You can’t beat a bit of insider knowledge. So when Tomas Berdych took on Andy Murray this week in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, you’d think his new coach Dani Vallverdu might have revealed a few secrets about his opponent’s game. After all, Vallverdu used to know Murray’s tactics and technique better than anyone on the planet.
“I've known him for 15 years and I have watched him play millions of times,” he said in the run-up to this Melbourne clash.
For the last five years, this former Venezuelan player had been coaching Murray. Then in November, after a fallout with Murray’s main coach Amelie Mauresmo, he switched to the Berdych camp.
Although Vallverdu wasn’t billed as headline coach (that honour went to Lendl and goes now to Mauresmo), in practice he was always the closest of the Scottish player’s various advisers. Crucially, he is intimate with the complex workings of Murray’s mind (If that’s actually possible).
The two first met at the Sanchez-Casal tennis academy in Barcelona in the early 2000s. They quickly became close friends, practising tennis and playing football together, “copy[ing] each other’s homework and [having] fun on the PlayStation”. As juniors they played doubles together on the ITF tour.
Murray admitted before his semi-final match that Berdych had a “huge advantage” with Vallverdu on his side, and that the two of them ought to be able to devise the “perfect” game plan.
But it’s not so much tactics or technique that Vallverdu might have revealed secrets about. Far more valuable would have been the mental stuff.
“What makes Murray tick?” Berdych might have asked his new coach. “When does he tend to lose concentration? How can I put him off his stride? What really annoys him?”
Because, as we all know, the best way to beat Murray is to get him annoyed.
In the end, any insider knowledge that Vallverdu whispered to his new protégé proved not to be annoying enough.
Even when Berdych tried to upset the rhythm of the match by moaning about the pressure of the tennis balls, Murray kept his cool, continued applying the pressure and held on to beat Berdych in four sets.
“It created a bit of extra tension,” the Scot said when asked if Berdych’s new coach had been a factor.
Back in November, once Vallverdu had left the Murray camp, it was only a question of time before the Scot met Berdych across the net.
Sod’s Law that it ended up being in the semi-finals of the next Grand Slam on the calendar.
“I had a feeling it would happen here,” Vallverdu said when the match-up became apparent. And it’s likely to happen again before the season is out.
Next time Berdych needs Vallverdu to help him more with the mental battle rather than the physical battle. Any extra tension the Czech player can create will be to his advantage.