Murray, Federer anxious to see new coaching arrangements in action
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andy Murray is curious to see how the locker room dynamics change with the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang following Ivan Lendl into the coaching ranks.
Murray has a handle on how it plays out when a star of yesterday starts working with a star of today, making his career breakthroughs after hiring eight-time Grand Slam winner Lendl as coach.
Becker and Edberg, both six-time major winners, are reporting for coaching duty for the first time at a Grand Slam event when the Australian Open starts Monday, working with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively. Chang is working with Kei Nishikori. And there are others.
"I haven't really spoken to many of the players about it, to be honest," he said. "I know, like, lot of players back in the day didn't get on that well with each other and stuff.
"It's a bit different now in the locker room. There might be a few interesting dynamics going on there with the ex-players."
Murray and Federer are in the top-heavy half of the draw with No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion.
No. 2-ranked Djokovic, seeking a fourth straight Australian Open title, is the only major winner in the bottom half.
He describes Becker as a "true legend" of the sport and has installed him immediately as head coach. Federer said he was happy enough to have a chance to hang out with Edberg, one of his childhood idols, and was excited when the Swede accepted his offer of a part-time coaching gig.
Murray expects the new coaching setups to reinvigorate his rivals, at least initially as the players are trying to impress the past greats.
"The first few months when I was working with (Lendl), you're kind of nervous going into practice sessions and stuff," he said. "That's a good thing. It shows that you care and want to impress him.
"But then over time, you get used to having him around. But that happens in a lot of different relationships."
As for the recent trend of celebrity coaches, Murray said "it's cool having them around."
"It's nice walking into the locker room and seeing Becker there, obviously Ivan is there, Chang, Ivanisevic, all these guys ... I loved watching him play when I was growing up."
Murray has only played one match since minor back surgery in September. He has reached three finals at Melbourne Park, but never got the title. Lendl helped him end a decades-long drought for British men by winning the 2012 U.S. Open, then Wimbledon last year.
The Australian Open crown might be a stretch this year, given his enforced time off, he said, "but you never know. If somehow I can work my way into the tournament, feel a little bit better every day, then I might start to raise those expectations."
Murray's ascent has coincided with Federer's demise. The 17-time major winner didn't reach a Grand Slam final last year for the first time since 2002. His streak of reaching the quarterfinals or better at 36 consecutive majors ended with a second-round defeat at Wimbledon. The problems he had initially adjusting to a new racket are behind, he said, after putting a lot of practice hours into it.
Federer will set a Grand Slam record when he competes in his 57th consecutive major, and says the pressure is off him this year.
He spent a week with Edberg in Dubai and the pair will work in tournament mode from next week.
"I'm looking forward to every week I'll spend with him on the tour this year," Federer said. "I'm just really excited that he's taken up the offer because I didn't think he was going to do it because he's got a life. He doesn't need this."
Federer, a self-described tennis historian, sounds more like a fan when he talks of Edberg.
"It's interesting and it's fascinating how he went through his career, how things were back in the day," Federer said. "Especially his days, those were the times I remember from TV. That's kind of what's very exciting, just hanging out with him.
"That was the idea, as well. If it didn't work out, he would say, I'm not ready for this, at least I would have had a few nice dinners with him and able to spend time with a childhood hero, which would have been plenty to fuel my motivation, inspire me for a few weeks or months.
"But now that he's going to join on the tour, that's an ongoing thing, and I'm looking forward to that."
Nadal has all the pressure on him. He didn't play at the Australian Open last year, during his seven-month absence from the tour with injuries. He returned to win 10 titles, including the French and U.S. Opens, and regained the No. 1 ranking from Djokovic in October.
The Australian Open is the only major he hasn't won at least twice, but he sees 2014 as a great opportunity.
Injuries have hampered him in the past, before and after his only Australian title in 2009. He lost an epic five-set final to Djokovic in 2012.
"I was not lucky in this tournament in the past," Nadal said. "Is really the Grand Slam I have the more trouble during all my career."
He said he loves the tournament, the crowds, but not necessarily the surface on the True Blue hard courts.
"Completely different conditions than what I remembered of this tournament," he said. "Faster conditions that I ever played here in Australia.
"I really don't understand very well why they change because the last couple of years, Australian Open had amazing matching, long ones, good ones for the crowd."
Other players, Federer included, don't think it's "lightning fast." Whatever the case, Nadal is quickly acclimatizing.
"I think that I am practicing better a little bit every day," he said. "I hope to adjust my game to these conditions."