ALEXANDRA WILLIS is the Deputy Editor of ACE Tennis Magazine, and alongside mag work and an affair with social media, has the dubious honour of following British players to Grand Slam qualifying from time to time as part of her professional duties. If you happen to bump into her court-side, she’ll probably tell you that she went to Oxford (and not just shopping).
In this exclusive interview with two members of Britain’s most famous tennis family, she talks to Judy and Jamie Murray about tennis parents, growing up on the road, and life in the fast lane
By Alexandra Willis
25 June 2010
Judy Murray is in hysterics. She’s watching her son, Jamie, desperately try and answer the question, “What is your mother’s worst habit?” without receiving a smack.
“It’s probably the screaming at matches,” he says after a pause. Uh oh.
“I don’t scream,” replies Judy indignantly.
“Yeah you do,” replies Jamie, with an affectionate look.
“Well I sometimes give a ‘woo’, but only when it’s a really good shot,” she retorts, pumping her fist into the air as she “woo”s, an image that has been captured all over the world. “You wait till you have kids, you’ll get excited as well.”
Jamie just shakes his head. “It’s your mum,” he says by way of explanation. “You just put up with them, don’t you?”
Observing these two gently rib each other over everything from Judy’s taste in music to Jamie’s lack of driving licence is just like watching any mother and her 20-something year-old-son, not two members of Britain’s most famous tennis dynasty.
Given the heights they’ve risen to, competing or watching on some of the best most famous tennis arenas in the world, it’s easy to forget that although their lives revolve around tennis, at the root of it, like any mother and son, their relationship is all about making sure the other is happy. “The funny thing is,” says Jamie. “Andy has all these people to help him make his life run smooth, but he always phones mum first!”
But from the moment that Judy installed a swing bat in the back garden, and gave her two little nippers a set of little rackets, she became a tennis parent. “Jamie loved anything to do with a ball, golf ball, tennis ball, football, rugby, sponge ball, it didn’t really matter what it was, he wanted to play with it. Just as they had little rackets, they also had little golf clubs and little cricket bats.”
The tennis club, just 200 metres from their front door, became their second home, Judy coaching, the young Murrays amusing themselves with whatever came to hand. “We were always at the local courts, mucking about, picking the balls up, feeding the ducks!,” Jamie laughs. “We had lots of different sports that we could do, that we were interested in, it wasn’t solely about tennis, which I think was a really good thing.”
All of which meant that when the time came to think about what was next, playing tennis was the natural conclusion, but not one that they were necessarily pushed into. “Both Jamie and Andy were desperate to compete, they were pretty competent, but there wasn’t the structure that there is now. In those days you didn’t have mini tennis, and all the local leagues were for under 14s,” Judy explains.
“So I called up a few coaches from around Scotland, and invited them to our club for a fun little tournament where the older kids umpired round robin groups, and as soon as you’d finished a match, the kids ran off to another activity like treasure hunts, water bomb fights, a quiz in the clubhouse, so whether they’d won or lost, it was a total distraction, even if they were absolutely soaking wet! Actually, when I look back at it, Jamie Baker was there that day, and so was Elena Baltacha, so it just goes to show what can happen!”
“It wasn’t talked about, like ‘Now I want to be a tennis player’,” adds Jamie. “I was one of the best in my age group from an early age, so for me playing tennis was just a progress, I just went with it.”
But once your wee ones begin to compete, being a tennis parent becomes a tremendous burden, not just on the bank account, but on the parent’s time. Driving your bundle of joy to a tournament may not seem so bad, but when it’s from Scotland down to England, and it’s every weekend, it’s a considerable ask.
“We did have to travel much, much longer distances because of where we were, and tennis can be a very lonely sport if it’s just you and a parent,” says Judy. “But if there’s a gang of you, and all the kids are the same age, you don’t even notice that four, five, six hours have whizzed gone by.”
And playing games, a plethora of alphabetic entertainments that put i-spy to shame, helped the hours whiz by even faster. Football teams, people’s names, the minister’s cat, anything and everything to avoid, as Jamie puts it, “Mum’s rubbish CDs.”
“Do you remember taking Leanna Park once?” reminisces Judy. “She was a very intelligent girl, and we were playing the minister’s cat, and she said ‘the minister’s cat is an esoteric cat,’ and everyone was just gobsmacked.
“And because she was so clever, nobody wanted to say ‘that’s not a word!’ but nobody wanted to own up to ‘we don’t know what that means!’ In fact, I still don’t know what that means!”
Navigating snow drifts in Carlisle, and many other hazards, Judy became quite adept at minibus driving, and not quite so adept at other rules of the road…
“I remember getting stopped by the police one time, with Colin Fleming, Brewer, you and Andy in the car, do you remember?” she asks her son. “I think that’s because you were reversing down the hard shoulder,” he deadpans in reply.
“I was!,” she laughs. “When you travel with young ones, there’s no one to help you with directions, they haven’t got a clue. I took a wrong road, started to reverse, and up popped the blue flashing lights. Of course you just thought it was a great big exciting adventure, and I got three points on my licence.”
To read the rest of the feature, including Judy and Jamie talking about life on tour, parents as coaches, and how rarely the Murray family all get together these days, buy the new issue of ACE Magazine (cover shot below), on sale now at WH Smith and all good newsagents.