A Rare Breed

Here’s some tennis news that may have slipped under your radar today. Lucas Pouille, ranked #32, has hired former pro Amelie Mauresmo as his coach.

Why is this noteworthy? Because female coaches in men’s tennis are exceedingly rare. Of the top 20 male players, not one has a female coach. To find a female coach, you need to go down to #27, Denis Shapavalov, whose mother serves in that role. There may be a few other players in the top 100 with mother-coaches. But the Pouille-Mauresmo coaching arrangement is almost certainly the only non-familial one.

So rare are female coaches that Andy Murray made major waves on the tennis circuit when he hired Mauresmo back in 2014. He was the first top player to hire a woman. At the time, Murray was a bit puzzled by the fuss, remarking later in Elle magazine, “I obviously grew up getting coached by my mum, so I didn’t see any issue.” (He also relates in that interview that another male player thought it was a joke when he heard Murray was considering hiring a woman. He encouraged Murray to push the joke further and say he was bringing on a dog to be the coach.)

Why don’t more men hire women coaches? When Gala Leon Garcia was named the first female captain of Spain’s Davis Cup team in 2015, Toni Nadal criticized the choice, saying that Leon Garcia had no experience with men’s tennis. (For her part, Leon Garcia rejected the criticism, insisting that “tennis is tennis.”)

I’m certainly no expert on whether any significant difference exists between men’s and women’s tennis–that is, a difference that could matter from a coaching perspective. Obviously, the serve is a bigger weapon, so holding your own serve becomes that much more important–breaks happen less often in the men’s game. And in Grand Slams, men play best of five sets, so endurance counts more. Other than that, I can’t think of anything tactically that would apply specifically to a man’s game and not a woman’s.

But suppose there is a difference, something that can be understood only by experiencing it first-hand. Wouldn’t the same logic, then, apply to coaches in the WTA, as well? Shouldn’t there be an overwhelming majority of female coaches, since they would best understand the peculiarities of the women’s game?

Women coaches are somewhat better represented in the WTA. At least two top-20 players have employed women coaches in the past. Madison Keys just ended a long coaching relationship with Lindsay Davenport. And Garbine Muguruza had Conchita Martinez in the coaching box when she won Wimbledon last year. (Newly retired Agnieszka Radwanska also had a short-lived arrangement with Martina Navratilova a few years ago.)

Still, women coaches are the exception. Of today’s top 20 women, only Karolina Pliskova currently has a female coach, having hired former doubles star Rennae Stubbs over the summer.

So what gives? Where are all the female coaches?

What do you think–is this a glass half-full or half-empty story? The stats for women coaches aren’t great, but Mauresmo just landed her second coaching gig on the men’s tour. Maybe things are looking up?

2 thoughts on “A Rare Breed

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  1. A dog? A whopping 2 female coaches in the women’s game? This is worse than Congress! Wow. I had no idea.

    I do suspect that fewer women choose to try to become coaches. But I wonder how much that is actual choice and how much it’s a lack of opportunity. I wonder if it’s the same in college and recreational play. I can’t think of a female coach our our local club. I’ll have to check.

    How sad.

    1. Yeah, the dog comment is pretty repugnant. On the other hand, Federer was pretty supportive, at least in the press.

      There’s one female coach in the top 20 of the women’s game. But there were 2 others recently. And presumably there are others outside the top 20. Not a great showing. I don’t know why it is. It could be that younger female coaches who have kids don’t want to travel. But when they’re older? I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

      I think women are well represented at the recreational and high school level. Maybe in colleges, too? I don’t know about that part. If women don’t want to travel internationally because of their kids, a college coaching job would seem a good fit.

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