Andy Murray versus Tomas Berdych. Grand Slam semifinal. Australian Open, 2015.
The stage for this Melbourne clash is obviously huge – and yet the way it is so highly anticipated may come as a surprise.
We’ve got a rematch of last year’s Djokovic-Wawrinka epic going on in the other half of the draw. So why has this duel generated so much attention?
At the end of the day, it’s down to one man, and he won’t even be taking to the court.
Tennis fans, how much do you know about Daniel Vallverdu, the coach and hitting partner who spent the last four years at Murray’s side, until he became Berdych’s coach this offseason? Well, if the answer is “not much,” we have you covered:
1. He’s from Valencia, but not Spain.
Contrary to a recent BBC report, although Dani currently counts his residence as Barcelona, Spain, he was actually born in Valencia, Venezuela.
2. As you might expect, he’s a former player.
Before switching to a coaching role, Vallverdu was a tennis player. After turning pro in 2004, he achieved his career-high ranking of No. 727 on August 8th, 2005, at the age of 19. Never officially retiring, he majored in business management at the University of Miami before getting into coaching.
And why did he get into coaching?
3. He’s besties with Andy Murray.
Vallverdu and Murray have been close friends for 15 years. They trained together as juniors at the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, and Andy brought Dani onto his team as a ‘hitting-partner’ at the end of 2010. Few interviews with Dani are available, but this recent piece from The Daily Mail gives as good an insight as any on Dani’s personality, and current relationship with Murray.
You can’t seriously be at odds with someone you voluntarily go up and give a ‘big hug’ to! Wonder what Tomas thought, though …
4. Yes, Vallverdu has now crossed enemy lines.
Dani left Murray’s team at the end of last season, and joined up with Tomas Berdych almost straight afterward. Dani was snapped up by Tomas at the recommendation of the Czech’s adored countryman, Ivan Lendl.
And this fact is what builds the intrigue around the upcoming Murray/Berdych battle. Berdych has already credited the recent improvement in his game to Dani–the remedy is secret-secret, though. And heading into his next match, he has on his side the man who knows Murray The Tennis Player better than anyone else on earth. Vallverdu knows Andy’s skills, his likes and dislikes, his struggles, his mentality, and practically any other tennis-related insight you can think of, better than anybody else.
5. Dani’s hair defines his character: Calm, and unruffled.
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) March 23, 2014
6.He’s considered a baby in his business.
At 28, Dani is a year younger than his current charge, Berdych, which is very unusual in his line of work.
If Tomas were to win a Slam this year, then Dani’s status and recognition would swell to the point of explosion–he could be considered a coaching prodigy!
7. Tennis legends are taking notice.
He hasn’t escaped the notice of tennis legends. Just last year, multiple Slam champion and former World No. 1 Lindsay Davenport stated that Dani “tends to get overlooked quite a bit, and he is the guy that knows how all the other players approach the game.” She also acknowledged that Murray’s former hitting partner was doing “a ton of work” both for and with his friend.
8. And yes, that includes Ivan Lendl.
The great Ivan Lendl, who famously got on extremely well with Dani, also added his praise, several times over. After his own split with Murray, the Czech declared, “You guys don’t understand how much I relied on Dani Vallverdu!”
8. He was head of the men’s tennis team for Team GB at the London Olympics.
It shows what an accepted and trusted presence in Britain he had become, as the Venezuelan was bestowed with this honor at such a key event. And who emerged with the gold medal? His player, Andy Murray. Not bad, eh?
9. Andy and Dani randomly teamed up for doubles at Queens in 2008.
This was just two or three years before they officially started working together, and the duo made it to the second round. They fell there to Kevin Ullyett and Jonas Bjorkman, who were ranked No. 10 in the world and seeded third.
10. He’s not an avid tweeter.
Maybe this is why?
— Daniel Vallverdu (@danielvallverdu) January 8, 2015