Judy Murray at the Union: serving up her experiences with sexism and being in the spotlight

Felicity Garvey 20 May 2018

Judy Murray was brought into the spotlight abruptly at Wimbledon 2005 during her son, Andy’s, senior men’s singles debut. “The nature of tennis is such that you have 20 seconds between a point, 90 seconds in a change of ends, no ad breaks and cameras looking to fill the gaps. [We were all] thrust into the spotlight at that time – and had no idea how to deal with it because nobody prepares you for all of that. So that was a massive learning curve to suddenly have to deal with people door-stepping you, paparazzi outside your door, seeing yourself on TV.” She recounts a particular anecdote of watching the Wimbledon highlights on television, waiting to see her son and instead seeing a clip of herself clapping, arms above her head, in slow motion. “I used to clap above my head because when the boys were wee, you wanted them to be able to pick you out.” Judy adds that now her style is a little more sedate, particularly with the cameras watching at all times. “I think, because it was all new and exciting, that I started to get picked out without asking to be picked out, the cameras just find you – and then all the pictures that seemed to be printed of me were all pumping my fist or bearing my teeth… I don’t do that every single point, only when it’s a really good one!”

“They painted a picture of me that made me look like I was an over-aggressive, pushy mother.” She explains, remarking that it was a difficult period for the family.  “I think it was because I was probably an unusual dynamic of a mother of sons, whereas you’d have a father of daughters with Richard and Serena and Venus, Rafa [Nadal] had his uncle […] Parents being involved in coaching their kids in tennis is actually not unusual, because it’s such an expensive sport that many parents start off learning how to coach their kids because they can’t afford to pay a coach to travel with them.” She adds, of the public view of her that “I think it’s different now because I think when I did Fed Cup captain, they probably realised I was a good coach!”

Judy Murray first qualified as a coach aged 17, and as such her five-year reign as the captain of GB’s Federation Cup team before she resigned in 2016 is hardly the only example of her tennis prowess. She won 64 titles in Scotland during her junior and senior career, as well as playing abroad at the World Student Games and on the professional circuit. She also spent 10 years as the Scottish national coach. The Murray family’s tennis careers have not come without obstacles, however. In her own youth, playing in Scotland, she recounted how a lack of indoor courts meant that she could only play tennis in the summer, turning to squash and badminton for the rest of the year. She stated that when it came to supporting her sons’ tennis careers, trying to raise the money was perhaps the hardest part, as there is no big prize money in junior tennis. “In the early rungs you’re always spending more than you’re making.” Sexism was also ever-present, and Judy remembers told by a tutor on a coaching course she had joined that “You’re very lucky to have a place on the course. We had to turn away a lot of men.”

She believes the world of sport is changing for the better: “I think there has been a real groundswell around women’s sport. […] I’m a big advocate of more females coaching sport at all levels – we need role models at every stage.” “I’m also hugely pushing the need for career pathways for women in coaching. In our sport, if you’re a young female and want to go into tennis coaching, you would really struggle to find a job with a salary.” Judy Murray herself is heavily involved in getting more women into tennis, with programs such as ‘Miss-Hits’ and ‘She Rallies’ working on promoting women’s grassroots and coaching. Tennis is just one part of a bigger picture, however. “The investment that has come over the last – in some sports, maybe about five years – into the level of performance of women’s sport, particularly team sports, is starting to pay off and you can see the success of certainly the England national teams. The lionesses, the rugby, the cricket world cup, the netball, the hockey. These are great for visibility.”

With an OBE under her belt, and her memoir “Knowing the Score” now out, Judy Murray now looks to the future. She says that she would love to open a tennis and multi-sports centre in Dunblane, to provide affordable training as a charitable trust, wanting to leave behind “a bricks and mortar legacy for Jamie and Andy,” then adding, “and leave Scottish tennis in good hands for years to come.”