As the world settles in to watch two of the world’s premiere sporting events, the FIFA World Cup and the Wimbledon tennis championship, they’re going to see a lot of men telling other men what to do, i.e., coaching them. But they’ll likely see just one woman telling a man what to do.
That woman is Amelie Mauresmo, the two-time Grand Slam champion, who is coaching Scottish champion Andy Murray as he defends his Wimbledon title.
Mauresmo has the credentials to coach a player to the Wimbledon crown — she won Wimbledon in 2006 and coached Marion Bartoli to last year’s championship in the only Grand Slam event still played on grass. Mauresmo and Bartoli are the only two French women to have won Wimbledon in the open era.
Having a woman as his coach isn’t such a big deal to Murray. After all, his mom, Judy, was his coach until he was 17. Olga Morozova, who lost to Chris Evert in the Wimbledon final in 1974, was part of his team when he was a junior player.
That said, it’s rare for women to coach men on the tennis court.
The great American player Jimmy Connors had his mom, while tennis pioneer Billie Jean King coached a man for a bit in the early 1990s. “Nobody ever asks us,” King, who won 39 Grand Slam titles, told the BBC. “It’s a big mistake because we are a great resource.” The 70-year-old King has never been afraid to stand up to convention and famously won the “Battle of the Sexes” match with Bobby Riggs in 1973.
One other reason that men don’t choose women for their coaches may be because doing so subjects the man to ridicule, some of which comes from the most unlikely places.
In this case, criticism of Murray’s choice came from British champion Virginia Wade, who won Wimbledon in 1977. Wade told reporters with the UK Press Association that she thought that Murray might have been “trying to mess with everybody.”
Other criticism came from former Wimbledon doubles champion Fred Stolle. “We thought it was a joke,” he said in a WatchESPN broadcast during Murray’s first round match.
Those sexist comments don’t bother Murray, who said “I don’t really care whether some of the other male players like it or not.”
“I’m excited by the possibilities of the new partnership and Amelie is someone I have always looked up to and admired,” Murray said in a statement after choosing Mauresmo. “She’s faced adversity plenty of times in her career, but was an amazing player and won major titles, including Wimbledon.” He later said that whether he wins has nothing to do with whether she’s a woman or not.
That’s certainly true. The win comes from the player on the court, not the coach in the stands. That said, the coach can have an influence on how the player performs, as the analysts following Friday’s match noted.
“Murray has really elevated his game. I’ve never seen him so relaxed; he’s really enjoying being the defending champion. The pressure is off his shoulders,” said ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 1991.
“Let’s call it ‘The Mauresmo’ effect,” said Brad Gilbert after Murray crushed the Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in three sets on Friday to move into the round of 16. “A calmer Andy Murray; no drama for the first week. Nine sets to the good,” Gilbert added.
“He’s much calmer than he’s been,” Fernandez said.
Through three rounds of play, Murray has lost just 19 games under Mauresmo’s coaching. Murray takes on the South African Kevin Anderson on Monday.
Murray is clearly self-confident enough to choose the best person to coach him to victory. And, with Mauresmo having not only won Wimbledon herself but also coached last year’s Wimbledon champion, she has what it takes to coach Murray to victory.
As for the soccer pitch, for a short while, a woman was poised to coach one of the top men’s soccer teams in Europe. But, that period ended when the Portuguese former player Helena Costa resigned from the French soccer club, Clermont Foot 63, before coaching a single game.
The club president had his sexist suspicions for why Costa resigned. “She’s a woman so it could be down to any number of things,” said Claude Michy. He concluded that she had made an “irrational and incomprehensible” decision.
Costa, who has coached the Iranian women’s team, disagreed with that explanation. “There were a series of events that no trainer would tolerate and a total lack of respect as well as amateurism,” she said, adding that players and schedules had been set without her consultation.
Unlike Mauresmo, it appears that Costa, and most other women, have a long way to go to earn respect for their coaching talents.