JUDY Murray yesterday paid tribute to Elena Baltacha by describing her as “one in a million” and “an absolute gem”.
Following a minute’s silence observed by all competing players at the Madrid Open on Monday, the tennis world is continuing to mourn someone known to all as ‘Bally’. Murray was particularly close to the Perth-raised Baltacha, who lost her life to liver cancer at the weekend aged only 30.
The mother of Wimbledon champion Andy helped mentor Baltacha and is captain of the GB Federation Cup team, for whom Baltacha played with distinction for 12 consecutive seasons between 2002 and 2012. Murray is also patron of the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis and visited her in hospital shortly after she was diagnosed in January. Murray expressed her sorrow for Baltacha’s family, including husband Nino Severino.
“I don’t have the words to say what an incredible person Bally was, how loved she was or what an inspiration she will continue to be to everyone who met her,” said Murray. “This is an awful loss for tennis, for all of us who knew and loved her but most of all for Nino and her family.
“My thoughts are, of course, with them. She was one in a million. An absolute gem.”
Murray issued a statement yesterday before honouring her commitments to a youth development programme run by tennis gear firm Head at Roehampton. While clearly struggling to come to terms with the news about Baltacha, she was keen to avoid disappointing around a dozen potential young tennis stars and their parents.
As with Baltacha, who retired with the ambition of developing young players via her academy, helping the new generation is a priority for Murray. She is particularly keen to see the success achieved by sons Andy and Jamie, who together with John Peers last weekend lifted a fourth doubles title in just over a year in Munich, act as a springboard for others. Another aim of yesterday was to pass on knowledge she has acquired as a parent to a young tennis star.
These tips include how to pick the right coach, something Andy is of course in the process of doing following the end of his working relationship with Ivan Lendl earlier this year. There have been reports linking Murray with John McEnroe, who said last week that he would be tempted to try coaching should the right offer come along. Andy himself said he would consider working with McEnroe – “every player would consider someone with his credentials,” he said.
His mother’s advice is not to rush into a decision and although he returns to defend his Wimbledon crown as soon as next month, she is sure he won’t be pressurised into making a decision that does not feel right for him. Before appointing someone he must decide whether he wants to employ a coach on a near full-time basis – a commitment that McEnroe, who is in demand as a television analyst, may struggle to fulfil.
“The most important thing is that Andy finds someone to do the things he requires in order to add to his game or improve it, and he has taken a good few weeks to think about what type of person he needs and what type of input he needs,” Judy Murray told The Scotsman yesterday.
“He has been around for quite a long time now and has a good support group – if he needs someone for 25 to 30 weeks of the year, if that is what he feels, it is not easy to find one of these top guys who can commit that kind of time. But if he wants someone to change his grip on his volley then you need someone who has a technical teaching background as well as an understanding at the top end of the game.
“I am sure he has it sussed,” she continued. “He needs someone who thinks like him on the court, and is creative and so forth. It is not easy finding the right one, and that is exactly what I will be telling the parents – it is not easy to find the right coach for your child’s game style and personality. You need a fit on a lot of different levels. It is not an easy thing. You don’t have to rush, better to wait and get it right. And I am sure he will not rush.”
Murray recalled feeling quite isolated in Scotland as she sought to obtain the best advice when helping Andy and Jamie make their way in the game. “I know how much I would have liked that if there was someone who could have helped me to prepare for what might be ahead,” she said.
Murray recalled being forced to travel to see Ian Barclay, who worked for the LTA at Bisham Abbey. He coached Pat Cash when he won his Wimbledon title in 1987 and provided invaluable insight. “I used to take kids – not just Jamie and Andy because we had some other very good kids at under 12 level at the time – and take them there and spend a couple of days there and then bring them back and do what he suggested.
“He left and went back to Australia when they boys were 12 or 13 which was devastating for me. There are lots of things you need to learn – dealing with media, equipment and of course how to pick the right coach, because you do not necessarily know who the right coaches are.”
Murray, who was joined by Head-sponsored coaches from around the country yesterday, was clearly relishing working with the children in a programme Andy also took part in when he was eight years old, before leaving to develop his game further in Barcelona.
“For me it is an opportunity to share how I work on court, and I work a lot about feeling the game, and understanding the game, and playing the game rather than how to hit the ball and being robotic.
“The parents can make great decisions if they get it right but they can also make horrendous mistakes – it is to try and help them and, more probably, to help them stop making those mistakes.”