Mauresmo takes pressure off Murray
At Wimbledon this year, there was always going to be a lot of attention on Andy Murray, the defending champion who snapped a 77-year British drought at the tournament. So what did he do? He grabbed even more attention by selecting a female coach two weeks before the tournament.
The 27-year-old created headlines two weeks ago by announcing he was going to work with two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo and becoming one of the few men ever to be coached by a former WTA player. Mauresmo will be working with Murray on a trial basis during the grass-court season.
It was always going to be hard for Murray to generate the kind of reaction he got from pairing with Ivan Lendl, especially considering he won two Grand Slams with the former Czech No. 1. That's not an easy act to follow, but Murray was clearly up to the challenge. Going with Mauresmo has, if anything, created an even bigger sensation.
Mauresmo is well-respected in tennis circles. She has coached ATP player Michael Llodra, has been a consultant to former WTA No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and has worked with Marion Bartoli as French Fed Cup captain during Bartoli's title run at Wimbledon. From Murray's perspective, however, why make such a conspicuous, if progressive, pick?
To some extent, he seems amused by the stir he has caused. Even before the announcement, the world No. 8 had played up the prospect of working with a woman and said he was looking at both male and female candidates. Having grown up coached by his mother, it might be that Murray likes sending a message about the effectiveness of women training men.
"It doesn't feel that different because, obviously, when I was growing up I had my mom working with me until I was about 17 years old," Murray told the BBC in an interview before Queen's. "So I've always had a strong female influence in my career."
For someone who has never minded ribbing his fellow players a bit, raising a few eyebrows in the locker room might be satisfying -- even if his coach cannot get in there to see them.
"From other players' point of view, I don't care if they think it's a good or bad appointment," he said. " It's whether it works well for me and my team."
Despite all the attention the move has received, it has also, in a way, taken some of the attention off Murray himself. Most of the questions he got at the warm-up event at Queen's were about his new coach rather than the defense of his Wimbledon crown.
But if some of the pressure has been taken off Murray, it has been put firmly on Mauresmo's shoulders.
"[He] is the defending champion, so not much pressure," she said jokingly after being announced in the position.
The Frenchwoman also played down the social significance of her selection.
"I know it's a major event in the world of tennis -- in the world of sports as well," she said. "That's not my big concern right now. I want to help Andy. It's the only thing that I have in mind right now."
Generally, though, how she does in the position will be important for the coaching prospects of women on the men's tour. It was Murray's success with Lendl that made it popular for players to take on legends as coaches, and having good results with Mauresmo would likely help make female coaches more viable.
So both player and coach will be under plenty of scrutiny over the next two weeks, especially after Murray's defeat to Radek Stepanek in his second match at Queen's. The season has generally been a subpar one for the Scot, who returned from back surgery at the beginning of the year and then stopped working with Lendl in March. But he began to gain some momentum during the clay tournaments and reached the French Open semifinals on his least preferred surface.
Aside from injuries, Murray also seems yet to recharge mentally following his Wimbledon title. He has now secured his major goals -- winning the 2012 US Open gave him his long-sought Grand Slam victory and winning Wimbledon gave his country its long-sought national victory. The next thing he has to do is decide what he next wants to do. At 27, he is not quite in a position to chase the records of Federer or Nadal -- or even Novak Djokovic -- but he can still achieve more in the sport. That said, avoiding physical problems is also a priority at this stage, so there is some rebalancing to do.
This is where Mauresmo will have a part to play. When deciding on a coach, Murray repeatedly emphasized the importance of listening skills. That's one of the reasons he began considering a female coach.
"I've found, with my mom especially, that she listened extremely well, and that was something that I felt right now that I needed," he told the BBC. "I've started to listen to my body a lot more, and I think it's important that the people you work with respect that and understand and listen to how you are feeling. You can't just be pushed extremely hard every single day. I need to pick my moments during the year when I really go for it in training."
There are other things about Mauresmo to which Murray might relate. She also had a long wait before winning her two Grand Slams and famously suffered from nerves in pressure situations.
But unlike her, Murray has had some of his best results in front of his national crowds, a spot he will once again be in over the next two weeks. He might not be at the top of his game, but neither are his biggest rivals. Nadal and Djokovic both appeared to be having physical problems during the French Open final, while others, such as Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are also having uneven results.
None will have the level of expectation around him that Murray does, however -- except now, maybe, his coach.