The road to stardom for Andy Murray and his brother Jamie started with the games they played at home as children. As their mother Judy launches Set4Sport, Aidan Smith gets a glimpse of her own sons’ fierce but friendly rivalry
ON MY way to meet Andy Murray, my taxi driver is keen to offer his expert advice to our top sportsman and I think you can guess what it might be. “Tell him to get a bloody haircut,” says the cabbie. “He seems to play better when it’s nice and short.”
Honestly, the whole world has gone casual. We’re a long way from SW19, from upper middle-class England. And yet we expect Murray to be as starched and smoothed-down as Fred Perry once was – even here in Edinburgh. You could blame Downton Abbey – the TV show has re-introduced deference and taught a new generation the correct way to address a duke, on a Tuesday – but you suspect that even looters and rioters want to be able to say of tennis players: “Yes, his mammy’s turned him out awfie nice.” A funny old game, for sure.
The man himself, I’m pleased to report, is deferring to no-one. In the august surroundings of the National Museum of Scotland, he’s dressed in shades of screaming orange and electric blue. He scuffs his big tangerine trainers along the carpet. He slouches in his chair. He’s got a bedhead that would defy any attempts by his mammy, Judy, to make presentable with the flick of a licked palm. In short, he looks exactly as you’re entitled to look if you’ve just gone five sets and five hours with Novak Djokovic and, as the man from Radio 5 Live suggests, you’ve taken a few days to contemplate your heroics while “dossing on an Australian beach”.
As Murray searches for the elusive final ingredient, the thing which will turn him into an immortal, two key components in his story to date are with him: Judy and big brother Jamie. All over the museum there are posters for a future attraction, the Egyptology show Fascinating Mummies. I’m sure it’ll be great but I’m more interested in this fascinating mummy and her fascinating sons, here to reveal their make-do-and-mend sporting beginnings, and to encourage the Kenny Dalglishes and Allan Wellses of tomorrow and of course the future Murrays too. Before they meet their sell-out audience, The Scotsman gets exclusive access.
Alongside Andy who’s jetted in from the Oz Open, his first with new coach Ivan Lendl, Jamie has come from the Sud de France tournament in Montpellier while Judy was in Israel in her new role as captain of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team. The three aren’t in the same country, never mind the same room, very often with Andy having missed the last three Christmases to ready himself in Florida for the Australian. So Judy must love it when she gets her boys back and she mentions a “dropped rubber” in Tel Aviv and Andy cracks a rude joke. It’s what families are all about.
He’s a funny mixture, is the world’s No 4. All that experience of 140 press conferences per year and all those serious, grown-up questions about super-pressurised gladiatoral sport are of little use when there’s an opportunity for some fnar-fnar teenage humour. Actually, if I was asked 140 times a year when I was going to win a major, I’d come on like Kevin the Teenager as well. We shouldn’t forget that Murray is still only 24, that because of tennis hothousing he never had a normal teenagehood. Still, you can’t imagine Tim Henman ever exploited the potential of the “rubber”.
Both Andy and Jamie give the impression of being complete – and completely annoying – sporting all-rounders. Andy’s keepy-uppy skills during practice hint at this, and encountering such fine physical specimens in the flesh for the first time – the museum illustrates the appearance of stooping, prehistoric man and these two show how far how species has come – I’m assuming no sport is beyond them.
“Well,” says Andy, “we’ve tried most things and apart from tennis we still play football and some decent golf. Then there’s go-karting; I was big into that for a while.”
Jamie: “That’s not a proper sport.”
Andy: “Neither’s pool.”
Jamie: “Okay, darts then. You know it’s Mum’s secret favourite.”
“But you might be surprised at what we can’t do,” continues Andy, and at this Judy is all ears. “I’d love to be able to do gymnastics but I can’t,” says Jamie. He’s 6ft 4in, one inch taller than Andy and 15 months the senior, so you imagine height is the problem here. Then Andy says: “I can’t swim.” Judy looks astonished, Jamie is sniggering. “I mean, I can just about stay afloat but this is what my body’s like in the water.” He makes an upside down L with his arms. “A lot of my weight is in my legs and there’s hardly any fat on them so they sink right down. That’s how I swim, or try to swim. Bit like a seahorse.” Now Jamie is L-shaped with laughter.
The Murray boys lived for sport when they were growing up in Dunblane. Their maternal grandfather, Roy Erskine, played football for Stirling Albion and Cowdenbeath, but it was his brief spell at Hibernian that turned Andy and Jamie into Hibs fans and the ties still bind. Andy: “We don’t get to see the Hibees anymore because we’re always travelling and there’s zero chance of one of their games being shown on TV in, say, Shanghai, which is a shame.” Jamie: “But we’re still big fans. My uncle gave me a book about [Easter Road legend] Franck Sauzee for Christmas and I’ve just started reading it.”
At school Andy admits he spent a lot of time waiting for the next PE session. “I can’t remember much about what I was supposed to be learning.” Presumably, then, both he and Jamie must have hated when rotten weather kept them indoors and the gym teacher would say: “Right class, today it’s Scottish Country Dancing.”
“Too right,” says Jamie. “We usually got off PE to play tennis – you always had to do the dancing.”
Andy: “Do you remember how no-one would touch the girls? All the boys would be stuck in a corner or clinging onto the wall-bars.” They’ve got over their aversion to girls. Jamie has a Colombian wife, Alejandra, and Andy lives with his girlfriend, Kim Sears.
So can they still do the St Bernard’s Waltz? “You should see my breakdancing,” quips Andy. Since we’re getting on so well, I decide to bring up Napoleon Dynamite, the cult movie about a tall, curly-headed small-town geek who trumps the school bullies with a display of gloriously insane body-popping. The Team Murray PR knows where I’m going with this and is already laughing. “Napoleon looks a bit like you,” I tell Andy. He doesn’t know the film but the PR quickly finds a clip on a smartphone. “Cheers,” he deadpans.
A crucial part of the Murrays’ sporting development happened at home and Judy – and the boys’ father Willie, even though their parents would divorce later – were effectively training them for centre-court stardom from the ages of three and four. Impromptu games – ball games, balancing games, running games – were organised using cushions, cereal boxes and sponge balls. As well as chipping paintwork and breaking the odd window, the brothers burned off energy and developed skills and now the games have inspired Judy’s Set4Sport initiatve.
Almost right from the start, they were keenly contested. “Both boys were very competitive but especially Andy,” says Judy. “Jamie was doing everything before him and, when they were growing up, everything slightly better and that made him so determined.” She remembers when the tables turned. “That was very, very tough for Jamie and pretty hard for me as well because most of the time I wanted Jamie to win because it mean a quieter life.
“I was driving a minibus back from a tournament in Solihull in the Midlands, 16 kids in the back, and Andy has just beaten Jamie to win I think the under-11s final and he was goading him. Jamie turned round and thumped him on his hand which was resting on a seat.
“It was bleeding badly and I had to stop the bus because he needed a tetanus shot. Andy ended up losing a nail and it’s never grown back properly – a little reminder not to get too uppity.”
The pair are smiling at this and they recall that cheap-and-cheerful DIY fun with great fondness. “My favourite thing was when we wrestled,” says Andy. “We used to fling our mattresses onto the bedroom floor and begin the bouts with a leap off the top bunk. Because Jamie was bigger than me and more intelligent, he used to pin me down for a quick count. We made winner’s belts out of cardboard – world champion, continental, loads of them. The only one he ever let me wear was the women’s belt.”
With their proud mum looking on, this has been but a small insight into the special dynamic of these brothers, rivals and friends. Jamie now has a grand slam title to his name, the mixed doubles from Wimbledon 2007, and just as Andy was overcome with emotion in the commentary box that day, no-one would be happier if little brother was to claim one of his own.
As I leave them, Andy is being competitive to the last, this time about pop music and his new favourite warm-up act on the headphones, Ed Sheeran (“Never heard of him, eh? He’s amazing”). Just time for one more question, and it’s the obvious one: what’s going to happen first, Hibs winning the Scottish Cup or him finally winning a major?
“The latter, I think, and definitely this year.”