AT LAST, someone my kids know. The breakfast-table ritual of “Who are you interviewing today, Dad?” has unfailingly prompted blank looks and a quick return to memorising the back of the Rice Krispies box when I’ve mentioned the name of a craggy old football legend or some equally ancient rugby great, ears rearranged by Picasso. But not this time.
“Strictly!” squeals Daughter No 1. “Dah-dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah!” trills Daughter No 2. “No,” groans my son, the tennis tyke, blazing backhand developing nicely, “Andy Murray’s mum.” They’re all correct: it’s Judy, or as men of a certain age would have it, impersonating Tony Curtis, impersonating Cary Grant in Some Like it Hot: “Judy-Judy-Judy.” And an hour later, in the gym hall at Leith Academy, here she is: black tracksuit, bucket of racquets, being introduced to 40-odd mites in pumps. “Now, who’s seen this lady on the telly?” Every hand shoots up, bar one, but the lad is still very familiar with the guest instructor for Friday morning PE: “I seen you at a Hibs game.”
Yes, everyone knows Judy, and all the more so after her performance of immense pluck and supreme clodhopping on Strictly Come Dancing. It’s been seven months since she was booted off the show but the afterglow of her hugely endearing turns every Saturday – her gameness, grace and good humour in the face of mild ridicule from the judges – still lingers.
Loving the programme previously as a viewer but being rather ignorant of its power, she’s been able to use the exposure to good effect. On days like today, when she’s aboard the Tennis on the Road battlebus, the recognition is there. The programme has also been a calling card for those days when she’s trying to encourage more girls into sport. And Wimbledon’s reaction to Murray, 55, later this month is going to be interesting. It took a while for the traditional – and tradition-loving – tennis set to fall for Andy’s dour charms but it got there in the end. Winning the championship obviously helped and for Judy you imagine that, as she moves around the courts, taking in Andy and big brother Jamie’s matches and checking on her girls as the Fed Cup captain, middle-class Middle England is going to want to compliment her on her heroically rubbish dancing and will probably end up taking Mum to their little debentured hearts as well, having previously been ridiculously irked by her first-pumping support of her boys. Honestly, you’d think Strictly was all part of a cunning PR strategy but it wasn’t. “I just did the show because I thought it would be fun,” she says.
Something that wasn’t supposed to be part of the strategy today was talking about Andy. Murray’s media advisors wanted the chat to be centered on her great tennis crusade. All very laudable and we’ll give it coverage, but couldn’t we get a wee assessment of her laddie’s chances? In the end, Murray is only too happy to deviate from the script, starting with his recent charge at the French Open, before being halted by the rain and a certain imperishable Serbian.
“Andy’s always played well on clay, having trained on it as a youth in Barcelona,” says Murray, sipping a bottle of water during a session-break in the headmaster’s office. “With that great engine of his, he’s always had good endurance for it. But his back issues these past four years have meant that clay has presented more of a challenge with the higher bouncing ball and its slower pace requiring more power. With these problems now resolved, he’s been getting the best out of himself. The work he’d done close-season with [coach] Amelie [Mauresmo] was evident in Paris. He was playing with more flair and creativity again, just like he always used to.”
Okay, Judy, but Djokovic beat him again. How – legally, because those purple-and-green blazers of Wimbledon are such sticklers for the rulebook – can we get rid of Novak the Nemesis? “Well, he’s the nut everyone’s trying to crack and he’s in incredible form as usual. He’s very tough to break down because he gives you nothing. He’s just the most amazing athlete and so difficult to put away because even when the court’s wide open he’s so fast and his anticipation is so good.
“But Andy’s done it before and we’re coming on to grass again. He enjoys the surface whereas a lot of the top players aren’t that comfortable on it and he’ll have home advantage. But that atmosphere can throw up the possibility of a guy with a big serve, who’s got nothing to lose because he’s not going to win the tournament, coming out all guns blazing and causing an upset.”
Yes, yes, Judy, never mind the natural inheritors to Roscoe Tanner who famously hailed from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee – can your laddie win his second Wimbledon title? I mean, does he look in the mood? “Well, I’ve hardly seen him, which is normal, but I sense he is – he’s very chilled and relaxed.” Murray can trace this emotional calm back to her son’s April wedding to long-time girlfriend Kim Sears in the family’s native Dunblane – and certainly the 2013 champion was very keen to let the world know about his general well-being by scribbling “Marriage works!” on the lenses of courtside cameras. “Since he got married he just seems to have found a really good place to be.” No worries about domestic bliss taking the edge off his game? “Not at all. In all my experience of working with players, men and women, the more emotionally stable they are the better they perform. If they’ve got stuff going on in the background, gnawing away, it probably won’t happen for them. I know that well enough.”
All her years in tennis now amount to 25, an anniversary of sorts, but Murray isn’t standing still long enough for a celebration or indeed much else. For one thing, she doesn’t feel she’s achieved anything – at least not the big thing she wants to leave behind: a lasting legacy of that still-scarcely-believable interlude at the beginning of a century when Scotland, a country of heavily-cratered tennis courts, signs warning “No ball games” and much general drookitness, produced Andrew Barron Murray and Jamie Robert Murray, two Wimbledon champs from the same set of bunk-beds.
Tennis on the Road is an effort towards that legacy, following on from the Set4Sport initiative of three years ago, the last time I met Murray, when she was encouraging parents of over – or indeed under – active children to channel their inner Blue Peter to turn biscuit-tin lids into racquets and stack cereal boxes to hold up the net if there wasn’t much money around – or sunlight. This time it’s a proper crusade – “We want to tennis-ify Scotland” – involving maps and miles and an actual bus. You half-expect Murray to be hanging out the driver-seat window and shouting through a loudhailer: “Bring me your proteges, the next Andy and Jamie Murrays.”
Not quite, not yet anyway, but she does have this challenge for towns on her itinerary: “Show me where your municipal tennis courts used to be.” She explains: “Scotland lost a lot of its public-park courts 20 years ago when they weren’t being used. They became skate-parks and car parks or houses and supermarkets got built on them. Then, suddenly, this great tennis buzz happened and we were going: ‘What did we do with our courts? They were around here somewhere … ’ It’s such a shame.
“Tennis on the Road started last October, backed by the Royal Bank of Scotland who’ve always been great supporters of Andy and Jamie, and so far we’ve been as far north as Stornoway and as far south of Dumfries. We’re targeting places where tennis doesn’t exist, or did exist once, and trying to revive it. Cumbernauld used to have courts, but they fell derelict. We’ve successfully lobbied North Lanarkshire Council and three new ones will, hopefully, open before the summer ends. We’ve also managed to help resurrect some old courts in one of the Dundee parks.”
So what do Andy and Jamie think of their mother operating out of a bus as she trains the trainers – school-teachers, volunteers, parents and senior pupils – to instruct five-year-olds in the absolute basics of the sport she loves? “Well, they’ve always known me as a bus-driver, ferrying them when they were wee to tournaments in England along with their pals. They do say: ‘Mum, you work too hard. You don’t have to do all this.’ But I think I do. As someone who grew up in Scottish tennis when it was such a minority sport, when you could hardly get a single result into the newspapers because no one was interested, it’s so frustrating that we aren’t capitalising on what the boys have achieved. I’m frustrated by that but it doesn’t seem right to sit back and criticise others. If you want something done, do it yourself. It’s important for me that my sons know I’m still working hard.”
Public money is tight right now, of course, but Murray argues that Scotland has had austerity tennis for long enough. “I believe that public-park tennis should be free. There are great courts at the Meadows in Edinburgh, but an £8 charge at certain times of the day is a lot of money for a family. We don’t charge for the swings or feeding the ducks and they need upkeep like the courts.”
The dream in such a rain-lashed land is indoor courts. Is it true that only two have opened in Scotland since Andy’s golden day on 7 July, 2013? “It’s actually only two since he broke into the top five seven years ago. They’re at a private club at Bridge of Weir. A few months ago four opened at Gleneagles Hotel and I understand all but one of them will be pay and play.”
More would be provided at the tennis centre she wants to create at Park of Keir but this is greenbelt land between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan and there have been 200 objections. Local residents don’t want new houses on the land but Murray says some will be needed to fund the development, so the tennis facilities remain debt-free. “This is not a commercial opportunity for our family; we want to ensure the sport is affordable to the local community. I also want a base for my work. I’m 55 now – I can’t go on for ever.”
She can’t remain on that bus indefinitely but after just half an hour in Murray’s company – any more would rob the potential stars of tomorrow of quality-time with her – you might think otherwise. She wants to talk some more about the Strictly experience, the fun of it, the friendships she made in the unlikeliest and most frivolous-sounding of realms, and how it changed her view on how she presents herself to the world.
“I’ve never been able to dance and still can’t. My life has been saturated in sport, especially tennis, so I wasn’t a disco-nightclub-party person. I wasn’t interested in clothes and how you see me today – tracksuit, trainers – was how I always was. I’m still like that when I’m working, but on the show I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed dressing up. Before, I got invited to lots of functions. They weren’t my thing at all. If Andy was being presented with an award I’d force myself to go; otherwise I didn’t. I didn’t want to get dressed up, didn’t have anything to wear anyway, and knew I’d feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers. But Strictly has made me feel more confident about being in those situations. I enjoy them now. I like wearing dresses now. Who’d have thought it, eh?”
Maybe not Andy and Jamie who told her after one edition tripping the light fantastic that she looked absolutely gorgeous. “Strictly was me doing something for me after so long minding tennis kids, including my own. When the boys said that I cried. They’d never said anything like it before in their lives!”
Now Murray is laughing. She’s thinking back to how the boys got more and more into the show, the longer the viewers kept saving her in defiance of the judges. “At the start Jamie posted a photo on Twitter of him hiding behind his sofa, dreading seeing me dance. But before long he was telling me: ‘Mum, you’re doing the pasodoble next week. There’s film on YouTube showing the steps which you’ve just got to watch!’ Andy couldn’t make it down to any of the recordings because he was playing so much. Six hours sat in a seat wouldn’t have done his back any good and anyway he has to be careful at things like that because he can get mobbed. But he went from texting me ‘No Centre Court tonight, Mum – it’s No 18 for you again’ to getting really upset at the judges’ comments. I had to tell him not to worry, that it was part of the show, that they needed a klutz who turned out to be me.”
She’s invited her Strictly dance partner, Anton Du Beke, to watch Wimbledon’s middle Saturday with her from the posh seats when, who knows, maybe they’ll be joined by two of her son’s most famous fans, those Scottish knights of field of dreams and silver screens, Alex Ferguson and Sean Connery.
Unforgettably, this rascally duo persuaded Judy they should gatecrash Andy’s media conference when he was en route to his first major, the 2012 US Open. “The three of us were in hospitality when Alex said, ‘Och, let’s go and see him.’ When we got to the door of the pressroom I told them we’d have to wait outside until it was finished, but Sean said, ‘Och, come on, let’s go in.’ Some of the British journalists told me later it was the first time they’d ever seen Alex smile while they were on duty. Unfortunately Andy said to me: ‘I can smell wine on you.’ Not the sort of thing a mother wants broadcast! He doesn’t drink, and neither do I usually. I just pointed to Alex and said: ‘He made me!’”
So: two Grand Slam titles. Andy Murray is already the greatest Scottish sportsman there’s ever been – he should be happy, right? “He is happy with what he’s done but he’s not finished yet,” says his irrepressible mum. “He needs to win another major because he wants to win another major – more than one more, in fact. He’s never satisfied; he’s always striving to get even better. I couldn’t tell you how hard he works. It blows me away when I see him at a big tournament, all the training, the matches, the physio and gym stuff, media, sponsorship obligations – then on to scouting the next opponents. It never stops.”
Not until he’s got that cup in his hands again, anyway. Go Andy, go Judy, go battlebus.