One unintended consequence of the new, abbreviated Davis Cup format is that what was once almost a full-time job is more like a one-week guest appearance.
And with that as a backdrop, Amélie Mauresmo is out as new French Davis Cup captain … before she even really got to work.
The former WTA Tour No. 1 and barrier-breaking coach of Andy Murray has opted out of taking that job to start 2019.
She has a more edifying gig: coach of countryman Lucas Pouille.
“I’m convinced that we’re going to do great things together,” Pouille said in a statement.
Potential conflict of interest avoided
After L’Équipe broke the news on Wednesday – confirmed Thursday by all parties – there was much hemming and hawing.
The French Tennis Federation consulted various and sundry on the crucial possibility of the personal coach of one player being the captain to all.
It’s hardly an unusual situation. Victorious Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan once coached Borna Coric even as he led the Davis Cup team. In Canada, Martin Laurendeau juggled (only somewhat successfully) the dual roles of his longtime job as Davis Cup captain and his new job as the coach of the up-and-coming Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
And it might not have been an issue, anyway.
Pouille, a decade younger than the finest French men’s tennis generation, has been the only one of the new breed so far to have had success at the top level.
He was firm and emotional in his denouncing of the “new” Davis Cup format. And his visible emotion during the trophy ceremony after Croatia beat France in Lille two weeks ago will remain engraved in the collective tennis memory for a long time.
Changing role of the captain
One wrinkle is that with the diminution of Davis Cup duties, the French Davis Cup captain has found additional responsibilities on his/her plate. In this case, the captain will be in charge of the men’s team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and also to mentor/oversee the up-and-coming prospects ahead of the 2024 Paris Summer Games.
French Federation technical director Pierre Charret has been charged with nominating a new captain.
As it happens, when the decision was made to make Mauresmo the first female Davis Cup captain in French history (in history?) and Julien Benneteau the new Fed Cup captain (not the first male Fed Cup captain in history), Pouille’s vote was for former Davis Cup stalwart Michael Llodra.
As it happens, Mauresmo worked with Llodra one year at Wimbledon. And the two are very good friends, sharing a love for wine among other things.
On his regular hit on RMC Sport radio, Benneteau said he was disappointed personally. He had been looking forward to collaborating with her on events like the Olympics, in their role-reversing roles. Benneteau said he wasn’t a potential candidate to replace her; he was sticking with the women.
Mauresmo was named last June – months ahead of time – as the successor to Yannick Noah. Noah announced that this year would be his last year leading the team.
Pouille and Emmanuel Planque, the French coach who has had a hand in the development of most of the French male players of the years (going all the way back to Llodra), split last month after six years.
Mother of two will juggle
Mauresmo was expecting and gave birth to her first child, son Aaron during her association with Murray. She also continued as the French Fed Cup captain.
The 39-year-old has since had a second child, daughter Ayla, who is 20 months old. She and her partner also have two dogs. It’s a full house.
According to l’Équipe, Mauresmo has committed to 22 weeks with Pouille.
There is little concern that Mauresmo won’t be up to the task.
After all, this is the superwoman who decided a month ahead of time that she was going to run the New York marathon. And, at 39, she finished in less than 3 1/2 hours.
She bettered her time from eight years ago, when she had just retired from the Tour and before she had two kids.
Murray stint groundbreaking
Her stint with Murray raised plenty of eyebrows. In the Brit’s case, he was coached as a youngster by his mother Judy and has long been an advocate for equality on that front.
He made a serious statement with the hire. And he took a lot of flack.
“When it first came out in the press that I may be working with a woman, I got a message from one of the players who is now coaching. He said to me, ‘I love this game that you’re playing with the press; maybe you should tell them tomorrow that you’re considering working with a dog,’ ” Murray said in an interview with Elle Magazine last year. “That’s the sort of stuff that was said when I was thinking about it.”
Has there been a female coach on the ATP Tour since? There are barely any on the WTA Tour.
And here comes Mauresmo again, with more experience. As well, she’s in rather a more comfortable situation. She doesn’t to be concerned about making nice with male team members. And she doesn’t have to work – teach – in a second language she speaks but can’t be considered fully fluent in.
Rebound year for Pouille in 2019
The notable fall from the top 10 during the 2018 season was American Jack Sock. But Pouille, too, reached the top 10 only to struggle to win a match for chunks of the season.
“I think he found the ideal person to kickstart his career again,” Benneteau said on RMC Sport. “I also think that Lucas is sending a strong signal about his ambition by hiring Amélie.”
Pouille reached the top 10 after Indian Wells earlier this year, after a title and two finals during the first two months of the season. His results were up and down after that, and included a loss at the Rogers Cup in Toronto to Félix Auger-Aliassime, the day before the Canadian’s 18th birthday. He won just one match in his last five tournaments of the season.
And then, the season ended in heartbreak.