DCSIMG

Interview: Colin Fleming

HE WAS at the wedding of close friend Jamie Murray on Thursday, but as far as Colin Fleming's professional ambitions are concerned the match made in heaven proved to be his own pairing with Jocelyn Rae earlier this Autumn.

They had barely met before combining in Delhi to win Scotland's third gold medal of the Commonwealth Games, although he will be spending a lot more time with the elder Murray as well in the near future.

There is no need for Alejandra Gutierrez, who married Jamie in Perthshire in a joint Scottish-Columbian ceremony, to fret. But, providing plenty of scope for writers to wring out the marriage theme, Fleming has just gone through a divorce that leaves him free to pursue other relationships. The Scot split from Ken Skupski, his doubles partner since last October, earlier this month, and will play with Murray in the last two tournaments of the year, in Bratislava and Helsinki. Before that he has a date with Ross Hutchins in Kazakhstan, with whom Fleming has already agreed to begin next year as steady partners.

That the break-up with Skupski occurred in the beautiful, romantic city of St Petersburg made it all the more regretable, although the decision was arrived at the previous week in Moscow. The couple could reflect on some good times. They won four consecutive titles on the Challenger and Futures circuit and defeated Bob and Mike Bryan, the most successful doubles partnership in the world, at Queen's Club. But a rot had set in, and perhaps Fleming was moved to consider a fresh arrangement after his success with Rae, who he took up arms with in Delhi with immediate results.

"It's like a dating game," smiles Fleming, when reflecting on the 'big talk' he had with Skupski, a Liverpudlian "You are sitting there going 'it's me, it's not you'.

"We agreed to go our separate ways in Moscow," he continues. "It was sad in terms of us being friends - and we will remain friends. We won two ATPS and played Davis Cup for Britain and also played Grand Slams together. But this year has not really met with our expectations. Perhaps we have got a bit stale and lost the belief that we can get to the top of the game, so we have decided to freshen things up.

"We didn't fall out on the court or anything. It was a shame to finish on that note I suppose, but you have to move on."

That note was a defeat in the first round of the St Petersburg Open, something which was particularly wounding given that the pair were defending the title. It means Fleming's ranking has dropped into the 90s when it was in the 60s at the start of the year. But 2010 could hardly be termed a write-off.It's barely a fortnight since he mounted a podium in Delhi with a gold medal draped around his neck. It might not have counted toward ranking points or helped on the earnings front, but it meant a great deal to a self-described patriot.

It has also helped raise his profile in his own country. While the achievement has not changed his life in the way Chris Hoy found after multiple golds at the last Olympics, Fleming's fame certainly now extends beyond the boundaries of Linlithgow, where he was born and brought up within walking distance of the local tennis club. He jokes that it even stretches as far as Broxburn, where his girlfriend Gemma teaches at the local primary school and where he was recently asked to attend a question and answers session with a difference.

"They did a video conference type-thing which they are starting to bring in to the schools, so potentially there were about 72 schools in West Lothian looking in, and I was sitting in front of this camera. They asked me all kinds of questions, ranging from 'how many medals do you have?' to 'do you have children?' I don't know how that one was relevant."

The answers are one - in tennis, he told them, you usually play for trophies - and no. But he relished the chance to reminisce about Delhi, and the unlikely success story with Rae. The pair swatted aide all-comers, including clouds of mosquitos and crickets in an arena which was as far from Wimbledon as it is possible to be.

"I didn't even know we were playing together until I got there," he says now. "We had zero expectations. We knew we could do well but we had a tough draw and actually got killed in our first set. I think Jocelyn was quite nervous and I was unsure how things would play out.

"Mixed doubles is such a unique event - it's only in the grand slams, the Commomwealths and Olympics - so Wimbledon is the only other time I have really played it. It's really about having fun. It's silly to have expectations in an event you don't play very often. Louis (Cayer], my coach, always says that the two golden rules of mixed doubles is for the guy to be aggressive and for the girl to be happy."

It was on the stroke of midnight local time when Fleming's partner, the 19-year-old Rae, fired a forehand down the line to claim Scotland's third gold of the games and defeat the No 1 seeds, Australians Anastasia Rodionova and Paul Hanley, in three sets.

"Having the chance to belt out Flower of Scotland was great, and maybe the only chance I will get as a tennis player," Fleming recalls.

This doesn't reflect a lack of ambition on his part, even though the obvious reaction is to note that the next Commonwealth Games are in Glasgow in 2014. Surely Fleming is being too hard on himself since he will have a fair chance to defend his title, either with Rae or someone else.He will be only 30 then, and he has already talked long and hard about the extended shelf-life of a male tennis player, particularly on the doubles circuit he will be focusing on in the next few years.

"I think the breakthrough in sports science means people can play longer," he says. Also, because of the demands of the game nowadays, it takes a much more mature player mentally and physically to get to the top. Certainly the doubles guys at the top are between 35 and 40. I am 26. Another ten years? Why not?"

But his peak years won't include an appearance in Glasgow for the simple, if bewildering, reason that tennis is very unlikely to feature at the next games.

"My understanding is that it is a political decision in terms of winning the bid," he explains. "There are core sports and then there are sports you put in to give yourself more chance of getting votes. I think tennis was in the balance and they went for other events which would definitely bring in votes from other nations. It's a real shame, especially now we have won a gold in Delhi. Look at the tennis players in Scotland we have now, we'd have a great chance of medals come Glasgow.

"I think tennis is one of quite a few sports trying to get in, but my understanding is that a sport would have to pull out for tennis to have a chance of taking its place," he adds. "I can't imagine many sports wanting to pull out. Unfortunately, I don't think it is going to happen."

But it's "back to the day job now", says Fleming, as he prepares to hit the road tomorrow, bound for Astana. The few days' growth of stubble on his chin points to a man who is comfortable with the life of a rover but as well as meaning he could attend the elder Murray's nuptials, the brief stop-off in Scotland this week has allowed the 26 year-old to collect his thoughts towards the end of an emotional, see-sawing year.

It isn't all about tennis society weddings and standing on podiums. With his lustily sung Flower of Scotland still echoing around the RK Khanna stadium in Delhi, Fleming was back on a plane to Scotland and the indoor courts at Stirling University, from where he is hoping to re-launch his career on the doubles circuit.

"My priority would have to be doubles," he says. "That's where I have been able to make a living." He does, though, have something to fall back on having completed a degree in economics and finance at Stirling in 2007. He began the course in 2001 but his progress was interrupted by a two-year break to play full-time tennis. While it was a productive taster of what to expect, he does not consider himself to have turned properly professional until the summer of 2008, when he was 24. Rather than making up for lost time, he believes he is only now beginning to get into his stride, and with a degree "in the bag" he can focus on his tennis ambitions.A Commonwealth Games gold is an impressive achievement to have on a CV which he hopes will include a Grand Slam winning entry before long, such as Jamie Murray's has. But for now he is enjoying the adulation which his latest success has brought him. The invitations keep coming, including one asking him to parade his medal on the pitch of the football club he supports, an inheritance - or possibly affliction - passed down from his father.

Like Fleming, who has pitted his wits against both Murray brothers on tennis courts across central Scotland since childhood, Partick Thistle have spent a life-time hoping to emerge from twin shadows.

It might be Fleming's time, if not that of his favourite football team.

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page

 

EDINBURGH
FESTIVALS
2014

#WOWFEST

In partnership with

Complete coverage of the festivals. Guides. Reviews. Listings. Offers

Let's Go!

No Thanks