By Alix Ramsay
So, we know it is not Amelie Mauresmo. We have no idea who it will be but it ain’t Amelie.
Ever since Ivan Lendl handed in his notice as Andy Murray’s coach, the British press pack, of which I am a card-holding member, has been obsessed by who will replace Old Stone Face and every day a new name is pitched into the pot. Will it sink? Will it float? Who will Muzz employ next?
Mauresmo’s name came up the other day when she was spotted watching his first round match. On a thin day (thin apart from the Murray result – natch), the sight of a female former player watching a men’s match from start to finish was a sure sign that the Muzz was on the verge of taking her on. It simply had to be. And so the story ran with nice big piccie of Amelie and a whole heap of speculation underneath. And then Andy said that he hadn’t actually spoken to Mo (he can be a spoilsport at times can Muzz). Ho hum; we needed to find another name, however ludicrous, to flam up.
Murray, though, did not find the idea of hiring Mauresmo ridiculous at all. Fair enough, she may be busy with her job as France’s Fed Cup captain and with her other various media commitments but the thought of hiring a woman as his coach did not faze the Muzz. In fact, he thought it could be very good idea.
“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.”
Murray is one of those “new men”, one of those blokes who is not afraid to admit that he has an emotional side. He may look fierce when he playing and he may compete until he bleeds to get a win but he is a sensitive soul. Let’s face it, he only has to look at Sue Barker and he bursts into tears. Remember the Wimbledon final of 2012, the Queen’s final the following year – more a cracking of the voice and a reddening of the eyes than full-on tears in that instance, it has to be said – and then the BBC documentary about him before Wimbledon last summer? But the fact that he is willing to show what he feels makes him all the stronger. The big, butch, lads who hide everything away are actually far more fragile: find the merest crack in that armour and they fall apart.
Still, he hired Lendl to help him find the mental strength to win grand slam finals. It was Old Stone Face who showed him how to hide the fire or the fear within him and use it to his advantage. And they do not come more big and butch than Lendl. How, then, did Muzz think that a woman could help him in those high-pressure situations. Let’s face it, not many female players are known for their intestinal fortitude (as you can imagine, this was a tricky question to phrase and ask).
“It’s very easy to generalise when you talk about men and women,” he said, “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.
“To be honest, whether it’s a man or a woman, when they look at the game it’s just important that they see the differences in the two games. 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.”
Funnily enough, Big Mo has tried her hand at coaching the chaps before, spending a stint working with Michael Llodra although, judging by the way they were training at Eastbourne the other year, that had rather more to do with her footballing skills than her tennis nous. They seemed to play a lot of footy, the French guys and girls.
Then there is Denis Istomin who is coached by his mum, Klaudiya. For him, it was the most natural thing in the world to hire her because as he pointed out, “she has known me since I was born.” There’s handy, then. Mikhail Kukushkin, on the other hand, has put his chance of marital bliss on the line by employing his wife, Anastasia Ulikhina, to give the orders. With a relationship as close as theirs, no one else could possibly understand Mikhail like his missus, or so he says. Then again, there is another reason: “She is my wife so she don’t want to take from me money,” he admitted. “She is interested only on my results.”
The thought that a lady of the opposite sex could be coaching the Muzz by the time he begins the defence of his Wimbledon has set tongues wagging and cynics a-giggling. But if anyone thinks that Scotland’s finest would allow appearances to affect his choice of coach, they can think again. People can laugh if they want, but if Muzz wants to hire a person of the female persuasion, he will do it and be damned.
“For me, I don’t care,” he said. “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 is 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.”
So we are back to square one. All we do know is that, for the moment at least, his preference is not for Big Mo. He is not in the market for a coach until he is finished with Roland Garros (breaking in a newbie in the middle of a slam would not be wise) but once he is back in London and back on the grass, who knows. Watch this space.