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Monday, 17 July 2017 08:10 AM BST
Spaniards hoping to inspire more female coaches
The recent coaching success of Conchita Martinez and Anabel Medina Garrigues may lead to more women guiding top players READ MORE

When the final Hawk-Eye challenge fell in Garbiñe Muguruza’s favour to end the ladies’ final, the Spaniard turned to her box for a moment and smiled. 

As she collapsed to the court and ran to meet Venus Williams at the net, her team, friends and family leaned over to the figure in the far corner of the box for hugs and high-fives.

There stood Conchita Martinez, nothing but smiles having joined one of the smallest clubs in tennis: the female coach of a Grand Slam champion.

The Spaniard is not alone – Amelie Mauresmo was the last to coach a Wimbledon champ, having mentored Marion Bartoli to the 2013 title – but women in the lead coaching role at the top of the game are all too rare a breed. Nevertheless, Martinez’s success with Muguruza may be the latest proof that times, and attitudes, are changing.

On the eve of The Championships, Pravin Char of Reuters wrote that “male coaches reign supreme in the women’s game,” noting that just five of the world’s top 100 women work with female coaches.

The disparity is indisputable, the reasons less so – especially now that the ladies’ champions at the past two Grand Slams have been coached by women, albeit on a short-term basis. Before Martinez and Muguruza conquered Wimbledon, Anabel Medina Garrigues was in the box when Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open.

Sidelined from the WTA tour with a shoulder injury since August, Spaniard Medina Garrigues began moonlighting as assistant coach to Ostapenko during the clay court season. With the Latvian reaching the final in Charleston and semi-finals in Prague before lifting the French Open trophy last month, the partnership quickly reaped dividends.

“Jelena and I share a manager, and it was him that told me she was a good player,” Medina Garrigues told Spanish tennis website Punto De Break at the Mutua Madrid Open. “He also said she was a girl who was used to working with women, and that I could help her to improve her tennis because I have a lot of experience in my career.”

For Medina Garrigues, the scarcity of female coaches at the top of the game can be explained in part by the demands of a tennis career, after which many players choose to have a family rather than remain on the road.

"It is very difficult to combine the two because coaching a top player involves traveling 20 to 30 weeks of the year," the 34-year-old told Reuters. “It's a great shame – as a woman you can understand how a woman player feels on the court, you can understand their thinking. Men's thinking is completely different.”

Nevertheless, an entrenched tradition of male tennis coaches at the top of the game no doubt plays its part. For Judy Murray, the visibility of female coaches, or lack thereof, has been a problem at every level in the game – a factor behind her decision to take over as Great Britain’s Fed Cup captain back in 2011.

“I think we're pretty much outnumbered about 10 to 1 male coaches to female coaches on the performance side of the game,” she said at the time. “It's something I'd very much like to try to rectify, so that is another part of my role beyond the Fed Cup is to try to help develop a female coaching workforce.”

Murray, whose son Andy recruited two-time Grand Slam champion Mauresmo as his own lead coach between 2014 and 2016, continues to spearhead efforts to boost female coaching in the UK. The Scot launched the She Rallies initiative in partnership with British Tennis in February; when the scheme made its debut, just 23 per cent of qualified tennis coaches in the UK were female.

“Women so much better understand how girls think and behave and what their needs are,” Murray, who was succeeded as Fed Cup captain by former British No.1 Anne Keothavong, told the BBC. “Teenage girls, in my experience, are not going to open up about their fears – such as issues with their bodies – to male coaches.”

Comfortable communication can mean the difference between a good career and a memorable one. Just this week, Jeff Tarrango, former coach to Maria Sharapova, hailed Murray’s impact on Johanna Konta, the first British ladies’ singles semi-finalist at The Championships since 1978.

“Judy has really been a great influence on her,” the American, who won 14 doubles titles in his career, told the BBC. “She has a lot of poise off the court and I think that is starting to translate on the court.

“Every player has talent, but it is how you mould that player, and the LTA are doing a great job of getting the right people in there and recruiting the right players.”

Fresh from guiding Muguruza to her maiden Championships triumph, Martinez will return to her dual roles as Spain’s Davis and Fed Cup captains.

And while both Spaniards agreed that Muguruza’s full-time coach Sam Sumyk remained a key factor in the player’s success, the new Wimbledon champion admitted that Martinez’s 1994 success was a key influence at the All England Club.

“Conchita knows how to win here on Centre Court and that’s a big thing,” Muguruza said on the eve of the final. “And I think a lot of things are clicking with her and the team this week.

“She knows how to prepare and what to do. I’m not really doing anything different but to have her by my side gives me this little confidence of having someone that has won before.”

It’s an oft-spoken mantra in sports – if you can see it, you can be it. And like Muguruza breaking through while working with Spain’s only other ladies’ singles champion, the sight of Martinez, Medina Garrigues and Murray leading their charges to glory and having a lasting impact on their careers can only help redress the imbalance in the coaching boxes of the ATP and WTA tours.

“It is very important for people to see a woman coach – the more they see this, the more it will be seen as normal,” Medina Garrigues told Reuters.

“I hope there will be more women coaches in years to come.”

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