Amelie Mauresmo-Andy Murray Partnership Still A Work In Progress
NEW YORK -- For a long stretch of June right through until the start of this US Open, they were the most intriguing storyline in tennis, and everyone was eager to see how this semi-groundbreaking, so-called "experiment" would pan out. First Scotland's Andy Murray parted abruptly with coach Ivan Lendl -- each of them a Grand Slam winner coached early in life by his mom -- and then surprised the tennis world with his unconventional, gender-blind choice to hire Amelie Mauresmo on the eve of his defense of his historic Wimbledon title.
Equal-opportunity lovers cheered. And the cynics and sexists cackled, "Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud..."
"I thought it was a joke," said Virginia Wade, who'd previously called Murray a "drama queen" for his antics in the 2012 French Open.
Novak Djokovic's coach Boris Becker admitted he was a little "surprised."
"I don't really care whether some of the other male players like it or not," Murray said. "It's silly."
By Wednesday night at the Open when Murray took on the top-seeded Djokovic, it seems everyone in Murray's camp was desperately tired of the Amelie & Andy storyline. If anything, they were curiously running from it as fast they could -- though, to be clear, just the avalanche of attention, not the choice of Mauresmo herself.
Murray's mother, Judy -- who tweeted "Love it" when Andy announced Mauresmo's hiring on the last day of the French Open -- was in New York the first week of this tournament but went home to the UK over the weekend rather than stay for the rest of his Open march. Mauresmo, one of the most genial people in tennis in years past, was suddenly having all interview requests funneled through Murray's camp rather than the ATP Tour media staff. She was said to be unavailable as of Wednesday because, as Murray's agent explained in an email, "It's all about winning the tournament now."
A tennis insider, whom Judy Murray has credited as the person who first suggested Mauresmo to them, now says oh no, he wasn't much involved at all. And John McEnroe, the old Lendl rival-turned-ESPN analyst, suggested on Wednesday's telecast of the Djokovic-Murray match that Lendl's resignation wasn't just about being tired of the travel. McEnroe said Lendl told him he didn't agree with Murray's decision to get back surgery last fall -- a choice that was still compromising Murray's fitness and tennis form by the time Lendl quit in March.
Why all the backpedaling from the Andy & Amelie storyline?
Perhaps it's because of all the talk about what was supposedly at stake.
Like his back surgery decision, the hoped-for validation that a win over Djokovic would've instantly bestowed on Murray's hiring of Maursemo didn't work out, though it must be said it was Murray's own fault more than any shortfall in strategy from Mauresmo.
Murray simply wasn't tough enough or fit enough by his own admission to hang with Djokovic by the fourth set of his 7-6 (1), 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal loss that stretched on for 3 hours and 32 minutes Wednesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. They didn't finish till 1:15 a.m.
It was easily the most anticipated matchup of the tournament so far. And Murray fought hard at times. But he also squandered scads of chances to get back in the match, converting only 4 of 16 break chances, compared to Djokovic's 7 of 10. Worse, the way he staggered around and whinged at himself, both in his courtside chair on changeovers and after blowing some points, was a bad throwback to Miserable Andy, the talented but oddly risk-adverse guy who was firmly ensconced as The Best Player Never to Win a Grand Slam before he captured the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon with Lendl as his hard-driving mentor.
When Murray summoned a trainer -- another old habit -- in the fourth set because of what he later said was "stiffness" in his hips and back, it was easy to think he was groping for a face-saving out that Wade so caustically referred to.
But just because it didn't work out for Murray on Wednesday doesn't mean the partnership with Mauresmo won't.
Or that any conclusive opinion was delivered Wednesday on the wisdom of women coaching the world's best male athletes at anything.
Becker is among those who has said that judging the Murray-Mauresmo duo on the basis of only four tournaments is too small a sample size.
Though Mauresmo has said the women-coaching-men angle, is "not really interesting for me, this part of the story, to be honest," she's been fascinating to listen to when she has talked about her working relationship with Murray and how she approaches the job of being the only female coaching one of the world's top players. (There have been only a few others.) The more Mauresmo has shared, the easier it is to see why both Murray and his mother liked her.
Whereas Lendl told Murray if he bellyached and cussed when he was coaching him, he'd walk right out of the stadium, Mauresmo is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding Murray's antics.
"Sometimes I like it, sometimes less," she said after his fourth-round victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. "He has to find his way."
How is their working relationship developing beyond that?
"We like to talk," Mauresmo told the Wall Street Journal after a two-hour practice with Murray inside Louis Armstrong Stadium on Tuesday. "We like to get into the psychological part of the sport. Of yourself, of the moment, everything. The little details in the head, in the game, the little moments in the match, how to approach a final of a Grand Slam."
Maursemo also added, "There's a lot of teasing."
There has been conjecture that Murray will ultimately find he needs someone like Lendl, who had the guts to tell him when to shut up or work harder. Lendl wanted Murray to play a stripped-down power game, something he used to great effect Wednesday with his booming forehand winners against Djokovic. But Mauresmo, like his mom, isn't adverse to putting more variety back into his game. And that's fine, too. But he's in a 1-for-7 slump against the top-ranked Djokovic and might not want to drop shot him as much next time they play. Wednesday, Djokovic seemed to get to every one.
That said, Mauresmo is considered to have the tactical chops to make the right call. And Murray insists Mauresmo's willingness to listen to him shouldn't be confused with some lack of a spine.
"When she needs to be, she's very strong," he insisted. "She gives her opinion. She's demanding when she's on the court with me."
They recently agreed to work together around 25 weeks per year.
Judy Murray, like Mauresmo, currently coaches her home nation's Fed Cup team. She has said neither she nor Andy really knew Mauresmo before he hired her. But she did admire Mauresmo's work for France, and while coaching underdog Marion Bartoli to the 2013 Wimbledon title before that.
But something else that Judy Murray told ESPN's Prim Siripipat sheds light on Andy's comfort level with making the unconventional choice to hire Mauresmo.
Judy says when Andy was only 12 but already a promising player, she realized being both his coach and mother was too fraught, "And to me it was always more important to be the mother first. So I took somebody on, a young rookie coach, 21 years old, diamond in each ear, and the bleached blonde hair -- you know, a real cool dude who was a decent player. And I mentored him."
Judy was the Scottish national team coach at the time. There had to be people then who said what the hell are you doing to the UK's next great hope? But if you noticed, it has worked out in the end.
Maybe Murray and Mauresmo will too.
Murray has been frank that he didn't want Lendl to quit. He's said it "gutted" him. But once Lendl did, Murray reverted to the same philosophy that guided his mother's approach to his career. Neither of them seems to give a damn about the Freudian jokes. Or tennis world schadenfreude.
"It's about finding the right people and the right places for them to work with at the right time," Judy Murray says. "It's not so easy to get that right. You need different things at different stages of your career."
"We're trying to find it," Mauresmo said.