THE TESTOSTERONE-charged world of men’s tennis is not for the faint hearted. The locker room is a place where men are men and a chap is best advised not to go looking for his feminine side.
In such an environment, the rumour that Andy Murray may be considering hiring a female coach – Amelie Mauresmo’s name has been mentioned – has brought a few raised eyebrows and quite a bit of giggling in the corridors of Roland Garros. Murray has not spoken to Mauresmo and is not speaking to anyone about the vacant coaching role in his team until his job is done in Paris, but he is not bothered by the gossip. Not only will he not dismiss the idea of working with a female coach, he actually thinks it could be an excellent idea.
“I think when you get a lot of men in a room, there’s often quite a lot of egos involved,” he said with a wry smile, “and communication can sometimes be quite difficult because not everyone listens; when there’s an argument it can sometimes get heated rather than actually everyone sort of just staying calm. I think in those situations, women can listen a bit better and take things on board easier than guys. I think from a communication point of view, it would probably be pretty good.”
Murray is one of the few male players who will happily sit and watch women’s matches. Just two days ago, he was tweeting about the wonders of Taylor Townsend, the young American hope, when most of the other blokes were discussing football and their dinnerarrangements. Just because the women are not as big and as strong as the men does not mean that he cannot appreciate their talent and just because a female coach has never played Rafael Nadal in a grand slam final does not mean that he would not listen to her advice.
“To be honest, whether it’s a man or a woman, when they look at the game it’s just important they see the differences in the two games,” he said. “In women’s tennis, like the serve isn’t as important as in the man’s game. It’s obviously harder to break the men – statistics show that. Obviously the best-of-five set match means more training needs to go into preparing for a five-set match. In the women’s matches, you need to start incredibly quick all the time; you can’t afford slow starts in matches. And in a best-of-five set match, you need to pace yourself a little bit more. So there are certain things but so long as the person understands that, they can easily work with both: a man can work with a woman or a woman can work with a man. But it’s just important that either accepts that because if they don’t, then that’s when there will be arguments.
“It’s very easy to generalise when you talk about men and women but everyone’s different and there’s some men that will completely panic when something bad is happening in a match and there will be some women that will panic during matches. The ones that make the good coaches are the ones that are able to stay calm in those moments and can give sound, clear advice in pressure situations. When you’ve been there and done it, it’s obviously easier to pass on that sort of advice.”
Murray has asked the advice of many people, both male and female, as he searches for a new coach. Ivan Lendl was a typical Alpha Male (although with five daughters, he’s seriously outnumbered at home) but that does not mean Murray is looking for an identikit replacement. And he would not be the first man on tour to be coached by a woman should he decide to go down that route: Mauresmo used to work with Michael Llodra, Mikhail Kukushkin is coached by his wife, Anastasia Ulikhina, while Denis Istomin has hired his mum, Klaudiya, to tell him what to do. No matter what anyone else thinks, Murray will do what he feels is best for him.
“For me, I don’t care,” Murray said bluntly. “I don’t really care whether some of the other male players like it or not. That’s not something that really bothers me. I was coached by my mum for a long time. I have had her around at tournaments for a long time. There has been ex‑players and stuff that have said, ‘Oh, your mum shouldn’t be around or she shouldn’t come and support you or come to watch.’ That’s silly.
“Everyone’s entitled to have the team around them that they want. Everyone works very differently. Some men might not work well with a female. Some men might work well with a female coach. It’s just whatever your preference is and whatever your needs are.”
For the moment, though, Murray will have to go it alone as he faces Philipp Kohlschreiber today. Last time they played in 2010 in Monaco, the Scot was whistled off court by the snooty Monte Carlo glitterati who felt his 6-2, 6-1 defeat was not worth the ticket price. This time, he knows he will have to be on his guard, particularly as Kohlschreiber won the title in Dusseldorf last week.
“He’s had big results here before, beating Novak [in 2009 the third round], and winning last week so he’s bound to be confident,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a very tough match for me so I’ll need to play very well to beat him because, like you see, when I played him before when I didn’t play well, it was a pretty quick win for him.”