LONDON (Reuters) - Brad Gilbert was hired to turn a fledgling Andy Murray into a physical powerhouse, while the Scot turned to Ivan Lendl for some of the ruthless streak that made the Czech-born American a multiple grand slam champion.
At different stages of his career both worked wonders for Murray as he broke into the upper echelons of men’s tennis and then, after some close shaves, delivered two grand slam titles and an Olympic gold.
While those two appointments appeared self-explanatory, his choice of former Wimbledon women’s singles champion Amelie Mauresmo, as his new coach, is an intriguing one and it dominated the chat on Monday as the grasscourt season moved into full swing.
“She was a great player, a thinker, and I’m sure any path Andy wants to take she can help him along,” former grand slam champion Mats Wilander said at Queen’s Club.
Murray, too, is a deep-thinker about his tennis, a player who has never been afraid to do things his own way.
While the carrot and stick approach employed by Gilbert, the man who wrote a book called ‘Winning Ugly’, and Lendl’s straight talking helped the 27-year-old Scot take huge strides, it appears he has now reached that stage in his career when he wants a gentler presence in his corner.
“I have started to listen to my body a lot more because, over the years, you start to pick up some things,” defending Wimbledon champion Murray, who had back surgery last year, told the BBC when the questions inevitably turned to his new coach.
“I think it’s important that the people you work with respect and understand and listen, you know, to how you’re feeling, as well, because you can’t just be pushed extremely hard every single day.
“I need to pick my moments during the year where I really go for it in training. That was one of the reasons... For me, it didn’t feel a strange thing to do.”
So few tennis players, male or female, hire female coaches that Murray’s decision was bound to have some scratching their heads. But, he said, he does not care what others think.
“A few people have come up to me and sort of asked if it was serious,” he said.” But I don’t really care whether they think it’s a good or bad appointment. It’s whether it works well for me and my team, and hopefully it will be a good move for my career.”
Murray’s decision to go with Mauresmo could cause some logistical issues as she will not be allowed in the men’s locker room at Wimbledon, where Murray will defend his title later this month.
“I mean, obviously, you can’t sit down and chat in there, but there’s enough places where you can chat. The players’ lounge is pretty large,” Murray said.
In a quirk of the draw at the Aegon Championships this week at Queen’s Club, Murray’s first opponent will be Mauresmo’s compatriot Paul-Henri Mathieu, who welcomed the news.
“I think she has a lot of experience in the game, and for sure, she loves tennis,” Mathieu told reporters. “She always played with a passion and, I think, like Andy.
“I don’t think it’s bad. Maybe we’re going to see more and more. But I like the fact that Amelie is going to train Andy. Going to bring something new in our sport.”
The tranquil surrounds of Queen’s Club, where Murray is also defending champion this week, will provide a low-key start for Mauresmo in her new role, but she can expect the TV cameras to be trained on her every facial expression once Wimbledon begins.
In her playing career, she was not always comfortable with the pressure of her home slam at Roland Garros, but Murray sees their shared experiences as a positive.
“I think she was quite open and struggled a bit with the pressure (at the French Open),” Murray said of the 34-year-old wine connoisseur who is also France’s Fed Cup captain.
“Someone that’s been through those experiences themselves maybe would have handled things differently.
“I’m not sure, but it’s good to have someone to talk to about those things and those feelings. And, you know, she’s won Wimbledon herself — and it will be interesting.”
Murray’s first match under Mauresmo’s watchful gaze will be on Wednesday.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Tim Collings