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Mauresmo steals focus on first day with defending champion

The Aegon Championships may be a men-only tournament but all eyes yesterday were on two women:

Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova, fresh from having won her second French Open title in three years, was in town to support her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, while enjoying the time off in a bit of sunshine. The Russian was trying to keep as low a profile as the highest-earning female athlete can do in London but she stayed on to watch Dimitrov beat James Ward, even after the cameras had spotted her.

For once, though, Sharapova was overshadowed by another woman. There was a rush to see Andy Murray's new coach in action yesterday as Mauresmo began first day in her new guise, meeting the rest of the Murray team properly, including Dani Vallverdu, who has served the Scot so well over the past few years.

The former world No.1 and the 2006 Wimbledon champion looked relaxed and happy enough as she contemplated what she has let herself in for just a couple of weeks before Wimbledon, where the gaze of the country will be very much on Murray.

The Scot, who had practised in the morning, did not do not any further work on site, thus keeping Mauresmo under wraps for now, though the pair had the option of practising at Wimbledon where they are both members as a result of their championship wins there.

The appointment of Mauresmo has been the talk of the town here and, although Dimitrov and the No.2 seed Tomas Berdych both won yesterday, the primary focus was on what the players thought of the Scot's choice.

Most players have been positive about the appointment, suggesting that Mauresmo's sharp tactical brain and the experience of being at the top and handling the pressure may help Murray defend his Wimbledon title.

There will, though, always be some who put their feet in it and yesterday Marinko Matosevic, the man who hates his nickname of "Mad Dog" did so spectacularly.

"I couldn't do it since I don't think that highly of the women's game," he said. "But his [Andy's] mum [Judy Murray] coached him and she did a great job with him. So we'll see what happens."

Asked if there should really be much fuss about a woman coaching a man, Matosevic stuck his foot in deeper. "It's all equal rights these days. Got to be politically correct. Yeah, someone's got to give it a go. Won't be me."

While Murray begins the defence of his title here today with a match against the veteran Frenchman, Paul Henri-Mathieu, many other British players will be waiting to find out if they will be given wildcards for Wimbledon.

Though the tournament organisers decide to whom they offer their wildcards - with numbers limited to a maximum of eight men and women - the Lawn Tennis Association make a suggestion based on the rule of thumb that they must be ranked in the top 250.

Ward, who began well but faded to a 7-5, 6-3 defeat by Dimitrov, and Dan Evans, who lost 6-2, 6-3 in the second round yesterday, are both well inside the cut-off, while Dan Cox and Daniel Smethurst have also made it inside the top 250.

It seems unlikely the LTA will alter their criteria for involvement, though young players pushing hard can be an exception. Kyle Edmund, ranked 297, could also receive a wildcard on that basis. He did his prospects no harm with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Go Soeda, the No.1 seed from Japan, in the Nottingham Challenger yesterday. On the women's side, Heather Watson and Jo Konta are direct entries, while Naomi Broady, Tara Moore and Samantha Murray are all inside the top 250.

Colin Fleming, who will partner Ross Hutchins at Wimbledon, begins his Queen's bid today, playing alongside Marcin Matkowski of Poland, while Hutchins fulfils his duties as tournament director. Jamie Murray and John Peers also edged out Evans and Ward 6-1, 4-6, 10-4 and play world No.1 pair, Bob and Mike Bryan next.

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