The news of Amelie Mauresmo joining Victoria Azarenka‘s team came as a surpirse to many. The details are still sketchy. Reports say that Mauresmo will be a consultant to the world no. 1 – although it has not been specified as to what exactly will she be consulting Azarenka on.
This appointment comes a few months after Andy Murray brought former world no. 1 Ivan Lendl out of hibernation to become his coach as the Scot tries to break his Grand Slam jinx. Murray’s decision to hire Lendl has been seen as a masterstroke.
The Scot certainly has all the shots and the physical fitness to win a major title – yet he has been unable to get over the final bump. Murray, who turns 25 later this year, realizes that time maybe running out and with three fearsome competitors ahead of him in Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, Murray decided he needed to get inside the mindset of a champion. And who better than Lendl to help him with that.
Like Murray, Lendl also lost the first few grand slam finals he reached (Lendl lost his first four, while Murray has lost his first three) before he turned his record around to end up with 8 grand slams and became one of the toughest players mentally.
Murray explains it better himself.
“Most ex-players who I have spoken to could be quite stubborn about what you should be doing and how you should be playing. He’s been speaking to the guys I work with, he’s spoken to [Darren] Cahill [about] how it was to work with me. He has lots of ideas. If they don’t work he will move on to the next thing. That’s what he was like when he played. He tried different things, always wanted to learn. I thought he would have been more set in his ways in terms of what I needed to do. He identified the things I needed to work on to beat the top guys consistently. My main focus is to be better and he’s been great with that. He has some fresh ideas, great experience and an understanding what it takes to play in the majors.”
On the other hand, Azarenka’s decision to hire Mauresmo has surprised many. The Belarusian has gone from being a self-admitted headcase to a strong and determined champion. She won her first Slam in Australia in January, claimed the world no. 1 ranking and, unlike her predecessors, she backed it up by going 26 matches without losing until March.
Azarenka already has Sam Symuk, who will continue to be her full-time coach. Mauresmo was known for several things in her playing days – her fluid one-handed backhand, her flair on the court and her ability to finish points with that now almost extinct shot – the volley.
But Mauresmo was also famed for being a choker – letting the pressure get to her on several crucial occassions. So one can only infer that Azarenka has not hired Mauresmo to help her with the mental aspect of things. Where the Frenchwoman could make a difference to the world no. 1 is by adding strategy and volleying skills to her game and making her a more complete and better player.
Incidentally, Azarenka is not the first player to be coached by Mauresmo. The Frenchwoman made that rare crossover by becoming one of the few females to coach an ATP pro when she took on compatriot Michael Llodra for a few months last year.
Both Lendl and Mauresmo have big challenges ahead of them. The Czech needs to instill the mindset of a champion in Andy Murray’s pysche and anything short of a grand slam title or Olympic gold this year will leave his challenge unfulfilled. Azarenka already has the mindset of a champion. How to improve Azarenka’s game without affecting her sucess ratio is going to be an equally challenging ask of the Frenchwoman.