ANDY Murray emerged as an unlikely feminist icon at the Australian Open at the start of the year. He had already struck a blow for gender equality when he took on Amélie Mauresmo as his coach last summer but, by taking on the detractors and talking up her efforts and those of other female coaches, he made a mockery of those who had dismissed the appointment as a gimmick.
Murray’s efforts on court have added credence to his stance. He is making his way back up the world rankings and, having addressed his weaknesses on clay, his mother Judy believes he is playing some of his best-ever tennis under the Frenchwoman’s guidance.
Speaking at an event in Glasgow hosted by Cerno Capital, in conjunction with Scottish Women in Sport and BT Sport Action Woman, the Great Britain Fed Cup coach said that she was happy to see Mauresmo tease some of the more subtle qualities out of her son’s game.
“When he was very young he had a lot of variety in his game and read the game very well. He had the ability to change the pace, the depth and the direction and had the soft hands for drop shots and lobs. He always had a lot of artistry and I think she has helped to bring that back. The pace of the men’s game is so vicious that you can’t use that all of the time but he can at times. Working with Ivan [Lendl], in order to become more aggressive he had lost some of that so I am really enjoying seeing him playing more of the drop shots and the slices and being really smart because that is the way I enjoy watching him play and there’s no question he is enjoying it more.”
Aware that there was always the likelihood of a backlash after he flouted the rules of conformity, the single-minded mum said she is proud of her son, both as a person and a player.
“When he believes in something he is very loyal but I don’t think he realised when he took Amélie on just how much attention it would bring. He is used to having women around him. For him, it wasn’t the big deal it seems to have been for others.
I don’t think he realised when he took Amélie on how much attention it would bringJudy Murray
“Not only has it been a big appointment and a great success but it has been great for women in sport because it has really raised that awareness that it’s not about gender, it’s entirely about the skills that you have and whether you have a personality fit with your player. It has already, in the last six to eight months, started to have an effect on some of the women players in the game who have taken on female former players to coach and mentor them. Madison Keys is a great example, with Lindsay Davenport and we have seen Martina Navratilova throw her hat into the coaching ring with Agnieszka Radwanska, and Jana Novotna is working with a very promising young Czech player [Barbora Krejcikova] and this is very good news because the women’s tour is almost entirely dominated by male coaches as well as the men’s tour.”
Of the top male players, only Denis Istomin and Donald Young, who are coached by their mothers and Mikhail Kukushkin, who is coached by his wife, have bucked the trend but none is an elite Grand Slam winner. “The good thing is that Andy is strong enough to know his own mind and make his own decisions but I thought it was going to be a really good fit because she is such a lovely, gentle, easygoing person and I knew the way she had played tennis was very similar to him, lots of hand skills, very intuitive.”
She wasn’t the only one who saw the potential. “It was Darren Cahill, who also recommended Ivan a few years ago, who threw Amélie’s name into the ring,” she said. “In sporting terms it was a was very unusual move but the way we saw it, it was about finding the right person at the right time. Since he stopped working with Ivan, Andy had four months to think about what he needed to add into his game.”
Judy believes his decision will benefit more than his own game. “I think it will trickle all the way down. I do a lot of work at grassroots and the Miss Hits programme is delivered by female coaches and it is amazing how many of them talk about the difference it has made in helping people reconsider their view on women in lead roles.
“We don’t have very many female coaches in Britain but at the higher levels there are hardly any. We need to create opportunities for them to develop every step of the way.”