It seems so "silly" to Lindsay Davenport that a male tennis player hiring a female coach -- as Andy Murray did with Amelie Mauresmo -- should be considered so remarkable. Why, Davenport has been thinking, is this such a big deal?
A former world No. 1 and a multiple Grand Slam champion, Davenport hopes that attitudes will quickly shift. And that within a few years tennis as a whole will be able to look back and wonder why such a fuss was ever made about a coach's gender. "I think that with a player, whoever they think they're going to listen to, that's the best option and that's who they should be working with," said Davenport, who coaches Madison Keys. "It seems silly that in a sport with a past champion that it would matter what gender they are. I don't understand why a woman shouldn't be able to coach a male player, but it seems to have been a big deal."
"You have to credit Murray for taking that plunge. Andy has been phenomenal with his support and he was raised by a strong mother. Hopefully I have raised my children to think that anyone can give you advice. I hope that in a few years we will look back and think, 'Why was this such a big deal?' It seems that we go like that with social issues around the world and giving everyone equal rights, and maybe the same thing will happen with women coaching men."
Davenport's wish is that her player-coach relationship with Keys will be long and rewarding. But if at some point in the future she is ever presented with the opportunity to work with a man, she wouldn't decline on the basis that women shouldn't coach men. "It's not about what gender a player is, but what the situation is and thinking whether it would work. But I hopefully don't anticipate coaching anyone else for a while," she said.
Indirectly, Murray brought Davenport back to elite tennis this season. Not through collaborating with Mauresmo, but through his previous arrangement with Ivan Lendl. That started the trend for the modern generation to work with former champions. Among other hires, Roger Federer turned to Stefan Edberg, Novak Djokovic linked up with Boris Becker, Agnieszka Radwanska took on Martina Navratilova (though that relationship has since ended), and Keys believed that Davenport could help her realize her potential.
"It's been great to see the likes of Edberg and Becker coming back. It obviously started with Murray and Lendl. We hadn't seen Lendl around tennis very much until Murray hired him. It's great to have everyone involved. If you truly love the sport, you love seeing the champions around. The first to work with a former champion was Andy Roddick with Jimmy Connors. But it was Murray and Lendl winning Slams together and having such a successful relationship that opened the door for everybody, with the former pros thinking, 'Yeah, this is OK, I can do this.' "
Chemistry, Davenport said, tends to determine whether a player and a coach are going to have success together. "Every player-coach relationship starts with chemistry. For the most part, the most successful relationship is going to be between two people who can get along. Though, of course, there have been successful relationships where the two people haven't got along," said Davenport, who is an ambassador for HSBC, the official banking partner of The Championships. "Madison and I have found comfort in each other and enjoy each other's company, and so that started it. I would imagine that she had a certain level of immediate respect for me, and was open to listening to my ideas and thoughts about things because of my experience in the game. Maybe she figured that I knew what I was talking about. There are definitely technical things in her game that need to be worked on. There's the mental side with the younger players. You're trying to get them in a good place and a good frame of mind."
As a former champion and a member of the All England Club, has Davenport shown Keys hidden parts of Wimbledon that she might otherwise have not known about? "No, we haven't, but we've talked about that. Maybe next year we'll come a little earlier and try to take advantage of some of those perks."
John McEnroe and Chris Evert are among those who have marked Keys, a 20-year-old currently ranked 21 in the world, as someone who can win Grand Slams and reach the top of the rankings. Has that has been difficult for Keys? "She would love to develop on her own timeline," Davenport said. "Whatever her top is, no one's really sure yet. Maybe it's No. 1 in the world, maybe it's 10, maybe it's 15. She certainly appears to have the tools to get there. But there's a lot more that goes into tennis besides hitting a great forehand or being a great athlete. There are definitely some things she has to improve on if she is going to reach her potential. Hopefully I'm going to help her to realize that potential. But it's a long road. We will see how long it takes her."
Being American means additional pressures for Keys. "With the history in the States, there is tremendous pressure on all these players to make a big break. But what is successful? Is that winning Slams? Or getting to a certain ranking? Every player has to define their own success and their own career. I think in this day and age, with all the media, and social media, and the fans clamoring for a champion, it certain puts more on the minds of a lot of these players. Madison and I, we talk about those things, of course we do, but those conversations are a little personal and private."