Exclusive: Judy Murray fears for her tennis legacy

There is a soporific calm in the drawing room of the Cromlix Hotel near Dunblane. The wood panelling and heavy drapes keep the morning sun at bay and the only sound is the snap and crackle of logs on the fire. Then in bounces Judy Murray with a snap and crackle of her own and it's as if there's been a power surge. This is Murray as I have always envisaged her: a pixie-faced dynamo, commanding yet congenial, focused yet unguarded; and capable of taking on all-comers.

Judy Murray at Cromlix Hotel, Dunblane. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Judy Murray at Cromlix Hotel, Dunblane. Picture: Ian Georgeson

She is still on a high. It is only days since she watched her sons Jamie and Andy compete in the Olympics – Andy carrying the GB flag and going on to win his second gold medal. Later, be-frocked ladies drifting through on their way to lunch stop to congratulate her on Andy’s performance. “I thought he was going to give me a heart attack, mind,” says one. “Imagine how I felt,” she laughs.

Like the guests at her son’s hotel, Murray suffered her palpitations in Scotland, having decided Rio would be too frenetic. “The last few weeks have been so exciting,” she says. “In tennis, there is no bigger prize than Wimbledon and then, a few weeks later, there is Andy winning the Olympic gold.

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“The excitement of that is huge because it extends beyond people that are tennis fans. It’s the whole country, you are part of Team GB and it’s just such a huge feel-good factor. But it is also stressful; more so now Andy is No 2 because expectations are so high every single time.”

Tennis, though, is a relentless sport, leaving little time for luxuriating in the afterglow. Since his stint on the podium, Andy has been fighting it out at the Cincinnati Masters. Murray too has her eyes firmly fixed on her goal: securing a lasting legacy from her sons’ success.

She has come to our interview fresh from a meeting to discuss the forthcoming public inquiry into her proposed £40 million sports centre on green belt land at Park of Keir, which was denied planning permission by Stirling Council; some objectors have suggested the facility, which includes a golf course, football pitch, hotel and 19 houses, as well as indoor tennis courts, would be a disaster of Trump-esque proportions.

The former national coach and British Fed Cup captain believes the country has a small window of opportunity to capitalise on Jamie and Andy’s high profile.

For the past few years, she has been driving grassroots initiatives to create an appetite for tennis and build a “workforce” to cater to it; with fellow coach Kris Soutar, she tours the country in her Tennis on the Road van, showing adults in remote communities how they can introduce children to the sport with minimum resources.

Conscious of girls’ comparative lack of interest, she has also devised Miss-Hits, a programme based around brightly coloured cartoon characters, delivered by female coaches and run in partnership with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

Were the centre – which is not a commercial venture – to be given the go-ahead, it would represent a “bricks and mortar legacy”, consolidating all the work she and her sons have put in to achieve something phenomenal.

But tennis fans, parents and coaches believe Murray is being let down by a lack of support from the LTA and Tennis Scotland. No new indoor courts have been built in Scotland since Andy won the Olympic gold in 2012 (unless you count the four in Gleneagles) and many outdoor courts are neglected. Tennis lost out by not being included in the 2014 Commonwealth Games (so Glasgow got a velodrome, but no tennis arena) and Murray has had to battle to secure any dividend from the staging of Davis Cup ties north of the Border.

In the run-up to GB’s 2011 second round match in Braehead, she campaigned successfully for a revamp of neglected courts in Paisley’s Brodie Park. But last year a Davis Cup semi-final was played at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow’s East End (another will be played there next month), yet promised public courts have not materialised. “They identified two possible sites – one at Easterhouse and one at Garrowhill, but here we are, 12 months on, and nothing,” she says.

Murray would also be entitled to feel slighted by the negativity towards the Park of Keir centre from members of the local community – a community her family has gone out of its way to support.

“It saddens me some people have been labelling it ‘Judy Murray’s vanity project’ because I just want to create something amazing,” she says.

“Right now, we have a profile around tennis like we could never have imagined, but we are not making the most of it, and it is killing me.”

Murray has always had to create her own luck; her refusal to be defeated by the obstacles put in her way as she helped her sons reach the top has become her defining characteristic. When she lists the skills she had to learn – from filling out foreign tax returns to performing post-match rub-downs – you understand being thrown back on her own resources was the making of her. And when she complains that if the boys had taken up football instead of tennis “the club would have taken care of the kit, the fixtures, the training, everything,” you suspect she’d have hated having to take a back seat.

Murray’s determination to increase tennis opportunities in Scotland is rooted in her own experience; in her teens she was a talented player reaching No 8 in Britain in her last year as a junior. This ranking meant she narrowly missed out on the chance to go into a squad of girls at the Queen’s Club, all paid for by the LTA.

With an early flash of spirit, she decided to she wanted to play professionally anyway and went on tour alone, but she didn’t last long. “With no opportunities and no resources, I never got the chance to find out how good I could have been,” she says.

The story of how she went on to grow a generation of players in Dunblane is already the stuff of legend. Wanting to keep playing and to get her toddlers out of the house, she volunteered at her local club. Soon she was coaching the older children, creating opportunities for them to train and play, and expanding her reach, until she had signed up 66 young players across Stirlingshire.

When the post of the national coach came up she was appointed on a salary of £25,000 and a budget of £90,000. It was buttons, but she made it work; the players she picked out for development included Jamie, Andy, Colin Fleming, Jamie Baker and Elena Baltacha. Of the coaches, she brought on board one – Leon Smith – who is now Davis Cup captain, while another heads up Disability Tennis.

She had already resigned herself to her sons having to move abroad in order to progress (Andy to Spain, Jamie to France). But the seminal moment for Murray – the moment she knew she would never get the support she deserved – came after Andy won the US Junior Open in 2004.

“We had three boys in the top 25 juniors in the world: more than Russia, more than France , more than America,” she says. “When we came back from the US, I was cock-a-hoop. I thought this is unbelievable – surely now Sport Scotland will give us more funding for developing these players that are coming through.”

So she did her groundwork; made her pitch. But the representative from Sport Scotland told her he was only interested in Grand Slams, not Junior Grand Slams. “At that point I realised I was batting my head against a brick wall, so I resigned. It was a huge financial risk, but thankfully it paid off, because the following year Andy started making his breakthrough.”

As a coach, Murray had to learn how to navigate a male-dominated world, but being a mother of two competitive sons takes a greater emotional toll.

If you’ve ever had to deal with sibling rivalry, you know it can be a powerful and destructive force, particularly if one sibling threatens to eclipse the other. Murray says the fact the boys’ paths diverged – Andy going down the singles route, Jamie the doubles – helped stave off conflict; and, of course, they spent much of their teenage years apart.

In the past year or so, Jamie’s career has flourished – he is now No 1 in doubles. But given the greater public interest in singles, Andy is always destined to be the one in the limelight.

“I don’t imagine for one minute it’s been easy for Jamie being in the shadow,” she says. “I have got used to being ‘Andy Murray’s mum’, but Jamie is Jamie in his own right. He is exceptional, a great guy and really good fun. When I am doing tennis-y things with him and people come up and talk about Andy, or if he is doing an interview and only gets asked about Andy, that kills me because I think it must be so hard for him.”

Today, the brothers are massively supportive of one other, although they still bicker like teenagers. “They shared a room at Rio,” says Murray. “Jamie was moaning: ‘It’s too cold – Andy wants the air conditioning at minus whatever.’ And then Andy was moaning: ‘Jamie wants it too hot.’ Just like old times.”

Their latest wind-up is to call their mother “turkey neck”. But such ribbing is as nothing compared with the abuse Murray endured when she was first in the public eye. At odds with the Jane Henman model of a Wimbledon mum – all pearls and Middle English propriety – she was subjected to what one sports journalist described as “industrial-strength” misogyny. For years, the only images that appeared were of her baring her teeth and pumping her fist as newspapers created a narrative of an overbearing mother smothering her son.

Until Andy won Wimbledon, Murray held her wheesht, unwilling to let either son see how much such the criticism upset her. “I would be reading opinion pieces saying: ‘She won’t leave him alone’; ‘She hangs on his coat-tails’; ‘What has she ever done?’; and I’m thinking: ‘You have no idea.’”

Though slo-mo footage of wobbling flesh as she clapped her hands above her head bothered her so much her she ditched her vest tops and resolved to applaud only at waist level, Murray was determined not to make any fundamental changes. “I wanted the boys to know that any time they looked at me I would always be cheering them on. But it did make me realise some people think there’s something wrong with being a competitive woman.”

If her own treatment was hurtful, seeing Andy – still a teenager – portrayed as surly and aggressive, and his youthful “Anyone but England” comment blown up out of all proportion, cut even deeper. But rather than becoming defensive, Murray set out to understand the media, and alter perceptions, not by compromising their identities, but by ensuring their personalities were better projected.

The turning point for Andy came when he cried after losing the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer in 2012. “I think it showed how much he cared and endeared him to people who had previously been ambivalent,” says Murray. Last week a YouGov poll suggested he was now Scotland’s favourite celebrity ahead of Chris Hoy, JK Rowling or Sean Connery.

Murray is wary about taking credit for Andy’s feminism. From appointing Amélie Mauresmo as his coach to challenging John Inverdale’s assertion that he was the first “person” to win two Olympic gold medals for tennis ( “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each”), he champions women in a way that has garnered much respect. Still, his mother’s indomitability cannot help but have left its mark. “He has always found it easier to talk to women and I suppose that has something to do with being close to me, his gran and now his wife,” she says.

Murray too seems to have become happier with age. “I felt much stronger after Andy won Wimbledon,” she says, “and [being appointed] Fed Cup captain [in 2011] gave me confidence as well because that was the first time that anybody had recognised me for being a good coach rather than as Andy and Jamie’s mum.”

Whether flirting with “Deliciano” Lopez, appearing in Strictly Come Dancing, or telling Twitter about her “stonking new dress”, she comes across as a woman who is having the time of her life and cares not a whit about what the world thinks of her.

Yet such levity should not be mistaken for a lack of gravitas ; when it comes to the future of Scottish tennis, Murray is deadly serious.

“Ten years on [from when Jamie and Andy were forced to move abroad] we are still in the same position,” she says. “There are a few junior players in Scotland who are very good internationally, but we still don’t have the infrastructure or the environment to support them.”

Though she enjoys Tennis on the Road, she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life touring Scotland in a van. The Park of Keir centre would give her a permanent base from which to build a workforce. But even if it gets the go-ahead, it will be another two-and-a-half years before it is completed.

“If we can’t achieve something before the boys stop playing, then it will be like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,” she says. “It will be like, ‘Oh, they’ve retired – here’s the legacy.’ But children are excited now, they want to play now. If we can’t tap into that we’ll have missed the boat.”

While she waits, her grassroots work goes on. The Miss-Hits programme is now being delivered by 350 coaches across the UK and is going online so other countries can access it.

“Throughout my life, I have seen what needs to be done and got on with doing it,” Murray says, not for the first time. And you realise that – with all their fight and focus – Jamie and Andy really are their mother’s sons.