Pouille and Mauresmo the perfect combination

 - Simon Cambers

Former world No 1 inspiring a new work ethic for talented Frenchman

Amelie Mauresmo and Lucas Pouille talking during practice at the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

When Amelie Mauresmo took over as the coach of Lucas Pouille in early December, she had one stipulation of her new employer; he must work hard.

It’s a work ethic she espoused as a player and admired in Andy Murray, whom she coached for two years between 2014 and 2016. 

Two months is not long for a coach to have a huge impact and Mauresmo might have been worried when he lost all three of his matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth earlier this month.

Pouille turned to Mauresmo

The 24-year-old had not won a match in five previous visits to Melbourne but has responded with his best ever run in a grand slam event and on Friday, he will face the ultimate test on hard courts when he plays world No 1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the final.

Having broken into the top 10 for the first time in March of last year, Pouille’s form disappeared altogether. In the remainder of 2018, he failed to make it past the second round of any Masters 1000 event or past round three of a grand slam and by the end of the season, he had dropped outside the top 30.

After splitting with Emmanuel Planque, who had been by his side since 2012, he turned to Mauresmo, the former world No 1 and twice a grand slam champion, at Wimbledon and at the Australian Open in 2006.

The French Tennis Federation would have loved for Mauresmo to stay on as Fed Cup captain but gave its blessing to Mauresmo to work full-time with Pouille. Though the Frenchman had already made a conscious decision to work hard, the presence of Mauresmo in his camp has worked wonders in a short time.

Lucas Pouille smiling and fistpumping after his victory in the quarters of the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
'Yeah, maybe she can help me'.

“I think she's bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind,” said Pouille, who is guaranteed to return to the top 20 no matter what happens against Djokovic on Friday.

“As I said at the beginning, the goal is not to reach the final, the semi-final, the goal is to improve my tennis, to put what I work on during the practice in the match. That gives me less pressure. I'm just trying to focus on my game, not on the consequences and the results.”

When Mauresmo was hired by Andy Murray as his coach in 2014, the Scot received some not overly complimentary messages from other players, asking why he had chosen a woman for what they saw as a man’s job. Murray batted them away and went on to become almost a spokesman for equality on the tennis Tour and on Thursday, Mauresmo said Murray set the tone for others.

“He's been really outspoken about equality, about women being able to coach, whether a male player or a female player,” Mauresmo said at Melbourne Park. “He's been really proactive in this area so it's definitely going to be one thing that people remember about him. And the fact that he hired me at the time probably put the idea, at least in Lucas' mind maybe, to think, 'Yeah, maybe she can help me'.”

Amelie Mauresmo watching Lucas Pouille serving at practice during 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Gender is not important

When he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and then at the US Open in 2016, (where he beat Rafael Nadal) Pouille made the top 10 in March of last year. But for some reason, he lost his way in the rest of the year, struggling in the biggest events and finished 2018 ranked outside the top 30.

“It came really fast when I did a quarter-final in Wimbledon, US Open,” he said. “Then the year after I didn't win a lot of matches but I still finished 17 or 16 in the world. Last year I lost a bit of joy to be on the court, didn't want to live in tournament, all this stuff. I started a new adventure with my team, with Amelie, with Loic (Courteau, who coached Mauresmo for much of her career). I think that was the great thing for me. I want to practice. I enjoy being on the court again. That's the most important.”

Pouille said having Mauresmo by his side shows that gender is not important, only whether someone is good at their job. She (has) the right state of mind, she knows everything about tennis,” he said. “It's not about being a woman or a man. It doesn't matter. You just have to know what you're doing, and she does.”

Amelie Mauresmo and his children at the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Pouille could be a threat

Mauresmo is one of a small number of women coaching on the men’s Tour and said family commitments may stop more from following her example. “I'm privileged, in a way, that I'm able to bring all my family with me so that is not for me a limit,” she said. “But I think it's a tough job in that part, you leave your family behind. 95 percent of the coaches have to leave their family behind so it's pretty difficult.”

With his all-court game, flashing forehand and outstanding movement, Pouille could be a threat, even for Djokovic, who is chasing his third straight grand slam title and his 15th overall. Watching Murray battle against Djokovic has given Mauresmo some ideas of what he might do, not that she is in the mood for sharing.

“I’m not going to tell you that,” she said, with a smile. “They are pretty much secrets.  It’s a great chance that I had to be able to actually see him (Andy) evolve in the finals of slams. (But Djokovic) is the No 1 player in the world, he has won six times here in Australia, so I’m pretty sure he’s the worst opponent for a lot of guys out there.”