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'She had this drive, this kind of brain where she loved order'

EMILIO SANCHEZ cannot pretend that he is not rather intrigued by Andy Murray's latest coaching experiment.

The Spaniard, whose academy in Barcelona served as the launching pad for the Scot's career, is a wise old owl when it comes to the interplay of the sexes on the practice court.

Not only does he have a job which attracts a lot of eager teenagers of both genders to his schools in both Catalonia and Naples, Florida, but he has frequently found himself surrounded by strong women. Not least are Svetlana Kuznetsova and his own sister Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, in whose grand slam wins he claims a coaching credit.

With such a family background, Sanchez could hardly be dismissive of Murray's arrangement with Amelie Mauresmo, which is sure to be subjected to immense scrutiny at Wimbledon this fortnight. But the decision did catch him on the hop.

"I was surprised," Sanchez told Herald Sport. "Because it is a challenging thing for a top player like Andy to take a woman as a coach. There are not many women coaches out there on the men's tour, while on the women's tour there are a lot of men's coaches, so it is very challenging indeed.

"I hope they can make a really good partnership . . . but I don't know how it will work out," he admitted. "It is a big question. Hopefully she is the perfect coach, and they have made the right decision. It would be very good if it turned out like this, that a women's coach turned out to help a top men's player. Women's tennis has been breaking a lot of barriers, same TV audience, same prize money. In terms of women's sport, tennis has always been ahead. Now this is a chance for a women coach to help a top player become world No.1."

While male coaching support for a female player frequently adds machismo and aggression, Sanchez suspects that instilling a sense of calm and clear thinking at key points could be what Mauresmo brings to the table. "I know Amelie from when I was playing and coaching on the tour and she is a very nice girl, very humble," said Sanchez. "Normally I say that the girls in my academy tend to be a bit more of everything: on the good and the not so good. They can be more sweet, more careful, more disciplined, or sometimes they are more difficult. But I hope Amelie can give Andy the peace and guidance he is expecting: that it calms him down so he won't be fighting himself all the time.

"Some players are more dedicated than others and Mauresmo, when she left the tour, was one of them," he added. "She always was involved in coaching and analysis; she had this drive, and this kind of brain where she loved order. She practised with [Michael] Llodra, practised with [Marion] Bartoli, and the changes that Andy has to make are so little - to be able to be calm and do well on the important points - that sometimes people around players can help them to do it.

"Sometimes it is a friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes a motivator. She has been through a lot of the same things he has been through. Perhaps her history can help with his history and she can give him this magic touch that will make him even better."

As he arrives in SW19 as defending champion, the No.3 seed will open the Centre Court programme on Monday. Sanchez was impressed by his run to the semi-finals at the French Open, but cannot separate the "fab four" of men's tennis.

"I think Andy will do well," said Sanchez. "He looks in good shape. Obviously he needs to pull it together but at least he is going to be competitive and play his best tennis. Which at many times during the year he wasn't doing.

"It will help of course that he has already won it; he now has the pressure to defend the title, not win it, and that is a huge difference. He has always done well on grass; he won the Olympics as well so it is a natural place for him to do well.

"It will be down to the four top guys again," he added. "I would like [Roger] Federer to get another win, he has worked hard, regained some shape and is playing more aggressively. In the end we will lose him but, if he wins another slam, he might stay in tennis for another couple of years. Wimbledon is his best chance of a slam.

"Andy has struggled and had a lot of difficulties in his year. So for me, if he does well and manages to defend, it will be an incredible story. I am sure Rafa wants to win Wimbledon again, because it was always his biggest target. Even if [Novak] Djokovic wins, it will still take a great Wimbledon to do it. I don't want to choose just one."

The less heralded, member of the coaching team, of course, is another Sanchez-Casal academy alumni: Dani Vallverdu. "Dani is the balance for Andy, even when Ivan [Lendl] was there," said Sanchez.

"He gives a lot of emotional support. He must be very proud of what he has done so far and I am sure that will continue."

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