Holding court | An accomplished tennis player herself, Judy Murray has not only raised two top-class players of the modern men’s game (Andy and Jamie) but is doing everything in her power to lend a hand to girls who have ambitions in the sport. All this success hasn’t come easily, it’s been set against a backdrop of struggle and loss and today Murray talks about the highs and lows of her incredible journey laid out in her book, Knowing the Score.
“Let kids be kids, let them play a game.”
In Rush Wishart’s introduction, she notes that Judy’s mantra has always been “If you can see it, you can be it.” Judy is a woman full of ambition who has set goals, firmly kept them in her sights even when the odds were against her, and worked hard to get there. Across an hour of charm and fun, she takes an audience through exactly how she managed it.
One of the key themes in the book is failure from the authorities of women’s coaching and tennis and how she overcame. Judy finds the battles that many have to face in sport “highly irritating”; she began coaching when her kids where in nappies, training with people in exchange for childcare. When she decided to upgrade to an official qualification, she always felt a push back.
On one particular course, 20 people were accepted. 18 were men, and upon her arrival she was told she was lucky to be there, not because it was a highly competitive course to get on, but “lucky as we had a lot of men who didn’t get on it”, and one had even complained specifically about Judy getting a place he could have had, questioning, “What could she possibly offer to performance coaching when she has two kids?”
“I was pissed off for a small time and then I moved to what the fuck mode,” laughs Judy. Not only did she (evidently) succeed, but she does so differently in a lot of senses, encouraging children to enjoy themselves first and foremost and not stamp them with a hierarchy from the start. “Let kids be kids, let them play a game. They’ll stick at it much longer. Fun – that’s what keeps kids in sport, not ABCD grades.” There are always ways to develop skills like coordination early with household games that will benefit children who turn to sport later. Never underestimated the power of creativity.
“When I leave the sport, I can’t take it with me.”
Talk turns to her own children, tennis champions Andy and Jamie Murray. The book, partially, allowed Judy to give Jamie the recognition he deserves as he’s often lived in the shadow of Andy due to media interest – doubles doesn’t get as much attention, even though he’s won more grand slams of the two brothers. Though, the fact they play different strands of tennis and rarely cross paths competitively “really is great for family harmony!”
Judy talks about the competitive legacy of her father that was instilled in her, a fateful table tennis game between the Murray brothers that ended in a strop, a post-Wimbledon McDonalds trip, her views on equal pay and sets (yes to equal pay, bring the men down to three sets – five would stretch resources, and three would free up the option for more high ranking male players to also do doubles) and the work she’s doing to bring tennis to the masses.
Tennis on the Road, for example, is basically Judy driving around with a van full of equipment and showing people how to deliver starter tennis training, with focus on rural and deprived areas. She hopes to capitalise on the success of tennis by teaching in inexpensive ways; volunteers and parents were vital when she was starting out and it’s that kind of grassroots training and support she hopes to develop communities around.
The Murray legacy is her next focus. Andy has been playing tennis professionally for 10 years now and he could only have a couple of years left; the authorities have been very slow to develop resources for the next generation of tennis players. There’s a need to regionalise efforts and move focus solely away from London – “what Cumbria needs will be very different from what Middlesex needs” – and to make it affordable. Judy has plans for a sports complex that combines multiple sports, family activities but they’re currently being considered, which is a lengthy process. What matters to her at the end of it all is making tennis accessible to the masses and removing many of the barriers that she has seen firsthand.
“When I leave the sport, I can’t take it with me,” notes Judy, on the importance of developing the next generation of coaches, initiatives and players. “I’m a gran now – I can’t be expected to drive around in a van forever!”