Lendl gave Murray steel and Mauresmo can give him feel

The French woman was renowned for her touch and the Scot can learn to be strong at the net and move beyond back-court slugging

Andy Murray’s recent cold shoulder to tennis orthodoxy was not out of character. As a teenager he folded his tent in Britain to take his tennis to the clay courts of Barcelona.

He prised out of retirement what many saw as a relic from the 1980s in Ivan Lendl and over two years won the 2012 US Open and last year's Wimbledon title. Fred Perry could finally rest.

When Murray announced a few hours before this year's French Open final a gay woman was to be his new coach Amelie Mauresmo was seen, in the great dysfunctional locker room of professional sport, as a striking choice.

It also came at the end of a string of more conventionally interesting appointments.


In the past year Roger Federer hired Stefan Edberg, while Djokovic took on Boris Becker and Ken Nishikori agreed terms with Michael Chang.

The reaction of the tennis world to Murray’s pick has been more of a curious silence, with Murray dismissive of the one or two lone protesting voices that have taken aim at Mauresmo’s gender, not her sexual orientation or ability.

“I couldn’t do it since I don’t think highly of the women’s game. It’s all equal rights these days. Got to be politically correct,” said Australian player Marinko Matosevic.

Mauresmo’s sexuality was an issue in 1999, when a lie might have been more judicious than opening herself up to flame-throwing insults as a gay 19-year-old.

But her country admired her for her openness. There was heaped discourtesy from other players but no scandal or cover up. Her bravery was raw and honest and she had the sweetest backhand in the game.

The past is pertinent. Any relationship dynamic over the grass court season will be about what she can bring from the vaults to help Murray defend his Wimbledon title.

In the 34-year-old French woman he is also returning to a familiar place, a female voice in his corner.

“For me it didn’t seem like a strange thing to do just because I grew up with a female coach,” Murray told the BBC. “I was coached by my mum (Judy) for a long time. I have always had a strong female influence in my career.”

Mauresmo, just seven years older than Murray and like him, twice a Grand Slam champion, has coached men before. After retirement in 2009 she teamed up with French player Michaël Llodra. She was also in the player’s box for Marion Bartoli, who, as a rank outsider, won Wimbledon last year.

Jimmy Connors was coached by his mother Gloria, while Djokovic’s first coach was a woman Jelena Gencic. Billie Jean King coached Tim Mayotte, while Andrei Chesnokov, a former top 10 player, was coached by Tatiana Naumko.

“They certainly have softer skills than male coaches,” said Judy Murray this week. “They are probably better listeners and there is less ego with women than with men.

“The way that Andy plays and thinks about the game and the variety he has in his game, he was looking for a coach who could help him make best use of that variety. And there aren’t that many coaches around who understand that way of playing.”

Despite her strength of character, contrarians will take a jaundiced view of Mauresmo’s arch-vulnerability as a player. Lendl added big game preparation and real edge, put a steel rod in Murray’s backbone.

Her method, if it can be read at all, will be nuanced and designed to bring out what Lendl left unworked on.

She says Murray maybe looking for “emotional things” without further elaborating.

Her own play was based on subtlety and tactical awareness and decorated with a lethally graceful one-handed backhand. Volleys were effortless, put away match-winners.

There is little serve-volley in the modern game but Murray can learn to be strong at the net and play a game that takes him there to add to his big grunt, back-court slugging.

Defending the Wimbledon crown, he has already said, has as many complexities as winning it. The pressure is different, less about punching through the envelope than holding supremacy, meeting new challenges.

Bartoli is well placed to judge what Mauresmo’s added value might be when Murray steps out on Monday against Belgium’s David Goffin.

“If Andy’s looking for someone who can help him deal with the pressure of defending the title and coming back again to Wimbledon, then he hired the right person,” she said.

Mauresmo’s knowledge of grass is particularly valuable and that was pointed out to Murray by Australian former player Darren Cahill, who initially recommended her. He also advised Murray to appoint Lendl.

“Amelie was a great tactician and she understood and felt the game really well, as Andy does too,” said Judy this week. “That’s where I see the synergy between them.”

A very conscious coupling.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times