MATS Wilander was surprised but certainly not shocked. That Andy Murray should choose to hire a woman as a coach was just another sign that the Scot is not as other players; he has always marched to the beat of his own, unique drum.
“I think it’s great; very exciting,” Wilander said. “Andy is different. He’s different as a player, he’s different in his mindset, he’s different in his temperament from most guys.”
As a player, Wilander won seven grand slam titles – only Wimbledon escaped him – but once he claimed the No 1 ranking, his motivation waned and he retired in 1991. Coming back two years later, he was never the same player and in 1996 he hung up his racket for good. Now, he makes his living as a TV analyst and has followed Murray’s development from hopeful young talent to grand slam champion.
“Personally, I don’t think he needs a coach, I really don’t,” Wilander said. “I think he learned enough from Lendl and he has such a brilliant tennis mind himself, Andy, I think he’d be fine without a coach. But maybe you need someone to motivate you, you need somebody to look up to, and maybe you need somebody who can be honest and tell you what they think and then you listen to them because that person has won majors. Whatever it takes for him to look up to the person.”
Seemingly the trendsetter in men’s tennis, Murray was the first top player to hire a celebrity coach in Ivan Lendl and now he is the first of the big names to hire a woman. Always looking for something new to add to his game, he has never been afraid to take a step into the unknown if he thinks it can give him the edge at the grand slam tournaments. For Wilander, the fact that Mauresmo carried the weight of her nation’s expectations whenever she set foot in Roland-Garros is a key element in the new relationship.
“She knows what pressure is like playing at home, which is important because if you have someone who doesn’t have a slam in his own country or her home country, you can never imagine what it’s like,” Wilander said. “So, for her, she understands what Andy goes through at Wimbledon.
“There has been a woman in Andy’s life that he talks tennis to in his mum, so he’s been there already, so that’s good. And I think Amelie was extremely thoughtful and she dealt with a little bit of the same sort of pressure. It took a while for her to be successful, I guess.”
It took Mauresmo seven years from reaching her first major final at the Australian Open in 1999 to winning her first grand slam title in 2006. And then she won two in six months. Wilander believes that Mauresmo’s experiences, from suffering through the hard times and yet still keeping her focus to realise her dreams, can only benefit Murray.
“She is a player, she was a thinking player,” Wilander said. “She plays the game more like the guys do in that she defended well, she was coming to the net, she didn’t play like most of the other women because she was more of a thinker. Which I think Andy needs now. I don’t think it would necessarily have been a great fit before he won his first major because then he really needed someone to say ‘OK this is what you need to do’. And I think what Lendl did is so valuable. And maybe Lendl would not have been great for this next phase in his career because you can’t just keep doing what you’re doing, you’ve got to keep changing otherwise you lose interest. I think it’s great. I think it’s excellent that he’s trying something slightly off the beaten path.”