Andy Murray – who opens his grass-court season on Monday against South Korea’s Hyeon Chung – has signalled his plans to keep playing for at least the next 12 months by hiring a new assistant coach: the ebullient doubles specialist Jonny O’Mara.
O’Mara, 28, has no great coaching experience, but was recently spotted in Murray’s player’s box during a Challenger event in Bordeaux. He is understood to have been asked to work perhaps 25 weeks with Murray over the next year.
Although the arrangement is still being worked through, O’Mara’s big advantage over incumbent coaches Ivan Lendl and Mark Hilton is that he would theoretically be available for every trip Murray makes.
While Hilton has committed to the whole of the grass-court season, he has a young family, and has not been able to come to every overseas event. As for Lendl, he hates travel and is only an occasional visitor to courtside. This summer, Lendl will probably arrive in the build-up to Queen’s, which starts in a fortnight’s time, and then stay for Wimbledon, where he oversaw Murray’s previous titles in 2013 and 2016.
So far this season, Murray has played 10 events in eight different countries, and has been accompanied by a couple of locums behind the scenes: not only O’Mara in Bordeaux but Davis Cup captain Leon Smith in Rome. The principle behind the new role for O’Mara is that he should be able to add some much-needed continuity to Murray’s support team.
While Murray will probably keep an eye on how things unfold, his interest in O’Mara underlines he is full of ambition in his final phase of his career. Murray’s ranking – which stands at No 43 this week – is moving close to the levels that could achieve his next big goal: a seeding at the majors.
O’Mara, who was born in Arbroath, Scotland, has been part of Murray’s social circle for a while and is a popular figure around the locker room. His deepest run at a major was an appearance in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open doubles event in 2020. His doubles ranking peaked at No 44 the previous season, but he was less successful on the singles court, reaching a high point of No 489.
O’Mara is expected to make one final appearance on the doubles court at Wimbledon next month, playing alongside Liam Broady, before putting his playing career on the back burner and focusing on coaching instead. He has also done some weeks on the road with Dan Evans this season, including in Monte Carlo.]
Murray started 2023 with a couple of epic five-set victories in Australia, and then reached the final of the ATP event in Doha. He has proved that he still has the physical capacity to compete at a high level, even at 36, and with a metal implant in his right hip. But his results have been patchier on clay – always his least favourite surface – despite the fact that he won a Challenger title in Provence a month ago.
The next six weeks of grass-court events will thus represent Murray’s big chance to make a push up the ladder. He is defending points for the semi-final in Surbiton, and the final in Stuttgart, but he didn’t play at Queen’s last year because of an abdominal strain and fell to John Isner in the second round of Wimbledon. So there is plenty of room for improvement.