Lucas Pouille praised the impact of coach Amelie Mauresmo after continuing his surprising run at the Australian Open by defeating Milos Raonic to reach the semi-finals.
Frenchman Pouille, the 28th seed, had lost in the first round on his five previous visits to Melbourne but recovered from a break down in the opening set to win 7-6 (4) 6-3 6-7 (2) 6-4 and set up a clash with Novak Djokovic.
Pouille, ranked 31, reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2016 but struggled to build on that and endured a disappointing 2018.
There was little to indicate he was about to go on such a run after beginning this season with four defeats having persuaded Mauresmo to give up her new role as Davis Cup captain to coach him.
Pouille is following in Andy Murray’s footsteps as a top male player to hire a female coach – in this case the same one – and, replying to John McEnroe’s assertion in the on-court interview that more men should look to women as coaches, the 24-year-old said: “They should.
“She has the right mindset, she knows everything about tennis. It’s not about being a woman or a man, you just have to know what you’re doing and she does.”
When Murray turned to Mauresmo after splitting from Ivan Lendl in 2014, he faced reactions varying from praise to incredulity to derision, and the Frenchwoman found herself scrutinised over her impact on his results and performances to a level rarely seen in a tennis coach.
The Scot was amazed by the private, and sometimes public, response of fellow male players and it was the criticism Mauresmo received that led Murray to declare himself a feminist.
Pouille believes times have changed, saying: “I think he did it first, so that’s why he received so many texts. It’s a shame that it happened.
“Men are coaching women, so why not the contrary? I mean, they don’t get it. She’s a champion. She’s a great coach.”
Pouille admitted he was not enjoying tennis last season, and he has won as many matches here as he managed at the four slams combined in 2018.
He said: “I guess maybe it happens during a career. It was the first time that it happens to me, that I lost that joy being on the court, going to practise hard.
“Then you lose one match, two matches, three matches, then you lose confidence. It’s tough to come back.
“I took some time to think about myself, about my career. I said, ‘OK, you have maybe 10 more years on tour. Do you want to spend them like this?’
“I said, ‘OK, now you have to move your ass a little bit and go back to it. If you don’t want to practise one day, don’t do it’. That’s how it came back.”
Six-time champion Djokovic benefited from the retirement of Kei Nishikori with the eighth seed trailing 6-1 4-1.
Nishikori had come through three five-set matches, including a five-hour epic against Pablo Carreno Busta in the previous round. He received treatment to his right thigh at the end of the first set before deciding he could no longer continue.
It is the 21st time in his professional career that the Japanese player has pulled the plug mid-match.
Nishikori admitted he had “wasted too much energy” in his previous matches, but said: “Before the match, I was OK. Of course, I wasn’t fresh. After the third game or fourth game when I was serving, I felt pretty heavy to my right leg.
“I couldn’t really move, couldn’t hit my serve well. Even if it’s Novak, I couldn’t beat anybody with my one leg. It was just too tough.”
Djokovic, who is now two matches away from winning a third successive slam, had endured his own physical battle against Daniil Medvedev on Monday and admitted afterwards that he was feeling the effects.
“This is exactly what the doctor ordered,” he said. “Not to spend too much time on the court. I’m in another semi-final and I’ll do everything to get ready for that one.”