Long before Andy Murray began mixing his mischievous court sense and conjurer’s feel to bamboozle opponents, he was getting the runaround on his hometown court from a familiar face—his mom, Judy.
“When my kids were small, I played tennis with them rather than coach them,” said Judy Murray, whose older son Jamie became the first member of the family to win a major title by capturing the 2007 Wimbledon mixed doubles with Jelena Jankovic. “I played with them and I taught them to play the game from a tactical standpoint so they would always understand to learn by playing the game. If I played a drop shot to bring Andy forward and then I chucked a lob over his head he could see how I could make it difficult for a smaller kid. Then he would try to do that to me. Basically, my kids learned from a tactical base rather than a technical base.”
Great Britain’s Fed Cup captain has coached tennis for about 25 years, working with players ranging from absolute beginners to Grand Slam champions. She began as a volunteer coach after her playing days, rose up the ranks to become Scottish national coach—where she helped design the framework for the Scottish player development system and introduced 10-and-under tournament tennis—and now spends some of her spare time conducting clinics in schools. On Sunday morning in New York, the 54-year-old will try to make history in leading the world’s largest tennis lesson, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, to launch World Tennis Day.
“Tennis is a fun way for parents to play with their children and encourage them to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. You realize how much sport can do for the overall development of a child, not just physically, but socially, in terms of confidence and self-esteem,” Judy Murray said a telephone interview to promote World Tennis Day. “This whole approach of getting kids playing and encouraging families to get into tennis is exactly the way that it should be because tennis, for young kids, is quite a complex coordination sport. You’ve got to handle a piece of equipment and you’ve got to work with a moving ball over a net and within lines. It’s actually quite a complex sport to start off in when you’re little.”
More than 250 children from the NYC area, including kids from the New York Junior Tennis and Learning and the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education programs, will participate in the 30-minute lesson, which starts at 9 a.m. To find a Tennis Play Event and information how families can get involved, visit youthtennis.com.
The record-setting attempt at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens precedes the World Tennis Day celebration on Monday night in Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, which pits Judy’s son Andy against world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, and a sibling doubles clash between the Bryan brothers and the McEnroe brothers in the BNP Paribas Showdown.
The serious, stressed-out disposition Judy sometimes displays in the support box while watching her sons play belies the dry sense of humor she shares with fans over social media.
“When I’m watching the boys playing I never look like I enjoy myself so people see me in person and they say, 'Oh you’re so serious on TV’ and I’m actually nothing like that,” Murray said. “I quite enjoy Twitter. I think it’s a great way of engaging with fans. I think it’s a fun way to sort of show you’re pretty normal really and that you have a good sense of humor so I like it…It’s such a big part of life these days. Everybody is using it and companies and sponsors are often looking at players’ following on Facebook and Twitter to influence whether they actually pick them to be the ambassador to whatever it is they’re asking them to sponsor. It’s important [players] learn to use it well.”
Tennis is widely viewed as a solo sport, but Murray believes family is the connective tissue binding young players to the game. She launched a website, www.set4sport.com, that offers free sports games and drills families can do using regular household objects.
“The ideal for any little player is to have a parent who will either throw balls to them or hit balls to them, but will be actually able to control the ball when feeding to them,” Murray said. “When my kids were young I was obviously a very keen tennis player, but they also had a dad and grandparents who were also keen to take them down to the tennis court and hit with them so they had plenty of support. Of course, you grow as a family together enjoying playing together. I think that’s the great thing about tennis and about what they’re trying to with World Tennis Day: Get kids involved and get families involved.”
The best way to accomplish that, says Murray, is using public facilities. The National Tennis Center is the largest public tennis facility in the world, and Murray believes the growth of the game is rooted at the rec level.
“The key is to have enough public facilities and for those facilities to be accessible and affordable to children and to families,” Murray said. “To capture new people into this game they need to be public courts because you’re not going to get a family that’s totally new to tennis rolling up to a local club saying, ‘Can I have a game? Can I join in?’ Many of the clubs don’t cater to absolute beginners particularly well, which is why you need your public park courts which allow people to learn, meet other people, stimulate the enjoyment of the game, and once you feel competent enough playing perhaps you’re ready to join the club and meet more people to play.
“I think that public facilities are absolutely the key for getting the families into sports.”