The semi-final stage of the Australian Open is already here, and the focus is bright on the last men and women standing. It is interesting to shift some of it also on the people behind that success.
It is one of the rare occasions, if not the first, where two of the eight semi-finalists (men and women) have female head coaches. While Conchita Martinez and Rennae Stubbs have been instrumental in 'Ace Queen' Karolina Pliskova's best run at the major in Melbourne, Amelie Mauresmo has helped Lucas Pouille harness that talent and reach his first ever major semis.
Martinez, who had won the 1994 Wimbledon title as a player, was also a part-time coach to Garbine Muguruza when she won the major in London in 2017. The Spaniard has been working with Pliskova since the US Open last year along with Australia's six-time doubles champion.
Pouille's coach, Mauresmo, is no stranger to men's tennis and the challenges it presents.
The two-time Slam champion had made headlines in 2014 when Andy Murray sought her guidance. It was an anomaly back then since historically players of both genders have shown a preference for a male coach, especially a player as high-profile and successful as Murray. The partnership grated on a lot of people and every time Murray lost, fingers were pointed at his French coach.
"The reason for working with Amelie was about finding the right personality with the right experience to help me," Murray had told reporters. "And if it helps bring more female coaches into men's sport — and women's sport — that's a good thing. Because there's absolutely no reason why someone like Amelie can't help me."
Currently, Pouille is the only male tennis player inside the top 100 to be coached by a woman who is not a relative. And according to the WTA, only eight percent of the female players inside the top 100 have a female coach.
Over the years, there have been multiple success stories in the sport with a woman coach helping in the title claim but none of them has stayed with their ward for a sustained period of time to form a formidable force.
Spain's current Fed Cup captain Anabel Medina Garrigues had helped young Jelena Ostapenko win the French Open in 2017, Lindsay Davenport guided Madison Keys to the US Open final later that same year, and the great Martina Hingis was once, albeit briefly, the coach of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – the Russian who reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne this term.
Other names that have coached or mentored include Martina Navratilova's short stint with former World No 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, and Justine Henin, who is the consultant of Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska. World No 32 Petra Martic is currently working with former Polish player Sandra Zaniewska. 2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, who works with the Russian Tennis Federation, takes on brief coaching roles and recently travelled to the WTA event in Mumbai with Margarita Gasparyan.
Arguably the most prominent women's coach who is a player's relative though is Judy Murray – mother of former World No 1s in singles and doubles, Andy and Jamie respectively.
"There are certain skills that women possess that I think are historical nurturing skills," she said. "I think the whole thing of listening, emotional intelligence, the caring thing. But listening is a big thing and I think often these skills are underestimated in favour of somebody who used to be a good player. I think there are skills that women bring to the party, particularly with younger players and females, they are sort of those mothering instincts and it's a big part of it."
It isn't just about the motherly instincts though. Pliskova explained during the US Open that bringing in Stubbs and Martinez was because they possessed skill-sets that would help her own. And it's a style that helped her overcome Serena Williams to get to the last four.
"She gets the different personalities with Conchi and me," Stubbs said after taking over the coaching role. "Conchi works a lot on her feet and her fast hands and things like that, because that's really what Conchi did so well. And I'm a little bit more transitional work, coming into the net, serve. So she's got sort of the best of both worlds, like working on the things to make her better."
But it has been Mauresmo's comeback in the coach's chair that has highlighted the impact of female coaches on tennis the most. When she backed Murray, she received a lot of criticism, which included the likes of British legend Virginia Wade claiming to be 'shocked' at the appointment and claiming that Mauresmo was 'a little fragile mentally.'
But the former World No 1 and 2006 Australian Open and Wimbledon champion helped Murray get to the finals in Melbourne in 2015 and 2016 and is now helping Pouille do the same, and perhaps go one better.
The 24-year-old Frenchman has asserted that he has received no negative messages regarding his coach as Murray had when he was with Mauresmo.
"Men are coaching women, so why not the contrary?" he said after winning the quarterfinal against Milos Raonic. "It's not about being a man or a woman, it's about knowing tennis, about having a good state of mind. She's a champion. She's a great coach."
"I think she's bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind," said Pouille who struggled to bring his 'A' game in 2018. "The goal is not to reach the final, the semi-final, the goal is to improve my tennis, to put what I work on during the practice in the match. That gives me less pressure. I'm just trying to focus on my game, not on the consequences and the results."
So far, the results have favoured the Pouille. Never before has he reached the semi-final of a major. But with Mauresmo at his side, Pouille is surging ahead – both in his career and for championing the cause of more female coaches.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 14:34:57 IST