While I was on duty at Wimbledon for The Scotsman in the early 2000s, there were whispers about a pair of brothers from Dunblane who were taking on all comers. Whether they could sustain this progress was the big question. We wished it would be so, of course, for professional as well as patriotic reasons. But then we’ve all heard stories of prodigious sporting teens unable to see their early promise through. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice, from parents as well as talented prodigies, as this memoir makes abundantly clear. It also requires luck. Perhaps, even, some divine intervention.
That seems to be the only explanation when, down to her last pennies as she tried to fathom how to send Andy back to a prestigious tennis academy in Barcelona, Judy Murray recalls being sent a cheque for £10,000 from a stranger. Maggie Auld was simply a tennis devotee but for the future world No 1 she was a guardian angel, though she passed away a day after meeting Andy for the first time. It’s fair to say her dying wishes have been met – and more.
This truly is the inside story of Andy and Jamie’s remarkable rise. Andy, of course, earns most media attention, but it was older brother Jamie who was first to triumph at Wimbledon, winning the mixed doubles title with Jelena Jankovic ten years ago. The lesser-known details of his highs and lows on the doubles circuit are every bit as compelling as Andy’s road to multiple glories. This is a positive, life-affirming view from the next door bed at times – so strapped for cash were they in the beginning that Judy would share her sons’ hotel rooms.
If the text veers towards self-justification on Judy’s part in places, it’s understandable given how she has been pilloried in the press for being too hands-on. But she’s entertainingly gossipy too. It doesn’t take too much digging to learn the identity of the LTA chief executive who didn’t even have sufficient interest to stick around, after Tim Henman lost in the semi-final of the US Open in 2004, to watch the then 17-year-old Andy compete in the final of the junior event the following day. Even worse, after bumping into Judy in the hotel lobby as she was hunched over her laptop watching footage of her son’s opponent, he remarked, unbelievably: “You’re taking this all a bit seriously, aren’t you?”
No wonder Judy often crumpled in on herself, as when her self-esteem was cruelly stripped away at a sports awards dinner when Tam Cowan made a quip referencing the way she was dressed; given its prominence in the book, this brief episode clearly had a huge impact on her.
But Judy Murray has overcome such crushing self-esteem issues as successfully as she helped overhaul a tennis system once weighted heavily in favour of those from wealthier backgrounds. As well as being mother to two of Britain’s best ever tennis players, Judy was Scotland’s national tennis coach on two separate occasions. She had a responsibility to budding players that stretched far wider than Andy and Jamie’s welfare. They were all her sons – and daughters.
Mercifully, this isn’t merely a tennis manual, full of references to drop shots, double-handed backhands and the like. Knowing The Score is an accessible, breezily written straight-setter that manages to avoid getting bogged down in tennis jargon. Indeed, sometimes her boys’ successes are too quickly skipped over. Judy perhaps feels they’ve been chronicled enough in newspapers and, of course, in Andy’s own book.
Towards the end, there’s a chapter on her experiences on Strictly Come Dancing. It was a departure from her comfort zone, although the more than 20 years she’d spent at both ends of the tennis spectrum, often exposed in an unforgiving media spotlight, was ample preparation for the criticism she faced from Bruno et al.
*Knowing The Score: My Family And Our Tennis Story, by Judy Murray, Chatto & Windus, £18.99