WTA Musical Chairs, Part MMCXI: Murray dumps Puig for Stephens

NEW YORK – In the big city, and at the big dance that is the US Open – and in the little village that is the tennis universe – it’s pretty hard to keep a secret.

So there might have been eyebrows raised at the notion that 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens had booked a … 7 a.m. practice time.

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We don’t remember seeing the American on practice schedules at that ungodly hour too often. It turns out she’s a morning person.

But there may have been a few more eyebrows raised at the sight of the company she was keeping on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Carefully out of sight on the video Stephens posted of that early-bird special was … said coach.

But everyone has a camera phone. And, hidden behind the fans and whatever else at court level, someone was … watching!

Kamau and Sloane, Chap. II

Kamau Murray is back for a second round of duty with Team Sloane, less than 48 hours after Stephens sacked longtime Tour coach Sven Groeneveld.

Stephens-Groeneveld alliance shortlived

The reunion comes just days after Murray informed Monica Puig, his charge of seven months, that he wasn’t going to be at the US Open with her.

New fiancé … and new coach for Sloane Stephens

To sum up? Stephens and Murray left their tennis spouses (in the non-marital sense, of course) to come together again and try to recapture the old flame, at the scene of her first Grand Slam title two years ago.

This stuff might happen on the cul-de-sac in your favorite soap opera. But it doesn’t happen that often in tennis – even on the women’s tour, where it’s two forehands short of a free-for-all at the moment.

Stephens fans called it

The reactions to Stephens’ Tweet about Groeneveld Monday were all over the place (as these things tend to be). But some of her fans were adamant.

Their wish was Stephens’ command, apparently. But she Tweeted about her new kicks before she finally confirmed the news, some eight hours later.

Murray-Puig ends after seven months

Meanwhile, what about Monica Puig?

As far as we knew until today, Murray was Puig’s coach, and had been since February.

It seems the 25-year-old found out days ago she would be coachless for her “home’ Grand Slam. (As a Puerto Rican – an American citizen – the US Open would be the big one for her). But she didn’t know why.

She may well have found out along with everyone else. It seems … pretty cold.

Through her representatives, Puig issued the following comment to Tennis.Life earlier today.

“At the end of last week, Kamau informed me that he was not going to be available to go to the US Open with me, which came as a complete surprise to me. I’ve put it behind me and I am fully focused on preparing the best I can for the US Open.”

Groeneveld had no additional comment beyond what he issued on Twitter.

Coaching poaching (that rhymes)

On the surface, it seems like a pretty underhanded thing to do to another player – especially as both, as it happens, are IMG clients.

You can’t really blame a player for trying, though. Stephens’s 2019 season without Murray hasn’t been great.

Stephens ended things with Murray the first time – well, we’re not sure exactly how or when it ended. He didn’t come to the year-end championships in Singapore with her last fall, for reasons explained at the time involving a prior commitment Murray had at his academy in Chicago.

But it’s beyond debate that Stephens broke through as a champion under Murray’s guidance, winning the 2017 US Open, then Miami, and reaching the 2018 French Open final.

But at the end of last season, after the two most successful years of her career – both on the court, and off the court with endorsements – she lit everything on fire. 

By the end of the season, Murray and Stephens were “on a break”. Longtime agent John Tobias was out early in 2019, as Stephens went to IMG.

Sloane Stephens back with IMG

On Jan. 29, Puig announced that Murray, as well as another coach who worked with Stephens, Othmane Garma, were her new coaching team.

Until this week.

Relationship always there

Even as Stephens remained coachless and Murray was working with Puig, it was clear from scenes we witnessed at Indian Wells that the relationship between Murray and Stephens – or at least her family – was still very close.

We saw them run into each other between the player’s field and the locker rooms. And there were warm hugs all around between Murray and Stephens’ mother, Sybil Smith.

Still … on the eve of the US Open, to poach another player’s coach?

It’s pretty harsh. Then again, if the coach won’t let himself be poached, there can be no poaching.

So if there’s any blame to be assigned, you’d have to point at the poached coach.

Stephens’s fans appeared overjoyed – however it came to pass. But the circumstances didn’t go unnoticed.

Will the draw gods be kind?

The only thing that would complete this saga is … Stephens drawing Puig in the first round of the US Open.

For the US Open, Puig has taken on former ATP Tour player Dusan Vemic, who is a coach for Serbia’s Davis Cup team and has worked with Andrea Petkovic among others.

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