For Judy Murray OBE, sport is as much a part of her life as breathing. Born to sporty parents and the mother to two famous tennis players, Judy is admirably active and passionate about empowering women and girls to take more of a role in professional tennis.
If you view Judy Murray solely in her role as mother to tennis ace sons Andy and Jamie, half the story is missing. While her image is often seen as a maternal driving force, possibly having given her sons racquets before they were out of nappies, there is a lot more to this driven women than the tiger mum of the court. Sport has been a constant in Judy’s life.
Before becoming an optician her father was a professional in the Scottish League. To her though, he was just dad – albeit one who she noticed was pretty good at kicking footballs in the garden. Both her parents enjoyed sport, played tennis at county level, and were constantly doing something active with Judy and her two brothers in the garden. The gang played badminton over the washing line, rounders, French cricket, table tennis and running races, and when Judy became a mother it was second nature to do the same things with her brood.
Nurture is one thing, nature quite another. When Judy was a child you couldn’t really start tennis until you were at least ten. The racquets were wooden and too big, the tennis balls heavy, and coaches just weren’t a thing. The family was constantly at the tennis club, but as Judy puts it, she was across the road at the duck pond and hanging out with other kids. She wishes things were more like this today.
“In my view there is far too much coaching and not enough playing the game. Parents have more money and less time and kids get programmed into activities after school, instead of learning a more generic way of solving problems, creating their own games, rules, and handicap systems”.
Tennis wasn’t always where Andy and Jamie were headed. Andy was doing as much football as tennis until he was 14 when he had to make a choice between a youth camp with Glasgow Rangers and representing Great Britain at tennis in Italy. Jamie had a handicap of three at golf and considered taking it up as a career. Judy thinks sunshine and a certain Spanish southpaw swung things for Andy. Rafa Nadal had extolled the joys of playing in Spain and Andy realised if he wanted to keep up he had to do something different and enrolled in a tennis academy in Barcelona. Asked if she worried about his schooling, Judy is matter of fact.
“It’s so easy to go back to education or do things online and you have to take opportunities when you get them. My kids benefited from the university of life. Being academic isn’t the only way to learn – not everyone can concentrate in a sit-still environment.
Jamie did well enough in his A levels to go to university, but by the time his and Andy’s minds were made up, they were old enough to know the difference between a hobby and a career. Often what separates those who are successful is if they can handle a life of it. Enjoying sport is very different to having to do it every single day, managing training and competition schedules, the travel, the budgeting and the sponsor and media demands.
“My kids benefited a lot from the university of life. Being academic isn’t the only way to learn – not everyone can concentrate in a sit-still environment.”
In 2011 Judy was appointed captain of the GB Fed Cup team. “It was a big opportunity. When I played tennis (Judy holds 64 Scottish tennis titles) my favourite thing was being in a team. I loved the tactical side: weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of opponents.”
In 2011 few people knew what the Fed Cup was, and Judy focused on bringing a profile around the team, largely using social media, and features in publications including the Mail online and Hello! “I did the Fed Cup for five years. It could be frustrating – if you only play in February and don’t get out of your playing zone – and only two out of 16 teams do – you don’t play again till the following February and you can’t build momentum.” But by the time she stopped in 2016 Johanna Konta had made the semi-final of the Australian Open and Heather Watson was in the top 40. Now Judy is focusing on grassroots tennis, trying to build a stronger coaching workforce across the UK. She particularly wants to get more women and girls involved. “Tennis is probably the most equal professional sport, but lacks females in key decision making positions and coaching is very male dominated. I founded She Rallies with the LTA to build a bigger female workforce and to create more opportunities for women and girls.”
Does Judy like being a public figure? She’s learnt to adapt. “At Andy’s first Wimbledon in 2005 he had just turned 18 and played on Centre Court with Royalty watching. The nature of tennis is that there is a lot of time for commentators to talk about the people in the player boxes. Nobody prepares you for the spotlight and the endless scrutiny. We made mistakes and learnt from them.” And while her dancing days are behind her since her 2014 stint on Strictly Come Dancing, she still plays tennis with dance partner Anton du Beke.
Judy’s commitment to sport and charity led to her being awarded an OBE. “I made a decision to use my voice to grow the profile of women’s sport, so it was nice that was recognised.” As a player, coach and passionate voice in tennis Judy has done a lot around the sport that doesn’t directly involve Andy and Jamie. She likes social media and is a keen Twitter user. “It’s a really good way to engage with the wider tennis community. I don’t express my opinion on certain things – politics or football, for example. The most trouble I’ve got into is when I commented on men in white tennis gear wearing coloured underwear. That’s an absolute no-no for me when you’re getting sweaty around the court!”
HERE COME THE GIRLS! You don’t have to be as good a player as Judy Murray to make a difference in tennis. 80% of coaches in the UK are men and She Rallies aims to narrow that gap. Its mission is to inspire and empower a female workforce to create more opportunities for women and girls in tennis.