A man’s world?
Originally published on: 30/08/13 00:00
Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin is one of the very few players, male or female, to have a female coach by his side. Klaudiya Istomin, Denis' mother, is one of only a handful of full-time female coaches that can be seen gracing the tour’s practice courts.
Her son, along with Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin who lists his wife as his coach, are the only two male players working with women and the WTA doesn’t fare much better. A flick through its media guide tells you all you need to know with just six of the top 100 women players working with female coaches, the majority of them favouring men who often double up as hitting partner too.
“It’s easier for me now,” says Lucie Safarova, who recently switched from working with a female coach in the form of Biljana Veselinovic to former Canadian Davis Cup player Rob Steckley. “I really liked working with Biljana, it was something different for me because it was my first experience with a woman coach but she was not able to hit with me as [Rob] does. He’s a really good player so that’s easier for me now.”
British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray believes that many players share the same thought process as Safarova when it comes to selecting someone to work with. “The thing to take into account is that it’s an individual sport and the girls in particular are not great at mixing and hitting with each other,” Murray explained. “They like to have a hitting partner and most of them wouldn’t be able to afford both a coach and a hitting partner so to take on a coach who can also hit well makes a lot of financial sense for them and therefore there are more guys in that role.
“It’s quite a difficult career to develop,” Murray added. “Because if you start working with any player it requires a significant amount of time on the road and that generally lends itself better to guys simply because it is traditionally the woman who stays at home and brings up the family.”
Unlike other sports, women and men are on a relatively level playing field when it comes to prize money and endorsements in tennis. The money at the top of the women’s game makes it an enticing place to be and for many former male players the WTA Tour offers a chance to continue their careers within the sport. But that brings up the question, for all the developments in the game at the playing level, are female coaches still the victims of prejudice?
“Yeah, there’s no question,” said Murray, who coached both her sons Andy and Jamie. “We have to fight very hard to be heard and to get anywhere. I think from my own experience it’s not so easy being a female coach or a mother of a male player, it's quite uncommon.
“I mean, there’s Denis Istomin, who’s been around for ages and good on him for sticking with his mum but there’s no media spotlight on him in Uzbekistan in the way that you have over here and I always found that quite difficult. I was always perceived as the mother rather than the coach. I think it is seen as a man’s world.”
So how can the governing bodies around the world get more women to take up coaching roles and why does the sport need them? “It’s clear that our issues start at the bottom with numbers,” said Murray, who also discussed the worrying trend of girls dropping out of the sport around the age of 15.
"One of the things that I am really keen to do in Britain is to increase the number of female coaches, particularly at entry level and working with our younger players because I do think that, one, we need to get more girls playing the game and, two, we need more female coaches because they understand the needs of girl players and probably work harder to make the right things happen for girls in a way that not all male coaches do. I think they have the softer skills that are needed in nurturing years and that would help not just to get [girls] into the game but to retain them in the game.”
"A man's world?" originally appeared in the August issue of tennishead. To read the article in full, get your hands on a copy of Volume 4:4.