Murray’s Mauresmo pick a break point for women in sports management
Reigning Wimbledon champion’s “left-field” choice proves that gender is not an issue when boosting skills is a priority
Amelie Mauresmo’s appointment as Andy Murray’s new coach can only enhance the reputation of female tennis, and shine further light on the insights that women can add to the men’s game. After taking a couple of months to ponder his decision, the 27-year-old Scot has chosen the two-time Grand Slam winner, 34, to replace Ivan Lendl, with whom he parted ways with in March.
Mauresmo will join Murray at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s, which begin today, with an initial brief to focus on Murray’s grasscourt game. It is hoped that the preparatory tournament in the run up to Wimbledon 2014 will stand the Glaswegian in good stead to mount a successful title defence from 23 June. At a press conference following Team Murray’s announcement, Mauresmo said: “I’m really excited to be able to work with Andy. He’s an amazingly talented tennis player and I feel I have plenty to offer both him and the team around him. I'm looking forward to getting down to work and helping him win more grand slams.”
From a management point of view, the spirit Murray has shown throughout his career in identifying mentors and coaches has been unconventional, yet broadly successful, especially in recent years. The hire of Ivan Lendl in particular was crucial, as Murray used the Czech veteran’s abrasive and committed personality, experience and leadership to give him the extra edge in the home stretches of well-managed US Open and Wimbledon campaigns. While Lendl was renowned in tennis as a big name, he had limited experience of coaching prior to working with Murray. However, since the Scot’s triumph at SW19 last year – where he became the first British man to win the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936 – other players have made similar appointments.
But what can Olympic Silver Medallist Mauresmo offer Murray?
The 34-year-old has already developed extensive coaching experience, having previously worked with Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka and Marion Bartoli. She has already dipped her toe in the men’s game, coaching compatriot Michael Llodra during the 2010 grass-court season, when he won the Eastbourne ATP event. Her credentials are sharpened further by her role as the current captain of the French Fed Cup team, where she interestingly serves as counterpart to Murray’s mother Judy, who heads up the Great Britain team.
In terms of their personalities, Murray and Mauresmo share various similarities. Both aggressive competitors on the court, they share a soft-spoken and thoughtful nature off court. Mauresmo can also empathise with Murray about the inevitable pressures of being by far his country’s best player, who carrying the hopes of a nation in every Grand Slam. Technically, she is known for her fine deployment of the volleying game – something that could be added to Murray’s game to make him more dynamic.
Former British number one Annabel Croft led the way for tennis insiders who were surprised by Murray’s decision: “I guess everyone’s a little bit in shock,” she said. “It’s left-field, it’s different. I’m intrigued to find out from him what he thinks she can bring to his game. She played in such a different way to Andy. He plays double-handed, has a big serve – she played a lot single-handed, had a very tactical guise and was a big thinker about the game. Andy likes people around him who have a sense of fun and humour, but Amelie is very serious. I can’t imagine there will be too much joking around, maybe that's why he chose her.”
So, if Murray picks up the crown at Wimbledon this year, will a number of notable men’s tennis stars suddenly be keener to opt for female coaches?
Billie Jean King, a 39-time Grand Slam winner, explained: “It is not the gender of the coach that is important – it is the strength of the relationship between coach and player that will make the partnership work. Women have coached men for years, going back to Bobby Riggs and Eleanor Tennant. What is important is that this is what Andy feels is best for his current situation.”
A major part of Murray’s emergence as a world-class tennis player is the influence of Judy, who has coached him from a young age – so perhaps working with a female player is not as unorthodox to Murray as it would be for other players. In fact, Judy is one of numerous mothers who have had a major impact on bringing their sons into the professional ranks, including top players such as Jimmy Connors and Marat Safin as well as current world number 49, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin.