Bucking the trend

Will the Andy Murray-Amelie Mauresmo team be successful? Only time will tell, but if it can work for anyone, it is Murray, who has been so closely associated with a woman on his way to the top, writes Ted Corbett.

The American author, Scott Fitzgerald, claimed the rich were different from the rest of us and based a novel on that single sentence. They did not have to worry about money, they had their own life rules and they simply did not know about the problems of the poor.

If Fitzgerald had considered the ways of sportsmen, he could have written a whole series of books. In the 21st century, when the world is concerned with equality, fairness, the rights of the under-privileged and justice for all, the athletes approve that old-fashioned idea: winner takes all.

Just to take one example, the boxer from the 18th century, with his bare fists and his stamina, would have no difficulty understanding the training methods of today. Early to rise, the professional fighter still runs on roads, hits a punch bag, uses lesser fighters as training aids or, some might say, additional punch bags. Just as his predecessors did all those years ago.

It is not just the training methods that come out of tradition. The sportsman’s thinking is no different from that of the 18th century, as we saw recently when Andy Murray appointed Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach. It might just be on trial, but it was a shocking story.

Even if Arundhati Bhattacharya can boss the State Bank of India, we never thought a woman might coach one of the best tennis players in the world. Even if Karren Brady can lead Birmingham City and West Ham, the idea of a woman leading a man to victory is startling.

It was so far out of the box that hardly anyone had considered the possibility before. Ms. Brady — married to a footballer which may help — loves the sport and writes attractively about it; but she is no more a football coach than Father Christmas.

Do you remember the last time, for instance, that Manchester United announced they might have a woman as manager, or did you ever hear that Mike Tyson might have one as a trainer? The idea would have been the subject for comedians, for cartoonists, for satire. It had never happened nor was it likely to. Or so we thought.

Murray’s appointment of Ms. Mauresmo to rule his roost is so 22 {+n} {+d} century that hardly anyone reacted, few of the great sportsmen have had their say, no sage critic has contributed to the debate and those comedians, cartoonists and satirists have stayed quiet.

Will the trial be successful? Only time will tell, but if it can work for anyone, it is Murray, who has been so closely associated with a woman on his way to the top.

His first coach was his mother, a fine player in her own right, and, if I am any judge, a lady with a rod of iron where the rest of us have a spine. As she sits in the stand, concentrating so hard you feel as if she is glaring right into your heart, never mind the soul of her son, you just know that to cross her would be to draw an immediate response.

No doubt, even when he grew too powerful to have his mum as his coach, Murray saw beyond the obvious and realised that he could trust a woman as no high-ranking tennis ace has done before.

Think of the way the world has changed since we fought the evil that was Hitler, starting in 1939. Computers, global travel, the concept that is the United Nations; the list is endless.

(Hey, why am I trying to write this list? Everyone will have a different set of changes in our lifestyle since Wimbledon was played in long white trousers, since racquets were made of wood, since Australians and then Americans came to dominate the men’s singles. Go for it: it’s a lot of fun.)

The papers said that within a day or two Murray had shown this change of his team could be successful, but his victory over a minor player at Queen’s Club would have come anyway. Once again, that very sentence shows how life may have advanced for the rest of us but not for sportsmen. Queen’s Club has been the place where tennis men and women warmed up for Wimbledon for the whole of my life and, without thinking, they continue that habit.

In general, people don’t like new ideas or change of any kind. I remember picking up my first laptop and thinking how it would make my life easier. All around me there were other reporters — aren’t we supposed to be the leaders of new ideas, the forward thinkers, the men and women who break the mould? — staring at these new implements as if they might bite.

“They are just a passing fad,” they complained and wrote memos to themselves even detailing how to open the lid.

We have only scratched the surface of computer use 25 years on. I see a day when we can think of a subject like Murray and the female coach and a whole 900-word article will appear in front of us, transfer itself to the newspaper of our choice and automatically correct our mistakes.

These little gadgets have updated the world and my hope is that Murray’s appointment will help to change how the world views women. In an era of violence towards them in war and peace, they need all the aid they can get and it would be an irony if old-fashioned sport contrived to show they are worth their place in a world that does not always treat them gently.