When Andy Murray hired Amélie Mauresmo as his coach this summer, he broke the stereotype that top men can’t be coached by women. Now there is a lot riding on the two of them than just his game.
Anyone who would like to see more female coaches in professional tennis might want to join the Andy Murray fan club.
Volunteer to wear a T-shirt with an “A” on it, and join three others to spell out “A-N-D-Y” while standing in the nosebleed seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium, as some of his fans did at the US Open. Sing his praises between sets, as others did by modifying the pop song I Want Candy.
Supporting Murray doesn’t just mean you are pulling for a great player, though he certainly looked like one on Monday when he advanced to the quarterfinals. Supporting Murray also means that you are supporting his decision to choose Amélie Mauresmo as his coach. When he hired her this summer, he broke the stereotype that top men can’t be coached by women, and he said his choice wasn’t about gender, but about finding a good fit.
Murray, who is ranked No. 9 in the world, is a friend to the women’s game. He learned the sport from his mother and has long promoted gender equality in interviews and on Twitter. But supporting female players and succeeding with one as a coach are two different issues.
Now, with the spotlight on him and Mauresmo, can they deliver?
Billie Jean King, a pioneer for women in sports and a winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, said they must, even though women coaching men should be a non-issue by now.
“Mauresmo was validated as a coach when Murray hired her, but every time he wins, she’s validated a little more, and that’s huge,” King said. “She will attract more women to coaching, and if we had more women like her in high-profile positions, it would be normal for every girl or guy coming up in the ranks to say, ‘You know, I’m going to work with a woman’. But we don’t. So all eyes are on her.”
Forty-two years after Title IX pushed for gender equity in sports, it is still uncommon for a woman to coach a top player, even in tennis, a sport where the best women have the power and the money to choose the members of their entourage.
Murray is the only player in the top 40 who is listed as being coached by a woman. The top women’s player coached primarily by a woman is Ekaterina Makarova, ranked 18th.
These days, though, it’s hard not to notice that the sports world is changing, albeit inch by inch, when it comes to women elbowing their way into traditionally male roles.
Just last month, Becky Hammon became the first woman hired as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA. Just last weekend, for the first time in WNBA history, four female head coaches led their teams to the finals.
But as King said, “We have so far to go.”
This year, Helena Costa of Portugal became the first woman hired to coach a men’s professional soccer team in France. She lasted for only a millisecond, stepping down because, as she later claimed, she had been brought in only as a figurehead, her plans undermined by others at the club.
While the team hired a woman to replace her, the damage had been done, leaving people to wonder if the moves had more to do with public relations than coaching qualifications.
King said that the best way to stop people from guessing would be to succeed, but that it can be a struggle when the pressure is so high.
“I think it’s tougher because women get more scrutiny than guys; it’s like we have to be perfect,” she said, adding that the main problem for female coaches rising in professional tennis is that “the world is run by the old-boy network”.
In the US Tennis Association, King pointed out, there are a lot of boys speaking to boys. The USTA’s high-performance programme, which guides the country’s top juniors, has only two women on its coaching staff of 26. Only three women serve on the association’s 15-member board of directors, and only two are on its executive staff.
King said the USTA needs to work harder — if it is working at it at all — to develop female coaches and encourage them to apply for high-level
And Taylor Townsend, a rising American star who lost in the Open’s first round, argued that it would help the women’s game if more women coaches were involved.
“I feel like women are better at getting you through a tough situation, because they really know how you feel,” said Townsend, who is coached by Zina Garrison.
Townsend said it would be nice to see more women coaching at elite events, like the Open, and on Monday, she actually got her wish. Two players with female coaches won to advance to the quarterfinals.
Murray played on Arthur Ashe and, with Mauresmo looking on, beat Tsonga in straight sets. In nearby Louis Armstrong Stadium, Makarova beat the Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, also in straight sets. Makarova’s coach is another former top-20 player, Evgenia Manyukova.
It was a relatively rare moment, enough to make you want to gather some friends and throw on some T-shirts that spell out “M-O-R-E.”