Amelié Mauresmo is too modest and too self-effacing to want to claim any of the credit for Andy Murray’s achievement in qualifying for next week’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, but the Scot himself knows the part his coach has played.
Two months ago, in the immediate aftermath of his defeat by Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the US Open, Murray insisted that reaching the World Tour Finals was “not a massive goal of mine” and said he did “not expect to overplay just to try to qualify”.
A change of heart apparently followed – Murray earned his place at the O2 Arena by playing 23 matches in 37 days in six successive tournaments – with Mauresmo playing a role in that decision-making process.
“I wanted him to feel what it was like to win tournaments again, to finish the week without losing,” Mauresmo said last week in Paris, where Murray finally secured his qualification. “And he turned things around in an impressive way.”
Sitting in a quiet corner of the players’ lounge at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Mauresmo explained the thinking behind the autumn campaign in which Murray won three titles, his first since his back surgery at the end of last year.
“We talked for a while [in New York], and when we were back in Europe,” she said. “We were talking about how he feels, what we would want to do, thinking that the Finals would be a big goal for him to achieve, questioning the schedule and gaining confidence in his body and his ability to push himself and go out there on the court and feel free to play, whatever number of hours he wanted to.”
She added: “After New York he was not in a great position [to qualify] for the Tour Finals. It was decided that he was going to go for it and play for a few weeks in a row. We weren’t sure exactly how many and a lot would depend on the results he had in Asia.
“Then it was pretty clear he had to do the six weeks in a row. He did great and all the credit to him for fighting like crazy and physically holding up well. His body and his back, there was a question mark there, but all the work that has been done as his recovery part of the plan was great. He should be proud of the last part of the season. He has been winning a lot of matches. It gives him quite a lot of confidence.”
Murray’s victory against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the US Open was his first over a top 10 player since he beat Djokovic in the Wimbledon final 14 months previously. Since Flushing Meadows he has added three more wins – two against David Ferrer and one against Marin Cilic – and climbed back to No 6 in the world rankings.
“That was another step I wanted him to feel,” Mauresmo said of his recent successes against top 10 opponents. “He’s taken all these steps and he’s in great form. He can aim for the win [in London], but I think for him the important thing is going to be to try to finish the year at No 4. There is a possibility of that.
“Obviously he’s a little bit tired, but he’s also in great confidence. Maybe it balances that tiredness a little bit. But we’re looking forward to starting 2015 in a better position.”
While Murray focuses on the immediate task in hand, and in particular his opening match against Kei Nishikori on Sunday, Mauresmo is looking ahead. She has plans for the close season which she will talk over with the Scot once his London campaign is complete.
They will also discuss his schedule for next season. Mauresmo has already committed to travelling for around 25 weeks of the year with him to tournaments and training blocks. That is considerably more than some of the other “super coaches”, including Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, who work with Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively.
“Going into a job like this with a high-profile guy like Andy, I understand the demands,” she said. “The down part for me, as I see it, is definitely the travelling, but I accept it and I’m ready to do it, as long as he wants me to and as long as I also want to do it.”
Having now been in the job for five months, Mauresmo knows there will be greater pressures on Murray – and on herself – when the next Grand Slam tournaments come around, starting with the Australian Open in January. However, she is more preoccupied with the day-to-day preparations than with the big events themselves.
“What is important is what we’re going to do this winter, what we’re going to do in the couple of weeks before Australia,” she said. “When you’re working on the inside on a daily basis you see things very differently from how you see things on the outside.
“I’ve been commentating at tournaments and the perspective is very different. How you assess what you’re doing, how you assess the form of the players is very different. And some things obviously stay within the team, which could explain many other things. I’m doing all that I think is good for him. I can’t do much more than that.”
Once Mauresmo and Murray have had the chance to work together for a full off-season, might we expect to see a different player next year? In particular, does Mauresmo, who was a fine all-court player, want her charge to come into the net more, or does she feel that, at 27, he is too long in the tooth to start changing his game style?
“I think he has the ability to do it probably a little more often than he does, but it’s not an easy process,” she said. “I think it’s also not a fast one. I know that. I think we’re both looking towards that. You can’t do everything at once. He needed some confidence back. He needed many things before getting to this part of the work. Really, other priorities were there before this specific area of his game.”
Mauresmo pointed out that Murray’s counter-attacking style had worked well for him in the past but added: “It’s all a matter of balance. Sometimes he won’t have any choice but to do that. But he will also have moments where there could be other options.
“The thing in this sport, when you’re like Andy and you can do many different things, is to choose the right shot at the right time. That’s not easy to do. He’s looking for that. He’s trying to have perfect shot selection. But it’s not easy.”
On a personal level, the first woman other than a family member to coach one of the world’s leading men has been very happy with the relationship, although there have been hiccups along the way, most notably when some members of Murray’s entourage were reportedly unhappy that they had not been consulted about her appointment.
“We’re getting on well together,” Mauresmo said. “Personally, I wouldn’t be able to work with a man or a woman player without having a good connection, a good feel for each other. It took time. It doesn’t happen immediately. I’m not the type of person who opens up that easily. He is the same. It took a bit of time, but the relationship is good.”
Legends in London; who coaches top players
Novak Djokovic: Following recruitment of Boris Becker as head coach at the end of last year, long-time associate Marian Vajda now makes only occasional appearances in his corner
Roger Federer: Appointed six-times Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg last year but is accompanied at most tournaments by Severin Luthi, Switzerland’s Davis Cup captain
Andy Murray: Amelie Mauresmo became his coach at start of grass-court season, but Dani Vallverdu, a long-time friend, remains a key part of his entourage
Marin Cilic: Has known his fellow Croat, Goran Ivanisevic, since he was a teenager and appointed the former Wimbledon champion as his coach last year
Kei Nishikori: Michael Chang, a former French Open champion, joined his entourage last year but he still works with Dante Bottini, his long-term coach
Milos Raonic: Recruited Ivan Ljubicic, a former world No 3, as his coach last year. Riccardo Piatti, Ljubicic’s former coach, now shares the coaching duties
The other two players in the field at the World Tour Finals, Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, are coached by Magnus Norman and Tomas Krupa respectively
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