THE first cracks are beginning to appear in Andy Murray’s new coaching relationship with Amelie Mauresmo. They have been together barely two weeks and yet clear differences of opinion have already been identified. This will take some working out.
The softly spoken Mauresmo is intelligent, charming and friendly. Twice a grand slam winner with a game that was as beautiful to watch as it was difficult to play against, she appears to be everything that Murray needs to guide him on the tour.
She openly admitted to her anxiety and nerves when she played in the major tournaments but, still, she overcame them to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. She knows from bitter experience what it is like to play at your home grand slam; for her, it was torture every year. The pressure, the expectation and the hype at Roland Garros were suffocating. And as a former Wimbledon champion, she also knows what it is like to defend the most prestigious trophy in the world.
Better still, Mauresmo played with variety, with finesse; sometimes with power but always with instinct. She was not a one-dimensional baseline grunter like so many of her peers and like so many of those who have followed her, but neither was she an all-out attacking player.
That was Mauresmo’s gift: she could play any shot and any style. And when she was in winning form, she could choose her tactic and strategy with perfect timing. Yes, on paper, Mauresmo is the perfect coach for the defending Wimbledon champion.
But there is a problem. Mauresmo, now 34 and five years into retirement, is a wine buff. And the famously tee-total Murray isn’t.
“He doesn’t like wine,” she said with a look of mock horror. When it was suggested that maybe she could teach him a little of the joys of the grape, she looked a little happier. This was a possibility. “Yeah, but not now…”
No, for now, the new partnership has too much work to do. Tomorrow, Murray begins the defence of his title against David Goffin, the world No.104 from Belgium. At 1pm precisely – they do things precisely at Wimbledon – Murray will walk out on to Centre Court and open proceedings at the 128th Championships at the All England Club. Since he beat Novak Djokovic on that blisteringly hot Sunday afternoon last summer, everyone has wanted to know how he will feel as he goes back to try to keep his title safe. Murray has no idea how he will feel – he has never defended a Wimbledon title before – but Mauresmo knows that it will be a moment to cherish.
“As I remember it, it feels great,” she said. “Pressure, I think, is less important, now that he’s won last year. It’s pure joy, I would say. And of course, then there is the goal [of winning again] and focusing on the game and what to do on the court, and how to be. But I feel first of all it’s joy and being so proud to be there to defend the title.”
But if she cannot change Murray’s drinking habits (he celebrated his US Open success with a glass of Irn-Bru, tried a couple of glasses of champagne on the flight home and ended up brushing his teeth with hand cream – Murray and alcohol do not mix well), Mauresmo has no great plans to change his tennis either. He is a champion already and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what she can do is help him with the mental and emotional pressures of being a serial champion. Ivan Lendl taught Murray how to win grand slam championships; Mauresmo can help him with the strain of doing it again and again.
“His DNA is not going to change drastically,” Mauresmo said. “He knows how to play on every surface, but on grass – playing the final in 2012, winning the Olympics, winning last year – he knows how to do this stuff, so maybe I’m trying to add a little thing here and there but the timing is difficult. The timing is not easy.
“It’s tough to compare Ivan and me. We are so different… in every way! The personality is, I think, very different. I don’t know Ivan very well. I know him through Andy’s eyes. I don’t think I will bring him the same as Ivan. Which is good, because Ivan brought him a lot and maybe I can bring him different things. I haven’t spoken to Ivan. I really want to enter this new experience with my own eyes and have my own idea of the things that are going on, how Andy is, how everyone is, try to really see things through my own eyes.”
Much was made of how Lendl managed to get Murray to control his emotions on court. Whenever his blood began to boil, he would look up to his team sitting in the players’ box and there would be Lendl, old Stone Face himself, never cracking a smile, never furrowing a brow, just sitting impassively with his chin resting on his hand and his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. Lendl was not your warm and fuzzy sort of coach. He did not really do empathy.
In his playing days, Lendl got nervous – desperately nervous – but somehow found a way to suppress every hint of emotion to give his opponent no clue as to his feelings. That rubbed off on Murray and since Lendl’s departure the Scot has been a bit more vocal on court but, at the same time, he has been struggling with his form as he has made his return from back surgery last autumn. Now that he is back on the grass courts and feeling physically fit and match tight after reaching the semi-finals at the French Open, the frustrations will be fewer even if the determination to succeed is as strong as ever.
Mauresmo may take a softer approach than her predecessor but that does not make her a softie. She won major titles and she was the world No.1 – she needed grit and determination to achieve that. But she knows better than most that the difference between the very top players is not lung power or muscle mass, it is what lies between the ears that separates the champions from the players. And after failing to deal with her fears and nerves at Roland Garros, she wants Murray to learn from her mistakes.
“It was interesting to share these feelings and maybe help him try to avoid [negative thoughts],” she said, “sharing my experience, sharing what I felt, these moments. Sharing maybe the mistakes that I made. Although I think he is handling pressure really well, with the results he’s had at Wimbledon over the past few years. He’s already impressive. But he’s curious, always asking questions and we’re able to share. It’s good. We’re sharing.
“We’ve talked about this, more about the game, how to play, but also how to approach it, approach the moment, approach competitions, approach the length of the grand slam, which Andy knows pretty well already. Yeah, I’m not going to invent any new fancy drills or anything.”
It was similar words of wisdom that helped Marion Bartoli win Wimbledon last year. A bundle of nervous energy, of tics and twitches, she had a game that could beat anyone but she never worked out how to use it consistently over seven rounds and two weeks at a grand slam. So she turned to Mauresmo for help.
“Amelie is someone who is able to take all the stress away and make you feel extremely comfortable,” Bartoli told the BBC. “She prepares you for the worst and gives you some advice in order to deal with that, so when you start to face that situation you are ready. I really felt she was a tremendous help to me last year, especially in the final and semi-final.”
At the moment, Mauresmo and Murray are taking things slowly. Once Wimbledon is over, and if they both come through the experience unscathed, they will decide whether to continue and make it a long-term partnership. Neither party is committing to anything just yet but the initial signs are promising. What happens on the court in the coming two weeks will not be a deal breaker – although another Wimbledon title would certainly help break the ice as they get to know each other.
“On my part, I’m more instinctive,” Mauresmo said. “I will continue probably, first of all, if I see that he likes it and I see that I find my spot in this team.”
And should he win in a fortnight’s time, maybe, just maybe, Mauresmo will tempt Murray into a celebratory glass of red. But don’t hold your breath.