the banter between the boys makes it fun. And, being boys – and competitive ones at that – every training routine instantly becomes a contest. That’s where the bets and the forfeits come in.
The winner of these little games gets nothing, but the loser gets it is all. He gets heaps. The failure to lift as many weights as the Muzz could result in doing 20 push-ups (and has to kiss the feet of the victors on the way down); losing the 400m may result in the loser buying lunch for everyone; but it is failure at football-tennis that will result in the humiliation of the pink track suit or the boob tube.
Football-tennis is the only thing – other than Murray’s career – that the whole gang takes seriously. Like a cross between keepy-uppy and tennis, the game requires a ton of skill and eye-watering levels of fitness. Well, it does if you play at Murray’s level.
And where the world No.4 will accept a duff call on tennis courts around the world, he will not be robbed of a point in tennis-football. Close observers of Scotland’s finest have seen him harrumph, grumble and chunter about a close call for fully 20 minutes after what was supposed to a fun-filled kick about.
The team was assembled – obviously – for their individual talents, but soon the crew bonded and formed a happy boys club. Now they travel the world as a bunch of lads who work hard, train hard and laugh hard. They are a clean-living lot – Murray is tee-totaller and his idea of good night out a Japanese meal and then back to his place to beat his mates at pool – but they tease each other mercilessly.
Miles Maclagan is the coach. You can spot him – just – under the floppy hat. The quiet and level-headed Miles was born in Zambia, has Scottish parents and grew up in Zimbabwe. He earned his coaching spurs with the doubles team of Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett, taking them to the Australian Open 2005 doubles title.
Miles is a straight-forward sort of bloke - his top tip for tennis? Watch the ball, because you can’t hit it if you don’t know where it is – and never seems stressed or worried.
But even if he takes everything in his stride, he is sometimes amazed by just how much he and the rest of the gang have achieved.
“I’m pretty low-key in style,” he said. “At times, for example at the US Open, he 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 the US Open or 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 practicing and competing and having fun, it’s just like we’re five guys travelling around the world with a few tennis games interspersed.”
Murray’s impressive physique has been designed by Jez Green and Matt Little (otherwise known as Treacle). They work the Muzz to a standstill over the Christmas break and during training blocks throughout the season. During Grand Slams, they keep him ticking over in perfect nick. Jez and Matt take it in turns to travel with Murray, and this time it if Jez who has been at the Scot’s side. Easy to spot thanks to his shining bald pate, he is always ready with the chat and a joke.
Andy Ireland is the physio, the man who takes care of the endless aches, pains and niggles that go along with life on the tour. A firm believer in the motto “prevention is better than cure” he keeps a constant and watchful eye on Murray as he ploughs through the draw to offset the increasing fatigue and the threat of injury.
But given that Murray insists that every member of his team goes through the same fitness routines as he does, Ireland is kept busy. “Sometimes I seem to spend more time putting the old men on the team back together again than I do on Andy,” he said. Mr Ireland also believes in aliens, but please don’t hold that against him.
Alex Corretja has not been here these past two weeks, but the former world No.2 is part of the team set up. He was first brought on board to help with Murray’s clay court preparations in 2008, but now works as a regular consultant with the team. He will sometimes give Miles a week off and travel with the Muzz to a tournament, and sometimes he will work in tandem with Miles at events. Or sometimes he will stay at home. Reports from deep within the Murray camp have indicated that Cortetja’s football-tennis skills are improving, while reports from your correspondent can reveal that Alex still has lovely legs.
But the cast list does not end there. Muzza’s management company, 19 Entertainment, are represented here by Matt and Sharon, who field endless requests from the press bunker. Murray’s mum, Judy, is also here on a busman’s holiday (she is one of the most respected tennis coaches in Britain, so how does she spend her vacation? Watching tennis).
And then there is Ricky Hatton. He is not part of the team – not many players travel with a professional boxer – but he is a fan and Murray is trying to persuade him to put off his scheduled trip to Sydney and stay for the final. Oddly, Murray has not forced Hatton, the former world champion at welter and light welter weight, to wear either deely-boppers or a boob tube.