Friday, May 13, 2016

The breakup heard 'round the courts

The clay-encrusted buildup to the French Open continued last week with Simona Halep winning the Madrid tournament. She was really happy about this, as you can see here. With that low number in front of her name, it appears she was quite lucky to advance. Other favorites, such as Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova, sputtered out of the tournament pretty quickly. It was the first big tournament win for Halep in a while, so ... wait, what? She lost already this week in Rome, in the second round?
Speaking of stalled momentum, Rafael Nadal, who's been looking more like himself on clay this season, lost in the semis of Madrid to Andy Murray. Makes you wonder if Nadal's ready for the big boys yet, even on the clay. Last week, I thought he was. This week ...
Murray, though, had a pretty good week (he lost in the final to Novak Djokovic), but most of the Murray-centered chatter was about his coaching situation. He announced that he was breaking up with Amelie Mauresmo because of time constraints that limited her travel.
Whatever the reason for the end of this coaching relationship, let's just consider that even women don't hire women coaches. And the second this partnership was announced, critics said things like, "Hmm, that was a weird choice," they meant, "Dude. You're a dude. Hire a dude." Even I must concede that I thought the pairing was odd, but because of Mauresmo's issues as a pro.
Now this partnership didn't yield Murray a bunch of major titles, but under Mauresmo's watch, Murray settled into a steadiness on court. He still had his infantile bursts, but he was at his most consistent so far with Mauresmo, winning the matches he should have won, and even claiming big-deal victories (Rafa on clay, for one). I still think it's ironic as hell that a player who was known for a long time for losing her mind in high-pressure situations became a coach who could instill peace into another player.
But the best thing about this partnership is that it broke with status quo and in a way, allowed Murray to say something about women players that old-school tennis tournament organizers are obviously unwilling to say. Murray hired a woman to do a traditional man's job because he looked at what she could offer as a coach.
That's a big deal in a sport that clearly still struggles with gender equality.

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