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More women coaches think outside the box

According to that old silly saying, behind every successful man is a woman. A much smarter saying, which could neatly describe the 2017 tennis season, is that there are now very smart women behind many successful female players.

Two of this year's Grand Slam winners were guided to their titles by women coaches - Jelena Ostapenko won her maiden Major at the French Open under former pro Anabel Medina Garrigues, while Garbine Muguruza's second Grand Slam came at Wimbledon with Conchita Martinez, herself a former champion, in her box as temporary coach.

American Madison Keys, who reached her first Major final at the US Open, is coached by former women's world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.

The profile of female coaches at the sport's highest levels has increased in recent years, which Judy Murray, mother of men's No. 3 Andy Murray, believes is partly a result of her son being coached by retired two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo in 2014.

The senior Murray, a community ambassador for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, told The Straits Times: "There was more awareness that women are capable of coaching men and women at the top end of the game, that it's about the skill set, the experience, the personality and the fit - and this has nothing to do with gender.

"It encouraged a lot of the top women players to consider them as a part of their coaching team."

Murray, 58, who was Britain's Fed Cup captain from 2011 until last year, made reference to top women players who have worked or are working with women coaches. These include 2015 WTA Finals champion Agnieszka Radwanska - who used to be coached by 18-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova - as well as third-ranked Karolina Pliskova, a semi-finalist this year, who worked with doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs during the Singapore event.

A FAIR HEARING

Sometimes in some respects, women understand there are emotional differences and I think we hear better as women coaches.

RENNAE STUBBS, former player who worked with Karolina Pliskova in Singapore.

Australian Stubbs, who won four Grand Slam doubles titles, believes the increase in the number of women coaches is a result of them having more success.

"We have women coaches, they just don't get some of the high-profile players," Stubbs told ST, referring to Russia-born Australian Daria Gavrilova, formerly coached by retired pro Nicole Pratt and now with Biljana Veselinovic, who used to coach other WTA players such as Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

Stubbs, 46, added: "We speak differently to one another... Men maybe simplify things a little too much and sometimes that's good.

"But sometimes in some respects, women understand there are emotional differences and I think we hear better as women coaches."

Murray agreed with Stubbs' assessment, stressing that while a player's choice of coach is determined by what that player needs at that time, she feels women have "better soft skills".

"They listen better, they praise more, I think they share more, they don't have egos, they network better, they pull things together better, they multi-task so they can coordinate more things, generally speaking," she added. "But I think having more women around would create a better balance."

Davenport, with three Grand Slam singles titles to her name, can attest to that.

From age 15 to 18, the American was coached by Lynn Rolley - an experience Davenport describes as "one of the greatest things I had".

"She really taught me so much about being a woman and still being able to be an athlete, and tennis-wise, her knowledge was just as great as everybody else," she said.

"It gave me a lot of comfort."

Now a mother of four, Davenport believes having a family is no longer as huge an obstacle to a coaching career as it was in the past.

"Now I think as we become more modern, women are also seeing they can have children and a family, they can work if they want to - I think you see that in a lot of the choices that women are making these days," said the 41-year-old.

But Murray believes female representation at the top levels of the game still leaves much to be desired.

"There is some movement but there's still a very long way to go. I think women are still very under-represented at the top of the game," she said, calling for better career pathways that allow women who want to work on Tour progress to the top.

"I think there needs to be more opportunity for women to develop their skills and to learn everything that the top end of the game is going to demand of you as a coach.

"You need to give them opportunity to travel, to work alongside coaches who already work at the top of the game so they can learn from them."

When Murray was Fed Cup captain, she took female coaches with her on Fed Cup trips, so they would be familiar with the process and requirements of preparing the team.

And these women could well be the ones behind and beside the successful female tennis players of the future.