Scot’s choice of new coach raises eyebrows, but former women’s world No 1 will bring an element of calm to intense environment
So now we know what Andy Murray was doing in Paris as he prepared for the clay court season. Officially, Amelie Mauresmo lives as a tax exile in Switzerland but she still keeps an apartment in Paris.
As Murray managed to hold on to tennis’s best-kept secret – the name of his new coach – he did let slip last month that he had spent a couple of days practising with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Roland Garros prior to the Madrid Masters. At the time, no one thought any more of it; Tsonga was a good guy to hit with. But after yesterday’s announcement, it made sense: Roland Garros was a perfect place to chat to Mauresmo, far away from prying eyes.
When the news came through that Murray has appointed the former world No 1 from France and the champion of Wimbledon and Australia in 2006 to replace Ivan Lendl as his coach, it caused a few raised Parisian eyebrows. But those who have followed Murray closely over the years were not unduly taken aback. Murray has never cared what the outside world thinks about his decisions and actions; he listens only to the voices he respects – and in Mauresmo, a two-time grand slam champion, he has found someone he can talk to as an equal.
She knows what it is like to be the focus of a nation’s attention for the two weeks of her home grand slam; she knows what it is like to have the talent to win a major title but to fall just short of the mark time and again; she also knows what it takes to put those disappointments behind her and go on to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the same year.
“She’s obviously a fantastic player,” Murray said. “She won Wimbledon, she was world No 1, won the Australian Open. Just from speaking to her, she’s very calm, she’s a good person. I think we will communicate well together and I think that’s a very important part of coaching. I hope it works well.”
Both Mauresmo and Murray are intelligent and sensitive souls, they both like a laugh and a joke but they both think deeply about every aspect of the career. And both know what the burden of pressure feels like.
When Murray, encouraged by Ivan Lendl, first talked to a sports psychologist, he did not ask her about how to close match point in a major final but, rather, how to manage his team as the boss without ruining the friendly relationship he had with the guys. For Murray, playing tennis is the relatively easy bit; it is dealing with all the other, outside issues that sometimes cause him the problems. To have the softly-spoken Mauresmo join the gang could only be a civilising influence, as he pointed out a couple of days ago.
“I think when you get a lot of men in a room, there’s often quite a lot of egos involved,” he said, “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.”
As for the business of being told what to do by a woman, that does not faze Murray in the slightest – and it matters not one jot to Mauresmo, either.
“I guess it is a big story to write about and a step forward,” Mauresmo said as she pondered being the first high-profile female coach on the men’s tour. “But honestly, it’s not my big concern right now. I’m happy about this new challenge. I want to help Andy. It’s the only thing that I have in mind right now.
“It’s a huge challenge. When I stopped my career I didn’t really intend to travel and to be on the tour again. And then we met. We discussed. Then we discussed again deeper with more details. I listened to him and his expectations in a way, and we’re going to start this way. I’ll see. I’ll see if I enjoy it, if he likes it, and then we’ll see if it will be as simple as that.
“I have experience. I’m a player who has good experience. He’s interested in that. I have a view on tennis. And also on many details – daily things – which maybe will help.”
Professional sport tends to produce a very macho working environment but Murray has never been afraid to show his softer, more emotional side. He also lacks the standard prejudices of the locker room: he will happily watch any tennis match and will praise any player, male or female, world No 1 or promising junior, if they play well. He is fascinated by how each individual copes with different situations on court and the opportunity to pick Mauresmo’s brain over the coming weeks is, for Murray, something to be relished and enjoyed; it does not matter what anyone else thinks.
“To be honest, for me, I obviously worked with my Mum for a long time and then even periods when I was 16, 17 years old,” Murray said. “For me it doesn’t feel like a very different thing. Obviously I wasn’t paying my Mum so it’ll be a little bit different this time because I’ll be employing Amelie. I think it’s exciting, something a bit new for me, something a bit fresh and hopefully it works well.”
Although the initial plan is to have a trial run during the four weeks of the grass court season, Mauresmo is already looking to the future. She is prepared to travel for large chunks of the year but she will not be Murray’s full-time travelling coach. Then again, Lendl did not go to every tournament with his charge either and that relationship worked pretty well.
“The whole point is for him to win more grand slams,” Mauresmo said. “Of course he’s going to defend his title at Wimbledon. That’s his No 1 priority. It’s not going to be something easy. I’ll help him as best as I can. When he contacted me, the point is not to say, okay, it has to work immediately from the word “go.” No, the thing is that we want to do something in the mid-term, you see, because, you know, miracles, no, they don’t happen, not overnight. Even though you can give him new dynamics, it will not happen overnight. I want the best for him.”
The first goal is Wimbledon and the defence of Murray’s title. The only question is: does Mauresmo qualify for a full grand slam winner’s bonus if she helps him lift the trophy again after only four weeks of working together?