Judy Murray: ‘I am amazed I have managed to survive to be honest’

The tennis coach on her sons’ success, learning to deal with celebrity, and why watching Andy and Jamie play is still stressful

Reading your autobiography is to be struck by just how unlikely it was for two boys from Scotland to become tennis champions. Does it still seem like that to you?
It hits me when I go back to the tennis courts at Dunblane and I see the little kids on the courts. We were just a regular family in a small town in a country that doesn’t do tennis – only 1% of the population plays. Scotland had no track record of any success at tennis whatsoever.

In your own playing career there were a few might-have-beens; you missed out on a scholarship at a US college, and then the British team by a couple of places. Did you feel there was unfinished business?
No. I hoped to be a tennis player of course, but I had in my mind that no one really does that in Scotland. It was more my own little dream. But when I started coaching kids I thought, “Well, why shouldn’t we be able to do what other countries can do?” I started building little squads of juniors, and it grew from there. I was very much having to set things up for myself and that freedom allowed me to create it as a small community, which is how coaching works best. Systems don’t produce players, people produce them.

Jamie was No 3 in the world for his age at 14, then gave up the sport for a while after a disastrous time away from home with the Lawn Tennis Association in Cambridge. With Andy, it seems you were determined those mistakes wouldn’t happen again. It sounds very much like you guys against the world…
Andy had the benefit of Jamie being a little bit older, a little bit better and doing everything before him. Jamie was so miserable when he went away that initially Andy wouldn’t go to Spain to be coached in his teens. It was actually a game of racketball he played with Rafael Nadal at a tournament that finally persuaded him to go. We owe Rafa a lot!

What is it with tennis parents? Why do we focus on them? It is not as though the cameras cut to Mrs Ronaldo when Cristiano misses an open goal…
There are a few reasons. First, it’s an individual sport and so the onus is more on a parent to make it happen when the child is young. Then on TV there is always the 90 seconds at the changeovers to fill. The cameras find you whether you like it or not.

You mention Andy having a “witching hour” as a young boy, before bedtime. Was that a time to avoid him?
God, yes. You could hear him up in his room attacking pillows and jumping off the top bunk. He just was very noisy and wild for about half an hour or so each evening, between about half seven to half eight. He had to let off steam. We kept out of his way.

Those early days were tough in terms of finding money to get coaches and so on. Did you ever think it wasn’t worth it?
It was very tough. I have always really hated owing money. I never had a credit card. But we had to borrow a lot of money to make this happen for both of them. You don’t know if you will be able to pay it back. There were a lot of sleepless nights.

You have felt over the years it has not been appropriate to talk too much about the tragedy at Dunblane. But, one question: how much were you concerned that being in the school when it happened would have a lasting effect on the boys?
Andy was almost nine and Jamie had just turned 10. They both had gone to the boys’ clubs that [the gunman] Thomas Hamilton ran, so they knew who he was, obviously. But I’m grateful that they were just too young really to take on the enormity of it. They don’t remember very much about that day. The thing that really struck me when I picked them up from school, after waiting for hours and hours with the other mums, was that when I got them in the car they had no idea what had happened. All they knew was that there had been a man in the school with a gun. The teachers had managed to keep them occupied and safe. How they had managed to do that I’ll never know. They were incredible.

It must have felt a blessing to later give the town a positive association…
Yes. The town is so incredibly supportive and proud of what the boys have achieved, and I hope that when people think of Dunblane it now has some of those associations. Nobody in the town will ever forget what happened, of course. I think afterwards we all had the feeling that you really never knew what was around the corner and you had to make the most of every moment. I hope that is what we have managed to do.

On a personal level you found it very hard to be in the public eye to begin with…
Yes. I was portrayed from the start as some uber-competitive mad woman and pushy parent. I used to read pretty much everything that was written about me and try to sell myself the idea that these people had never met me. But in the pictures they printed I would always be baring my teeth and pumping my fist. I would have thought the same: “Look at that awful woman.” I think there were some sections of the media that thought there was something wrong with competitive women, and they homed in on me.

Judy Murray on Strictly Come Dancing

You seem more relaxed now…
I think Andy winning Wimbledon gave me a bit of a voice to talk about the journey we had been on. It was almost like he had to win Wimbledon before I could speak. I even found the confidence to do something like Strictly Come Dancing, which I would never have dreamed of being able to do.

Both boys have had amazing careers – three grand slam titles each, Olympic gold medals, the Davis Cup. Does it mean that you can simply enjoy watching from now on?
Not really! It is still very stressful. Andy has had the experience of watching Jamie in big matches now, so he appreciates a bit more of what it feels like. I have done it for 20 years. I am amazed I have managed to survive to be honest.

Judy Murray’s Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story is published by Chatto & Windus (£18.99). To order a copy for £16.14 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Tim Adams

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