Judy Murray has borne the brunt of harsh criticism over the years. Thanks in part to her clench-jawed, fist-pumping appearances courtside, supporting her tennis champion sons, Andy and Jamie. She’s been called everything from pushy and aggressive to domineering, but finally she’s found a label she loves.
“Glam-ma is what I’m called by Andy and Kim now they’ve had the baby and made me a grandmother, and I really like that,” she reveals, with a beam, as she chats about spending as much time as possible with her granddaughter, Sophia Olivia born in February. Her youngest son, Andy, 28, married Kim Sears, 28, in 2015.
“I’m adoring being a grandmother - Sophia’s gorgeous. There’s always that question about what you’ll be called, but really I don’t mind, after all, who knows what she’ll eventually call me? This is a great alternative for now.”
And she adds proudly: “Andy’s a really doting dad. He’s very involved with everything and loving it.”
Her first grandchild has brought her more than joy; her birth has also prompted Murray, an elite coach credited as one of the most influential figures in British tennis, to take a new approach to life.
While she’s as dedicated as ever to promoting the game at grassroots level, and is an ambassador for the new Highland Spring’s Anywhere for Tennis campaign to inspire more families to get active (“You form such a close bond when you play sport with your kids and I’d love everyone to experience that as I have”), she recently resigned as captain of Britain’s Fed Cup team. She was appointed in 2011 to lead Britain’s women’s team in the equivalent of the Davis Cup.
“The job’s involved me in so much travelling over the last two years that I realised I wasn’t seeing my family much at all - I want more time with the family, not less,” declares the 56-year-old, who won 64 Scottish tennis titles in her own right as a youngster, began coaching tennis full-time at 35, and coached her sons until they were 12.
“I don’t really think about ageing, but I’m definitely aware of how quickly time is passing and it’s about winding down a little bit and having time for me. Becoming a grandmother is also a gorgeous reminder that you’re not getting any younger and you’re entering a new phase in your life. My parents were very active grandparents for Jamie and Andy, and a big influence on their lives when they were younger, so I want to be a good granny too.”
Murray, who’s raised two globally successful tennis stars - 2013 Wimbledon winner Andy’s currently ranked world number two, while Jamie is doubles number one - comes across as warm, friendly, and relaxed; a marked contrast to her once uptight ‘tiger-mother’ caricature.
Undoubtedly though, harsh jibes have wounded her. “People whom I’d never met formed an opinion of me from seeing me in very stressful situations - watching the boys compete. Frankly, at those times I get very tense and nervous and just want to be on my own away from everyone and they certainly don’t want to be around me! I don’t smile because I’m so focused.
“Over time, I became pretty good at almost being able to ignore the negative comments, masking my feelings and just getting through it. I took comfort in reminding myself that my friends and family knew the real me. I don’t think the boys were aware of it and, as a sporty parent, I knew it was very important not to let them be affected by it, so I took care not to talk about it or give anything away in my body language or expressions.”
She also speculates that the attention she drew was sexist. “Probably I attracted a lot more attention being the mother of boys, who was simply trying to show positive encouragement for my kids, than I would had I been a dad. There’s something people don’t like about competitive women, whereas they’ll term it ‘drive’ in a man and applaud it.” Murray particularly refutes the ‘pushy’ label. “I’ve never pushed them to do anything and the boys will say that too. You can’t do that to children. What you have to do sometimes is push to create opportunities for them, which is very different. All I ever insisted was that they try hard and work hard,” she states firmly.
Several factors combined, she believes, to gradually change the public’s perception of her. Her sons’ success and more awareness of the financial hardship and struggles she went through to support them, and in 2014 when she stepped out of the sporting world and took part in Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. During the series, she was endearingly able to laugh at herself despite blistering verdicts on her lack of dance skills. Her professional partner Anton du Beke described her as “such a warm spirit, character and personality - and a great sport”.
“I have a good sense of fun. I think doing Strictly helped people see that I’m also relatively normal!” she says with a laugh. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
:: Judy Murray is an ambassador for Highland Spring’s Anywhere for Tennis campaign, inspiring more families to get active, enjoy tennis and hydrate healthily. Follow @Highland_Spring or visit HighlandSpring.com