Today the US Open will break new ground. Today, the men’s fourth round will feature the tactical nous of Judy Murray taking on the technical might of Klaudiya Istomin. And that has not happened before.
Today, Andy Murray, the product of his mother’s early coaching and her inspired management of his early career, will continue the defence of his title against Denis Istomin, the only man on tour to be coached by his mother. Both of them are strapping big blokes but both of them know that in matters of tennis, mum knows best.
It has been a long time since Judy coached her younger son but her influence is still plain to see. With her slight frame, Judy never had any major weapons with which to bludgeon the opposition during her playing days; instead, she had to outwit her rivals and she passed on that astute reading of the game to her two sons. Before he became one of the fittest and strongest men on tour, Andy used brain rather than brawn to win his matches and now that he has 185lbs of solid muscle to back up that tactical approach, he is a multiple grand slam champion.
“Basically my mum coached me and my brother until 11, 12 years old,” Murray said. “Then I worked with Leon Smith for a long time. But my mum still helped. Probably up until I was about 17 or 18, she always took an interest in who I was working with and what I was working on because she understands tennis and she’s a coach herself.
“She was never hands-on after I was 12, but she was always in the background. She would always speak to my coaches and make sure I was doing the right things.”
With that sort of background, Murray is not surprised by Istomin’s choice of coach. Born in Russia but now living in Uzbekistan, the world No 65 has always travelled with his mum and even if it leads to some practical problems – Klaudiya is not allowed into the men’s locker room, for example – the arrangement suits them both.
“We have a good relationship and we understand each other very well – she knows me since I was born!” Istomin said. “She gives me good words to improve my tennis, my life, everything. I’m happy to be coached by my mum. When I started playing, she started to coach with me. She was playing in national tournaments. She knows better tennis than me, for sure.
“Sometimes I say, ‘I can’t feel the ball like you say.’ She says: ‘Do it like this and you will be OK. Just listen to me.’ She’s normally right. I try to fight but in the end I give in.”
Since he teamed up with Ivan Lendl, Murray’s career has taken off. The wise old mentor, the winner of eight major trophies, has shown the Scot how to win on the biggest stages but, even so, Murray still listens to his mum. And, if the moment were right, he would not discount employing her as his full-time coach. Judy knows what she is talking about and Andy is always prepared to take note.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Murray said. “Maybe when I start to come to the end of my career, it might be something that would be nice to do. I know that tactically she’s very good. She scouts a lot of matches and likes to watch videos of other players. My mum’s never played in a grand slam final, but she’s sat through them. Having your son playing in a grand slam final, she would understand the sort of nerves and the pressure that he’s feeling. It’s probably more for me on the court, but she would understand that. But because she hasn’t played, that’s tough to give advice on the mental aspect.
“But in terms of tactics, it basically depends how much someone cares, if they really want to go into the tactics, look at videos, get stats. And she enjoys that part of it. So there’s no reason why she couldn’t help or give tactics in a match.”
Today, though, it will Lendl in the chair, giving advice and laying out the game plan. Even if Murray has not hit top gear yet in these championships, he ought to have more than enough fire power to deal with the Uzbek – Istomin certainly thinks so. He almost let slip a two-set lead against Andreas Seppi on Sunday and knows that he will have to be at the very peak of his game if he is to beat the world No 3.
“Everybody knows Andy,” Istomin said. “He’s a great personality and a great player so it’s going to be tough for me to play against him. He’s a great returner. He returns almost everything. The key is my serve. I will try to serve better than usual. He is moving on the court incredible but I will try to move him more and try to beat him.
“Even if he has trouble, he is still playing really well. I will have to play much better than I did against Seppi to have a chance to win.”
As their two boys do battle today, Judy and Klaudiya will play every shot with them and will fret over every missed opportunity – it is what mums do – but the sensible money is on Judy walking away with the win. The US Open has never been like this before.