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The Mauresmo Effect And The Gospel According To Lucas

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Sportswriters try to be original, chiefly in how they treat the sporting event they just witnessed.

“How can I put a fresh spin on this match, an angle no one else has?”

It is certainly something this profession requires in many instances, but sometimes, a sportswriter has to go with the basic theme or the obvious view. It isn’t laziness — not when done in this context. Sometimes, writing the obvious story is nevertheless the necessary and responsible approach.

Such is the case after Lucas Pouille, who had never previously won a main-draw match at the Australian Open, burst into the quarterfinals with a four-set win over Borna Coric on Monday.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here: Pouille needs to show he can be this kind of player over a full season. He will likely go through some ups and downs. Moreover, Coric is a player still in search of a fuller and more complete transformation. It’s not as though Pouille did what Stefanos Tsitsipas did against Roger Federer. Assessing the implications of this run by Pouille is a delicate task on many levels.

Yet, one can voice those cautionary notes and still do what simply has to be done, as unoriginal as it might be: Give coach Amelie Mauresmo due credit for helping to author this French resurrection in Pouille’s game.

The book on Pouille is widely known. Lucas has been quintessentially French as a tennis player, meaning that he seeks the attractive shot over the high-percentage play. He has been thoroughly exasperating, a central attribute of the many talented French players who have made the top 20 over the past decade. Pouille has lost plenty of matches, including at the majors, which he should have won. He has taken his eye off the ball metaphorically as well as literally.

Who would rein him in? Who would give him the clarity needed to stabilize his career and set it back on the right track?

The woman who rebuilt Andy Murray’s career from back problems in 2014, that’s who.

When people discuss #TheLendlEffect, they rightly give Lendl credit for helping Murray to finally win his first major in 2012 and his first Wimbledon in 2013. However, Murray’s 2016 Wimbledon title was in many ways Mauresmo’s as much as Lendl’s. It was Mauresmo who worked with Murray at a delicate and uncertain time in his recovery process. She had to look at Murray’s near-double bagel loss to Roger Federer at the 2014 ATP Finals and map out a pathway to renewed relevance. She did that, and in 2015, Murray made the Australian Open final. He reached the semifinals of Roland Garros, taking Novak Djokovic to five sets. He played a high-quality Wimbledon semifinal against Roger Federer, but Federer played what might still be the best match he has played in the past five years.

Murray returned to the Australian Open final in 2016 and — when Mauresmo stepped down in May of 2016 — Lendl was more of a placeholder than anything else. Murray had restored his game and his health. His 2016 Wimbledon title would not have happened if Mauresmo hadn’t made such a distinctly positive impact.

Again, this is not an original set of ideas, but it is the necessary set of ideas one must convey: If Lendl and other prominent male coaches are to receive credit for what they do, it is plainly irresponsible to not write about — and note in a public way — the great work Amelie Mauresmo has done, and is doing, as a coach of considerable standing.

Mauresmo has lent some steel to Pouille’s game, giving him an iron fist to complement the velvet glove of his artistic shots and court-craft. A player who looked lost for much of the 2018 season and who was beginning to squander the prime years of his career now has genuine and realistic hope for his future.

Is this a story other people are writing? Sure… but that doesn’t mean #TheMauresmoEffect is a story which should be ignored. No one should ignore the evolution in Lucas Pouille’s tennis, and more precisely, the way he handles himself on court.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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