Andy Murray is not the first male professional player to be coached by a woman.
Plenty before him (Jimmy Connors, Marat Safin, Donald Young, Denis Istomin, Mikhail Kukushkin, etc) have been guided by their mothers or spouses.
But the British No.1 is by far the most high-profile man to engage the services of a female; possibly in any sport.
For that reason, his appointment of Amelie Mauresmo has raised a few eyebrows. Many so-called experts are questioning how a woman might possibly improve his tennis. They are missing the point entirely, however.
Mauresmo isn’t being employed as Murray’s hitting partner. And she’s not about to tinker with his groundstroke, or iron out the second serve. That’s about as useful as rearranging the deckchairs while the Titanic goes down.
No, Murray and his peers in the world top 10 are far too advanced, far too skilled for all that. Besides, they have a whole host of experts they can call on for technical advice: volley experts for the volleys; clay court experts for clay-court skills; fitness trainers for footwork skills.
Nor do coaches at this level waste their time in mundane player administration. You don't think Boris Becker books practice court time for Novak Djokovic, do you? You don’t imagine for one minute that Stefan Edberg orders Roger Federer’s bananas?
Elite players hire coaches more as entourage bosses. In fact, it would make more sense if they took a leaf out of football’s book and called them ‘team managers’ rather than ‘coaches’. Not that Mauresmo is going to spend her time doling out inspirational pre-match speeches. Besides, she won’t be allowed in the men’s locker-room.
So what is the real reason for her appointment? Among the world’s elite players, a coach’s primary role is symbolic. They sit regally in the player’s box during matches, looking cool, confident, impressive and expensive.
So by hiring Becker, Djokovic is essentially demonstrating his own power, his own money and his own fame.
“I can have a well-dressed, well-fed, six-times Grand Slam legend at my beck and call. What about you?” he is saying boastfully to his opponents. The same goes for the Federer-Edberg axis, or the (albeit short-lived) relationship between Sharapova and Jimmy Connors. But the dynamics between Murray and Mauresmo go much further than this.
This is a political appointment more than one of bravado. From now on, Murray will be seen as a trail-blazer for women’s rights.
He is breaking the glass ceiling that exists for women in men’s sport. He is making a bold and politically correct statement: “I’m the world No.5 and the best person on the planet to coach me is a woman. Beat that!”
It’s PR genius, if you think about it. In one fell swoop, Murray has ensured everyone will forget about his image of being dour, grumpy, and cursed with a boring voice and bad hair.
Instead he will go down in sporting history as an iconoclast, a free-thinker, the man who dared to challenge the norm in a very conservative sport. (And the sponsors will love that!)
Suddenly it makes the ageing champions in Djokovic’s and Federer’s camps seem a bit lacklustre.
So, how has the Mauresmo appointment affected Murray’s odds for Wimbledon? Murray is second favourite to win overall at 4.50. Favourite is Djokovic at 2.80. Rafa Nadal is third favourite at 5.00, followed by Roger Federer at 7.50.
Bet on Wimbledon now.