Will More Former Women's Tennis Stars Become Coaches for Today's Top Players?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2015

Lindsay Davenport looks on as Madison Keys plays during the 2015 Australian Open.
Lindsay Davenport looks on as Madison Keys plays during the 2015 Australian Open.Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Professional men and women tennis players earn equal prize money at Grand Slam events. However, in the coaching ranks, women lag far behind their male counterparts.

Most top female players have male coaches. That could change someday, partly due to the actions of one man.

The 2015 Australian Open brought out the best and worst of what female tennis players face in their fight for equality and respect. The worst included an Australian broadcaster asking Eugenie Bouchard to twirl after a match. The best was Andy Murray's support for female coaches.

During a post-match interview, Murray thanked his female coach, Amelie Mauresmo, for her "brave choice" in deciding to coach him.

The comment was seen as a feminist stance by Murray. His support for female coaches may pave the way for more former women's tennis stars to become coaches of today's top female players.

The trend in men's tennis began in late 2011, when Murray hired eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl as coach. Lendl helped Murray capture his first Slam title, the 2012 U.S. Open. Murray also won an Olympic gold medal in London and later the 2013 Wimbledon title.

Suddenly, hiring a former great was en vogue, as detailed by The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg. Novak Djokovic hired Boris Becker. Roger Federer brought on Stefan Edberg. Goran Ivanisevic coaches his Croatian compatriot Marin Cilic, the winner of the 2014 U.S. Open. Michael Chang coaches Kei Nishikori, the runner-up to Cilic.

Martina Navratilova, seen here between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, coaches No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska.
Martina Navratilova, seen here between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, coaches No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska.Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova decided to jump into the Slam champion-as-coach waters when she hired Jimmy Connors in the summer of 2013. However, that relationship lasted one match. After splitting with Connors, Sharapova went back to what is familiar territory for most top female players—working with male coaches.

Sharapova hired Sven Groeneveld, who had coached Monica Seles, Ana Ivanovic and Mary Pierce to Slam titles.

In the same way Murray's success with Lendl sparked the trend of hiring former champions as coaches on the ATP Tour, hiring Mauresmo seems to have created opportunities for other female greats, as noted by Rothenberg.

Mauresmo's tenure as Murray's coach got off to a shaky start. But Murray, coming off back surgery, finished 2014 back in the Top Eight. Despite his four-set loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, Murray is back in the Top Four.

Men dominating the coaching ranks has long been an oddity in women's sports. From college basketball to tennis, even when it comes to coaching women, men seem to get most of the opportunities.

Two recent high-profile hires could change that, with Agnieszka Radwanska's hire of tennis legend Martina Navratilova and teen sensation Madison Keys bringing on Lindsay Davenport.

Radwanska told the WTA that Navratilova was the logical choice:

She is my idol in tennis and I am honored we will be working together. Her achievements speak for themselves and I hope that I can learn from all her experience. My goal is to win a Grand Slam, so to have someone with Martina's accomplishments in my corner is going to be hugely advantageous and give me a big boost.

Of course, being a great player doesn't always translate to great coaching. What matters is that former female stars are starting to get a chance to prove themselves.

It would be easy to dismiss the lack of opportunities as gender discrimination. But the players do the hiring. So if discrimination is taking place, it's women doing the discriminating.

More likely, the lack of female coaches reflects the difficult choices women make in all sorts of professions: balancing work and family.

Many former female tennis greats delayed starting a family. So even if the opportunity presented itself, these women may pass simply because they prefer being home with their children.

Davenport, a mother of four, was reluctant to become a traveling coach with Keys. She told Rothenberg that having Keys around is like having another kid. Keys moved from Florida to California, where Davenport lives, to work with the former champion.

Keys just cracked the Top 20 but remains an up-and-coming player. It's unlikely that an established player would relocate to work with a new coach.

Serena Williams, in an interview with Nick McCarvel special for USA Today, said she welcomes the presence of Davenport and Navratilova on the tour: "I'm a big fan of Martina and especially Lindsay. ... I think it would be really good to see them on tour, bring their expertise and their knowledge back to tennis."

Perhaps the trend of present stars hiring former stars will catch fire with WTA players.

Murray endorsed the idea in an on-court interview after his semifinal match. Murray, speaking to Jim Courier, told the crowd that "a lot of people criticized me for working with her, and I think so far this week we have showed women can be very good coaches as well."

In an interview with Rothenberg, Davenport talked about the impact of Murray's decision to hire Mauresmo:

It seems like the door needed to be opened for it to become O.K.," she said, "and obviously Murray was the one who kind of broke that down. In both cases: first hiring Lendl, and then opening the door for the women now by hiring Mauresmo.

Now that the door has been opened, how wide will the entrance be for other women? Hopefully as wide open as it remains for the men.

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