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Amelie Mauresmo guiding Pouille to new heights

  • Reem Abulleil

Amelie Mauresmo is no stranger to being in the spotlight. She’s a former world No.1, two-time Grand Slam winner, Olympic silver medallist and a Fed Cup champion.

The Frenchwoman probably never thought, though, that her post-retirement career would garner even more attention.

When Andy Murray announced mid-2014 that he hired Mauresmo to be his coach, his decision caused a stir across the tennis world. Many applauded him for his pioneering move while others questioned Mauresmo’s capabilities as a coach on the men’s tour.

She was the first to get blamed whenever Murray had a poor result, and was under so much scrutiny every step of the way. Still, that partnership opened up minds to the idea of top players hiring female coaches, and Murray’s commitment to advocating for equality never wavered during their stint together, and beyond.

This fortnight in Melbourne, the 39-year-old Mauresmo once again has many eyes on her, this time as the coach of surprise semifinalist Lucas Pouille, who teamed up with her at the end of last year to help him rebound from a difficult 2018 season.

Pouille's lean start to 2019 has been turned on its head at Melbourne Park

Female coaches are still uncommon on both the men’s and women’s tours, yet the singles semifinals this Australian Open feature three of them – Mauresmo with Pouille, and Conchita Martinez and Rennae Stubbs with Karolina Pliskova.

“I’m getting the feeling that a lot of these guy players are going to be hiring female coaches now because something is going on here,” John McEnroe told Pouille during their on-court interview following the Frenchman’s victory over Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals.

“They should, they should,” responded Pouille with a smile. “No, she has the right set of mind, she knows everything about tennis. It’s not about being a woman or a man. It doesn’t matter. You just have to know what you’re doing and she does.”

MORE: Pouille marches on as Raonic sent packing

It was a powerful statement that has since been widely shared on social media and across TV networks worldwide.

Before Australian Open 2019 started, Pouille’s record at the tournament was a disappointing 0-5, and he started 2019 by losing all three of his Hopman Cup matches, as well as his opener at the Sydney International earlier this month. On Friday, he will take on the No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic, in the semifinals at Melbourne Park.

It is Pouille’s first Grand Slam semifinal appearance, and it’s remarkable how quickly his partnership with Mauresmo is paying dividends.

“I think she's bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind,” says Pouille.

Mauresmo gave up her Davis Cup captaincy to coach Pouille, and she’s embracing the challenge as she commences another stint with a player on the men’s tour. She admits that the scrutiny this time is less intense compared to when she was with Murray.

“It was much, much bigger with Andy, it was also the first time, it was four or five years ago so things changed a little, not that much,” Mauresmo told a small group of reporters at the Australian Open on Thursday, ahead of Pouille’s big showdown with Djokovic.

“Lucas wasn't such a high-profile player as Andy was at the time, so the attention was not as big. It's becoming bigger now because he's in the semis but for me I don't really care about this to be honest, I just make sure we do the right job every day and that's what matters.”

Mauresmo has a cracking tennis CV

With Murray revealing at the start of Australian Open 2019 that he could be retiring this season, there’s been a lot of talk about his legacy in the sport, with his public views on gender equality in tennis being one of the main highlights.

“It's one part of his legacy,” agrees Mauresmo. “He's been really outspoken about equality, about women being able to coach, whether a male player or a female player.

“He's been really proactive in this area, so it's definitely going to be one thing that people remember about him. And the fact that he hired me at the time probably put the idea, at least in Lucas' mind maybe, to think, 'Yeah, maybe she can help me'.”

Pouille is enjoying his work with Mauresmo. He has posted videos of them working out together – dismissing with a laugh the idea that Mauresmo outpaces him on the treadmill and the track – and says he hasn’t received any negative comments about hiring a woman as a coach, unlike Murray’s previous experience with Mauresmo.

“I think time changed. I think he did it first, so that's why he received so many texts. It's a shame that it happened,” said Pouille. “Men are coaching women, so why not the contrary?”

Aussie Rennae Stubbs and Mauresmo also coach Pliskova

Martinez and Stubbs have also formed a formidable team with Pliskova, who takes on Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster semifinal on Thursday. Pliskova is undefeated in 2019, and is carrying a 10-match winning streak into her clash with Osaka.

Martinez is an impressive 16-1 as a coach/co-coach in Grand Slams over the past two years, having helped Garbine Muguruza win Wimbledon in 2017 and taken Pliskova to the 2018 US Open quarterfinals as well as the semis here in Melbourne, alongside Stubbs.

Mauresmo is happy to see her fellow female coaches succeeding with their players.

“It’s good, it’s good. It’s nice to see former players bringing their experience, bringing their knowledge to the game, whether it’s the women’s or men’s game and it’s funny,” she says.