Female Coaches on the Pro Circuit
My best coach ever was a woman! This means a great deal, coming from someone in her fifties, who started playing tennis as an older teenager and has always had a coach. Since I picked up a racquet, I have had at least 10 private coaches and have taken lessons, at camps, clubs or with my team, from a dozen other coaches. My female coach, by far, was the most engaged; she improved my technique, corrected my strokes, taught me how to move and how to think, while keeping in mind my specific deficiencies. She could not have been unique; so why there are so few female coaches on the pro circuit, particularly coaching a male player?
In a 2018 article, a few female coaches including Sarah Stone (WTCA), Judy Murray & Aleksandra Krunic discuss challenges female coaches face and reasons why traditionally there have not been more women coaching players on the professional tour, women or men.
That said, recently, there has been a bigger movement for female players to employing female coaches. At 2018 US Open, Karolina Pliskova, the now world No. 4, was working with two female coaches: former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez and Rennae Stubbs. In 2019, both Martinez & Stubbs have rejoined Pliskova’s team, sharing the coaching duties, a clear sign that Pliskova views this partnership as a fruitful one.
The previous year, Jelena Ostapenko won the 2017 French Open under the care of her mother, Jelena Jakovleva, and the Spanish former world No.16 Anabel Medina Garrigues. Medina Garrigues left Ostapenko’s team after the 2017 US Open to captain Spain’s Fed Cup, but the title at Roland Garros was a good indication that the relationship had been successful.
Another important female presence in the player’s box, has been that of the former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport. She has worked, off and on, with Madison Keys (Ace! Lindsay Davenport Among Female Coaches in Pro Tennis). One major outcome of this coach-player relationship was Keys reaching the final of 2017 US Open. Although Davenport is no longer officially part of Keys’ coaching camp, she still provides advice to Madison, as needed.
In the case of male tennis players, as some of them start their careers being coached by their parents, you might see a mother/coach on their team. Marat Safin’s first coach had been his mother, Rauza Islanova. She also coached her daughter Dinara Safina. Both the brother and sister reached world No. 1. She was the full-time coach of Dinara until the end of 2003 and continued to accompany to her to tournaments later in her career; but was no longer in the picture once Marat started climbing the rankings. Islanova had coached many great Russian female players in their early years, including Elena Dementieva, Anastasia Myskina, and Anna Kournikova.
Another important name to mention is that of Jelena Gencic. She coached the former world number 2, Goran Ivanisevic and the current world number 1 and reigning Australian Open, Wimbledon & US Open champion, Novak Djokovic. Novak had referred to Gencic as a “second mother”.
Currently, another male player relying for coaching from his mother is the Canadian and the young rising star of men’s tennis, Denis Shapovalov. Tessa Shapovalov, despite the addition of Rob Steckley.to the team in 2018, still plays a major role in Shapovalov’s development.
But the most important mother/coach position belongs to Judy Murray. Judy’s guidance has had such deep influence on Andy that he has been an advocate for female tennis players to receive equal prize money among other things. His most impactful move was hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his head coach in 2014. A move that was viewed with concern by many skeptics but helped Andy take huge steps forward and ended up being a very successful partnership.
Mauresmo had also briefly coached Michaël Llodra and now is coaching Lucas Pouille, the only man in the top 100 currently coached by a woman who is not his mother. Mauresmo has been hired because fo her expertise and the value she brings to Pouille’s team; gender was not a consideration in his decision. In his own words “As long as they know what they’re talking about. In women’s sports or men’s sports, in the end you’re dealing with the same stuff on the court.” He added that he wanted “someone who believes in me, and who believes we can go very far together.”
With such great examples of female coaches helping both male & female players to reach their potential on the tour, we should start seeing more of a female presence on coaching teams of top tennis champions. After all, the results achieved by players who could see beyond gender and tradition, demonstrate women can bring another dimension to coaching for the benefit of the players. Expertise should be sought without preconceived notions and based on competence, not other considerations.