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Under the winning influence of his feminine side

THE cast is diverse.

Andy Murray takes a picture of coach Amelie Mauresmo after practice yesterday. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray takes a picture of coach Amelie Mauresmo after practice yesterday. Picture: Getty

There is Faith Forehand, Amelie Mauresmo, Selina Serve and Judy Murray. The storyline is simple: how to become a tennis player. The silent hero, of course, is Andy Murray, also known in Dunblane of two decades ago as a Dennis the Menace.

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All of the above is not so much an introduction as a riddle. An explanation is necessary.

As her son, Andy, and his coach, Mauresmo, practised at Aorangi Park at Wimbledon yesterday, Judy Murray was launching Miss Hits just a sclaffed forehand up the road. The programme, backed by the Lawn Tennis Association, targets girls aged five-to-eight years old and seeks to introduce them to the sport in a fun way.

This is a mantra for Judy Murray, the mother of two Wimbledon champions: Andy, winner of gentlemen singles 2013 and Jamie, winner of mixed doubles 2007.

She was reticent about discussing the present prospects for her sons, bashing away with a "no comment" any inquiry the question of whether Andy would win Wimbledon or even change his bachelor status for good.

She was more forthcoming and indeed enlightening on how players are made and how early strivers might just become champions.

"I loved all sports when I was young and I wanted my kids to enjoy sports so I was always playing actively with them, whatever they wanted to play," she said. "We played lots of games indoors. We played table tennis on the kitchen table with biscuit tin lids and cereal boxes, balloon tennis over the sofa.

"We were always inventing games to do indoors and because they were two brothers they learned how to compete and they made up their own scoring systems. It is about learning to enjoy competition."

Andy enjoyed this so much he became such a bad loser he made Dennis the Menace look like the school prefect.

Four times as many boys as girls come into the sport and tennis has a difficulty in retaining them. Miss Hits aims to address that failing but Murray is pushing too for more women coaches.

One of the attractions of Miss Hits is the featuring of cartoon characters that girls can relate to and imitate. These include Serena Serve and Faith Forehand; the latter has a strong Scottish accent with some nifty dance moves.

The smooth French accent of Mauresmo, though, articulates a reality that a woman can be a coach to a top player. Murray said of her son's new recruit: "It has certainly raised awareness because it has become such a huge talking point. It definitely shows that if you have the skills, experience and there is a personality fit then there is no reason why women cannot coach at the top end of any sport. It is about communicating what you know so it should not matter whether you are male of female. Maybe it's the start of something."

The beginning of Andy Murray was a male version of Miss Hits. There were no cartoons or DVDs and, one presumes, no dance moves. But he and Jamie learned to play not just to enjoy the game, and not just to win but for it to be the very fabric of their lives.

"He lives tennis, that is his life and he should," said Mauresmo after Murray's practice session yesterday. "That is what every professional does at this level and I'm not surprised by this at all, you would expect it, entering this kind of team and next to this kind of player."

Michel Llodra, once coached by Mauresmo, believes the Frenchwomen and the Scotsman have a similar obsession with the game. "Murray gets up thinking of tennis, he sleeps tennis and he eats tennis," he said.

Mauresmo accepts there are levels of attitude and the best are the most committed. "There is a difference for sure, a huge difference in either men's or women's tennis. I noticed it, I lived it as a player. I see it around," she said.

Murray has so far played four matches at Wimbledon, winning each in straight sets and displaying not just an extraordinary level of performance but also an emotional stability. He has struck the balance between intensity and calm much to the delight of Mauresmo.

"So far that is what he has been showing. He is doing good in this aspect of the game because it is very important," she said.

The young boy who played balloon tennis over a couch now faces an extraordinary level of stress as he marches out to play on the most famous court in the world.

Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champion, knows how that feels and has the experience of struggling with and overcoming stress.

She has tempered any desire to make significant changes to Murray's game though she will encourage any tendency towards aggressiveness in shot selection.

"We are talking about different aspects, whether it is his game, how to approach a match, how to approach being a defending champion and walking on Centre Court, many different things," she said, adding to the impression that her input will be more on the mental aspects of the game rather than the physical shots.

She is aware that Murray now faces a significant step-up in class as he faces the 23-year-old Dimitrov, who has been the coming man for so long it is as if he has been quarantined in a Bulgarian programme of Master Hits.

However, the world No.13 has buckled down to the intensive training regime of Roger Rasheed and has the range of shots that can confound any opponent.

"It's normal, we're getting further in the draw, you are expecting tougher and tougher matches and this quarter will be a tough one, definitely. I'm not going to go into details but we're expecting it to get tougher and tougher," she said.

Murray faced an unusual start to the tournament in that he played the first match on Centre Court as defending champion. It was an experience that Mauresmo had enjoyed. "I was very proud, I embraced the atmosphere before focusing on the actual match and what I had to do," she said. "He has done it in a very good way."

He has to do it all again today. The match will be as terrifyingly physical as befits a quarter-final in the gentlemen's singles. But the Wimbledon champion has an influence beyond the macho.

Murray aims to be the main man at Wimbledon but faces the challenge with lessons learned from his mum in a living-room and with the words of a female coach fresh in his ears.

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