Saturday Interview: Jamie Murray
Watch the previous video interview with Jamie Murray
THE National Tennis Centre, Stirling University, September 2008. A small bunch of kids, talented but still raw tennis players, are being put through their paces by Judy Murray. They may all have dreams of becoming professionals, and have already been identified as the best in their age group, but none of them knows if they will make it.
Not so long ago, Jamie and Andy Murray, Judy's sons, were two such kids, hopeful and hungry for success. On weekdays they and other boys would train at the centre, a short drive from their home in Dunblane. At the weekends they would jump into a minivan and head south in search of competition.
Now, on an unseasonably warm afternoon, Jamie is on the other side of the net. Aged 22, and a few short years after being a mere aspirant, he has become a role model, one of Scotland's most high-profile sportsmen, a player who has one Grand Slam doubles title under his belt, and has just played in the final of another.
His very presence here is a treat for his mother's charges – and in a sense for him as well, as it's not too often these days that he gets back to Scotland. This is pretty much a flying visit: open the new Dunblane High School, hit with the kids, catch up with his family. Then it's off to London to join up with Andy and the rest of the Great Britain Davis Cup team for this weekend's tie against Austria at Wimbledon.
Yet, for all that Jamie is now a part of the British tennis establishment, and a man who will always have a place in the sport's history thanks to the mixed-doubles title he and Jelena Jankovic won at Wimbledon last year, there is not a whole lot that feels permanent in his career at present. Instead, his is very much a career at the crossroads, with key decisions to be made over the next few months.
His doubles partnership with Max Mirnyi is at an end, with both men having accepted they have not brought the best out of each other. There is no long-term agreement with mixed-doubles partner Liezel Huber, with whom he reached the final of the US Open earlier this month. And, after unsuccessfully seeking a wildcard for the singles at Wimbledon this year, he has at last accepted that he will henceforth only be a doubles player.
"I lost my ranking last year, but it was never like I had a great singles career before I had started to play doubles," he reflects on the latter issue. "I asked for a wildcard for the grasscourts tournaments. I really wanted to play, and I was practising hard so if I did get the opportunity to play in the singles I would have been ready to do that, but I didn't the chance.
"I don't have hard feelings or anything like that, though. I'm playing doubles and the other guys are out there on the singles tour – they deserve it more than me."
Yet in asking for a Wimbledon wildcard, Jamie was not seeking special treatment, or implying he deserved a place more than anyone else. From a personal point of view he would have enjoyed the experience, but he also thought it would have stood the Davis Cup team in good stead to have another member with recent singles experience.
In the event, however, he understood the All England Club's decision to omit him. "It's tough if I'm not really playing any singles matches through the year, except maybe the odd dead rubber in the Davis Cup, and then all of a sudden the grasscourt season comes around," he explains. "For them to give me wildcards if I'd not played or anything like that is difficult. It's not like I expected to get any wildcards. I asked, I put myself out there. It's not something I lose sleep over."
But the wildcards were the only feasible route back into singles competition. Without them, Jamie has accepted that he must concentrate on doubles. "For me to start back playing singles, I'd have to start right from scratch," he continued. "There's no guarantees that I'd have any success, so to give up playing on the main tour, and getting to play in all those great tournaments, would be tough.
"My skills are probably better suited to playing doubles. I certainly enjoy it more, although that's partly because I've been more successful at it and have been able to play at a higher level. I don't necessarily feel like I'm missing out or anything like that by not playing singles.
"I stopped playing a couple of years ago when I was 20, which is obviously very young. I'm sure I could have got a decent ranking. If I'd thought I could get into the top 100 I'd still be playing, that's for sure. I'm sure I could have got a decent ranking – whatever that is, I don't know. I certainly didn't think I was going to make a career from tennis playing singles. I could see myself having more of a shot in doubles, so that's why I decided to take that road."
He has proven over the past couple of years that he is a world-class doubles player, but to date most of his success has been in the mixed event. Great things had been expected of his partnership with Mirnyi, the holder of seven Grand Slam titles, but they did not materialise.
"We planned to play the year, but I think we'll be looking for different people for next year. I don't think we quite hit it off or got the results that we wanted or expected, really.
"We get on really well together. We became very good friends and we've worked really hard together to try and make our partnership click, but it hasn't quite happened for us."
At present it is more likely he will keep on playing with Huber in the mixed, but there is nothing set in stone. "We've kind of just done it tournament by tournament and seen how it goes. But we've played well together in the tournaments we've entered, and this year every time we lost it was to the guys who went on to win the tournament.
"So maybe we've been a little bit unlucky. Hopefully next year we'll keep playing together, try and improve on our results and try and win a title."
THERE are not too many Britons alive who can boast of having been a Wimbledon champion, but Jamie has perhaps not received as much recognition as he deserves for that achievement. Whatever he does, he appears doomed to be best known as Andy's older sibling, and to have his feats overshadowed by those of his brother.
Such a situation has to be a source of tension, and there are certainly times when the pair appear not to be on the best of terms. At the Olympic Games, for example, they barely exchanged a word during some of the changeovers during their two doubles matches, while Jamie was also critical of Andy's decision to pull out of the Davis Cup match in Venezuela earlier this year.
Yet, while there are occasions when he feels impelled to voice his frustrations, given time to reflect Jamie acknowledges the help Andy's success has given him, not least in areas such as securing sponsorship deals. "Obviously Andy got the sponsorship with Highland Spring and RBS," he says, mentioning just two of the companies who have agreements with Team Murray. "He's been with them longer than me, and I was able to get tied in to that and I have my own contracts with them now."
What is more, although Jamie and Andy sometimes disagree, they will invariably band together against criticism from outside. It's a common family trait, after all, one as common as sibling rivalry. Even when he is reminded that Andy criticised himself for a lack of professionalism when preparing for Beijing, Jamie decides that his brother was being too self-critical, and that they both did reasonably well in tough conditions.
"Not really," he says when asked if the "unprofessional" tag was fair. "I got there, I practised hard, I was ready to play the matches, got used to the conditions and all that stuff.
"It was probably easier playing doubles than singles because it was so humid there and pretty damn hot as well. For the singles guys to be out there running around for three hours and stuff it's certainly a hard tournament to win. The guy who won (Rafael Nadal] has been the best player in the world this year, and probably physically the best as well."
It was notable, however, that the guy who won in Beijing went on to lose to Andy in the semi-final of the US Open. Perhaps, had they progressed further on Beijing, the Scots would not have got to two finals in New York. "Who knows? It's a tough question, you know.
"We didn't lose to a bad team (in Beijing]. We lost to two French guys (Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra] who won Wimbledon together last year and are one of the top teams in the world.
"We certainly didn't perform well, which is the most disappointing thing, but even if we had performed well it was still a 50-50 match. It wasn't like we lost to a couple of guys who couldn't play tennis, it was just that we performed badly so we got a bit of a kicking."
What is more, in the first round, the Murrays overcame Daniel Nestor, the former world doubles No 1, and his fellow-Canadian Frederic Niemeyer. "In the first round we lost the first set then came back and won. We beat the guy who has been owning everybody on the doubles court this year, in Nestor. He's been a top player for the last ten or 15 years, and this year he showed why. But we managed to get through that."
It is evident that they have also managed to get through whatever disagreements they may have had, in Beijing or elsewhere. John Lloyd, Great Britain's Davis Cup captain, had been concerned that the state of relations between the two might harm the team, and there were even suggestions that the brothers would refuse to play together. According to Jamie, however, the partnership is fine, and he will happily play alongside Andy again, including this weekend if asked.
"Andy plays very good doubles even if he doesn't play so much. He's a great singles player, obviously, so he isn't exactly going to be rubbish or anything like that on a doubles court.
"He's helped me out quite a lot in my career. He's helped me to get into tournaments when I wasn't as highly ranked. I'm sure we'll still play again in various tournaments, Davis Cup as well.
"We've played quite a few times recently – the Olympics obviously, then before that we played in Toronto. Last year we played in quite a few tournaments as well.
"We've grown up together and we played a lot together when we were younger. So it's not like I'm playing with some guy I've never heard of to make a partnership. When we play it's absolutely fine."
Having lost to Argentina without Andy in what was their first World Group tie since 2003, Great Britain now face a relegation play-off against Austria. "It's tough, because all the other countries in the World Group have two very good singles players. We've got Andy, who is now No 4 in the world and playing some of the best tennis of his life, but behind that for singles we're not really going to be looking for guys to pick up any singles points.
"They're much lower ranked, and the guys they're going to be playing are certainly ranked in the top 100 and stuff. So that puts a lot of pressure on Andy to perform well in his singles. He'll probably have to beat top-10 players each tie we play. I guess we're favourites because we get to choose the surface. I'm sure they're not looking forward to coming and playing on grass.
"It's not really the best time of year to be playing on grass, but that's the way it is and we're looking forward to it. That may mean that psychologically we've got the edge, but we know it's going to be a tough match and again a lot of the pressure will be on Andy to play well and win his singles matches. Then we'll try and pick up a rubber somewhere else to get the three points."
Jamie already has experience of being in the match which makes the difference for the Great Britain team, and would love to make a similar contribution in today's doubles. "Last year I had such a good time playing in the tie against Croatia and being involved on the Saturday with Tim Henman in his last match and being able to get the winning point."
With Henman and Greg Rusedski having retired, it's a new era for the Great Britain team. And, with at least one doubles partner to seek over the coming months, the same goes for Jamie himself.
• Interview arranged courtesy of Jamie Murray's sponsor Highland Spring.