Murray drops Soares for all-british doubles pairing with Skupski
Scot admits it was his call to end three-year union Pair end partnership with defeat in Paris
Britain’s top doubles player, Jamie Murray, admitted yesterday that it was his call to end his 3½-year partnership with Bruno Soares and join forces with Liverpool’s Neal Skupski for the forthcoming grass-court season.
Murray and Soares claimed 10 titles together – including two grand slams – and finished the 2016 season as the top-ranked partnership in the world. But Murray told reporters yesterday: “I felt like now is the right time to change it up and do something different.”
He chose not to expand on his reasoning, saying: “We have spoken [about the root causes], but I don’t think I should tell that to the world.”
One area of tension is understood to relate to Soares’s regular trips back to Brazil between tournaments, leaving Murray to train with his coach, Alan Macdonald, or his mentor, Louis Cayer.
Murray and Soares played more than 200 matches together, winning almost 70 per cent of them. But they finished on a disappointing note in Paris yesterday, as they were eliminated in the first round by the Italian combination of Matteo Berretini and Lorenzo Sonego 4-6, 7-5, 7-6.
It cannot be easy to perform as a partnership when you have already agreed to separate. “I didn’t find it weird,” said Murray after the match. “We are still a great team. I am sure both of us wanted to go out with a great result and finish on a high. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. That’s life. It happens sometimes.”
That same awkwardness was also present in the interview room yesterday, as the pair turned up together for their post-match media duties. The atmosphere had the flavour of a divorce-court hearing at which both parties are trying to stay on friendly terms, despite the division of their record collection.
“Bruno’s one of my best friends on the tour and we had a lot of fun together,” said Murray, while Soares responded: “It wasn’t a shock. I am very easy. I respect his decision. I don’t take it personally. It’s our job. If you are not happy with something, you have got to try something different.”
Skupski will also be breaking up his established partnership, with elder brother Ken. Neal played in a Challenger tournament in Phoenix, Arizona, with Murray in March and they lifted the title after edging a series of sudden-death match tiebreaks.
“We spoke in depth with my brother,” said Skupski, “and decided that I couldn’t turn it down. Jamie’s No6 in the world [and there are] obviously other opportunities that could come about, maybe Davis Cup, Olympics. I’ve had my best year, so it’s come at an unfortunate time. But at the end of the day, it’s a business.”
In singles, it was a mixed day for Britain’s men. Kyle Edmund was the lone success story as he ended his unhappy sequence of five straight defeats by finishing off his epic struggle with Jeremy Chardy in just seven minutes.
On Monday night, these two had fought each other to a standstill before bad light forced a suspension of play with the score 5-5 in the deciding set. But Edmund came out the stronger yesterday, winning eight of the 10 points played to complete a morale-boosting 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory in 4hr 2min overall. “Best of five was a marathon, but this was a sprint today and I just went for it,” said Edmund afterwards.
Cameron Norrie, the British No 2, came to grief against another French opponent, however, as he suffered a surprising 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 defeat at the hands of qualifier Elliot Benchetrit, a promising 20-year-old ranked 232rd in the world.
“The biggest disappointment for me today is that I didn’t really bring my level and I didn’t enjoy it out there,” Norrie said after his 84-minute exit on Court 7. “I’m honestly not too bothered about winning. If you win and lose tennis matches, it happens. But when I’m really enjoying it, I’m kind of competing well. I don’t think I competed well.”
Later, Dan Evans made 23rd seed Fernando Verdasco work hard before succumbing to a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 defeat.
Breaking up: Jamie Murray (right) and Bruno Soares won 10 titles together