While Andy Murray has reached the heights in Grand Slam singles, older brother Jamie has shown more team spirit, making a career and enjoying life on the doubles circuit
For Jamie Murray, playing doubles is a career. But he maintains that playing tennis for a living beats a real job.
Less lauded, it is the poor relation of the singles game when it comes to media coverage, sponsorship and prize money and it is usually slotted in on the back courts in front of 50 to 100 people and plays second fiddle to the individual game in the scheduling. But it has still allowed the elder Murray brother to follow his heart, earned him over a million dollars in prize money, 12 titles and afforded him a place in the professional game for over a decade. It could also be the saviour of the sport in Great Britain.
Neither of the Murray brothers will be around the tour for ever but in the wake of that tennis dynasty there has to be a future for the game in the UK. In terms of leaving a legacy, both boys and their mother Judy are doing everything they can. They have been the source of inspiration, they have also been the brains, the bankers and the hard graft behind many initiatives aimed at engaging with the next generation to make them more active and attract them to tennis.
The latest is down to Jamie, with the help of his mum. While he was committed to competing with his playing partner John Peers at the Topshelf Open in the Netherlands, eventually losing out in the semi-finals, 64 kids, aged 12 and under, were having a ball, battling it out for the inaugural Jamie Murray Cup and the chance to win flights and tickets to the doubles rubber in next month’s Davis Cup tie against France at Queen’s Club, London.
“I just wanted to do something that the kids might enjoy and give them a bit of motivation and something to play for,” explains the 29-year-old. “Tennis can be such an individual sport but most kids, growing up, want to be part of a team and play with their friends and this allows them to do that through playing doubles. As well as just enjoying themselves, there was something to play for as well.”
A means of making optimum use of the nation’s tennis courts, allowing four people to play rather than two, doubles also requires a wider skill set, developing a stronger foundation for kids who go on to compete in singles. Exponents may not be the master of all facets of the game but they do have to show themselves as something of a jack of all trades.
“You have less court to cover so for kids and older, more social players it is more attractive because it is less of a physical battle. You have got to have a good serve and returning is very important in doubles, more so than in singles, you know there will have to be a lot of volleys in a doubles match and your net game needs to be sharp, your touch shots, your reading of the game, your court positioning; it is all very different from singles. If I was coaching kids I would always get them to play doubles because you learn so many skills and they have fun.”
It was one of the ways he and Andy learned as youngsters and having mastered the art they have reprised their double act at major tour events as well as in Davis Cup ties and at the Olympics.
“We played a lot of doubles growing up, in the men’s teams at Dunblane from a young age and even going through juniors we played a lot of doubles tournaments and I think it is a great way to learn because not all kids would enjoy travelling to individual competitions, they want to play with their friends. Although Andy and I always dreamed of being top singles players we enjoyed playing doubles. Maybe that was one of the reasons it was fun for us and if it helps keep other kids in the sport then that’s great.
“For most people playing at their local clubs, it’s hard to relate to what the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal are doing – it’s hard enough for me! But I want to promote my sport as much as I can because I think it’s a brilliant sport. In singles the players tend to stick to the baseline and there’s lots of long rallies and not a lot of innovation and creativity but I don’t think doubles is like that. It is high pace and the reaction times are obviously much shorter because of the distance the ball is travelling. At tournaments you do hear people who maybe haven’t seen much doubles before talk about how exciting it is. They just usually don’t know who the players are because I guess the big problem with doubles is promoting it and getting it to a wider audience because it is rarely on TV except for maybe the finals of grand slams. At Wimbledon you can see more doubles but that’s just a couple of weeks of the year.”
It tends to be an enjoyable couple of weeks for Murray, though, who won the mixed doubles title with Jelena Jankovic in 2007, the first member of the household to win a grand slam title. The grass surface tends to suit him, as does the extended period of time at home with wife Alejandra, the bigger crowds and the partisan backing. And it bodes well for another run deep into the draw.
He and Australian partner Peers have started 2015 well, winning more often than losing, making finals and taking one title. It leaves them on course to finish in the year end top eight and qualify for the season finals, in London, in November, provided they can maintain standards or even build on their early form.
“We have done a lot better in the bigger tournaments, last year that wasn’t the case at all, so we are moving in the right direction. Even when we don’t win we are not beating ourselves, we can usually hold our heads up and say ‘well done’ to our opponents knowing we did our best.
“I always look forward to Queen’s and, obviously, Wimbledon. I grew up dreaming about playing there and playing on Centre Court so I go out there and enjoy myself and it’s what gets the butterflies going. I feel good about where the team is at just now so we are confident every time we step on court that we have a good chance of beating whoever is across the net from us. Whether we do that remains to be seen but I wouldn’t be surprised if we do go a long way at Wimbledon this year.”
But the Jamie Murray Cup isn’t necessarily about unearthing future doubles champions, it is about laying the foundations, encouraging participation and hopefully inspiring those involved to work at becoming top tennis players.
Staged in Bridge of Allan yesterday, coaches entered teams of two girls and two boys. Matches were 15 minutes each and included special fun features such as action replay (one let), joker (one cheat) and super sub (the chance to bring in another player for a point).
“For me, I wanted to be a tennis player and everyone dreams of being a singles player but for me that wasn’t going to happen, not at the level I wanted,” accepts Murray, “and doubles was a chance for me to play at the very top of the game, in the biggest tournaments in the world, against the best players and I am thankful for that. Of course, if you asked me if I would rather be a successful singles or doubles player, of course I would rather be a singles player but doubles gave me the chance to do what I wanted to do and I’m really enjoying it and it is a great lifestyle and it beats a real job every day of the week. It has allowed me to travel the world, see lots of places, interact with lots of different people and cultures and experience things I otherwise wouldn’t. So there isn’t only one way to do it.”
But you need to have fun and you need to be armed for the on-court battle. Doubles, he says, provides the necessary tools for both.