Among the players who have dominated the game for the last decade, Andy Murray often sings a different tune on and off the court.
The 28-year old Scot is known for censor-worthy tantrums and tirades during matches, often directed at his box, and isn’t afraid to showcase his emotions, even if some interpret it as a sign of weakness. He talks openly about his struggles to keep his reactions in check.
But Murray is also vocal about another issue: gender equality. In 2014 he hired a female coach, former player and two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo, marking just the second time a player in the ATP’s Top 10 had done so. The appointment also marked a revelation for Murray, who says Mauresmo was the trigger to help him understand—-and take a stand—on women's rights and gender equality issues.
“When I first came on the Tour, I didn’t really think much about it. But I realized when I started to work with Amelie," he says. "The comments and things I heard, and what people said to me, and the questions I was having to answer made me sort of realize there was something to this: She’s getting treated significantly differently to those working with a guy who’s been No. 1 in the world and has won multiple Slams.
“That’s when I started to realize there was still an issue.”
Under the tutelage of Mauresmo, Murray rose to a career-best ranking of No. 2, reached two Australian Open finals and led Great Britain to a Davis Cup title. But last week, after losing in the Madrid Open final to Novak Djokovic, Murray announced that he and Mauresmo had ended their two-year coaching partnership. He says that Mauresmo, a new mother and French Fed Cup captain, was only able to spend 10 days with him since January.
"It was just difficult with the amount of time required to do the job and the amount of time we were able to work together," he says. "It was just such a long period of the year, an important period where I was struggling, as well, where we weren't getting to work through that together. Yes, it's unfortunate but those things happen.”
Murray admits the split happened sooner than expected but says gender was not a factor in the decision. He cited Roger Federer and his coaching relationship as an example of a similar situation.
“Roger stopped working with Stefan Edberg at the end of last year because Stefan Edberg wanted to spend more time with his family, didn't want to spend as much time traveling. No one sort of batted an eyelid about that," he says. "So in my opinion it has nothing to do with Amélie being a woman. It's the case of that it takes a lot of time to do the job well and properly. It's not easy to do that for four, five years in a row. Those ex-players that have spent 15 or 20 years of their life on the road for 30 or 35 weeks a year—they don't always want to do it.”
In the interim, Murray is working with former British player Jamie Delgado. Though he was unable to win a third major title with Mauresmo, the French helped Murray with more than on-court results.
“I needed her at the time we started because I was struggling. I hadn’t been out of the Top 10 for a very long time and she got me back on track. Got me playing in the right way,” he says. “It took some time because I was low on confidence when I started with her. Everyone was telling me you need to play more aggressive, you need to take more chances, but when you’re low on confidence it’s difficult to do that. She supported me through that.”
Mauresmo’s influence on Murray is also evident in the way he speaks out about women’s tennis and other female athletes.
“I have no issue discussing the women’s game because I follow it a lot, watched it a lot when I was growing up. And my mom’s been pretty heavily involved with it for quite a long time," he says. "When you get older, and obviously you travel all over the world and see different cultures and things going not just in your sport but in different places, you start to realize that in sports there’s still a gender gap.”
Murray didn't divulge names or details, but says he was shocked by what he heard and noticed from players and ex-players before his partnership with Mauresmo was made official. And once it was announced, Murray says he remembers a specific time—after he lost to Federer 6–0, 6–1 at the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals in London—where people were quick to push blame on Mauresmo for his poor performances.
For Murray, the comments were hard to understand.
“I’ve always found it easier to communicate with women,” he says. “When I talk emotions, how I’m feeling and stuff, it was maybe easier to talk to Amelie. Maybe male coaches I’ve worked with would have been completely open to me expressing myself to them, but I personally didn’t find it was easy a thing to do.”
Murray has always been an advocate of the WTA Tour—he has never hidden the fact that his list of favorite players to watch includes Agnieszka Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro—but his appreciation of women’s achievement in sports doesn’t stop at tennis. Ask him about the other female athletes he might like and it doesn’t take him long to list a few names.
“Jessica Ennis-Hill. I met her a couple of times and she was unbelievably nice,” Murray says of the British track and field star. "What she’s done since she gave birth is pretty unbelievable as well, she’s a fantastic athlete. I also used to like watching boxer Laila Ali.”
Since splitting with Mauresmo last week, Murray says he has thought much about a new coach and is instead focusing on the Italian Open in Rome, where he beat David Goffin to advance to the semifinals on Friday.
“I want it to work long term, so I will take that into consideration,” he says of finding a new coach. “It's important to have someone in your team that is willing to commit for that amount of time and have that consistency throughout the whole of the year. So I'm glad I've got that now, which I didn't last year with Jonas [Bjorkman] and Amelie. So I'm happy I have that consistency now with Jamie and maybe try and find someone to add to that now.”
After Ivan Lendl’s departure in 2014 and now Mauresmo’s with the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open still to come in the next four months, the situation has to be emotionally taxing for Murray. He agrees that he’s always framed as the most sensitive one in the Big 4.
“It’s something I’ve always worked on, but that’s also something I’ve kind of accepted, how I am on a tennis court,” he says. “I don’t particularly like it, because I’m not like that away from the court, but I’ve been playing this sport for a long time and I’ve been that way since I was extremely young I spent a lot of time trying to improve that and it has gotten better.
“Showing a lot my emotions, in some ways it helps me. Since I started to actually understand about the psychology and a little bit more about how the brain works, I understand why and I’m a lot more forgiving when I’m off the court.”
One thing Murray has no angst about is playing in the same era as Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
“I guess if you’re Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid when Barcelona are playing unbelievable, it’s probably frustrating. It’s still great to compete against them but if they weren’t there, it’d make things easier as well,” he says, laughing. “But for me it has been a big positive in my career to get to play against some of the best players, maybe the three best players that have ever played the game. It has made me improve.”
With a second seed at the French Open secured after Federer fell to the third spot, Murray will look to win his first title at Roland Garros, where he’s made the semifinals three times in his career.
But if Murray doesn’t win in Paris, that’s O.K. with him too.
“When I’ll look back at my career, I’d love to win 10-15 Slams but when I was eight years old, I would have never thought that I’d win two, and the Olympics, and Davis Cup and been at the top of the game for a long time,” he says. “It’s human nature to always want more but you also have to remember that you can’t have everything all the time. I’ve done O.K.”