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Jamie Murray: Mum was never a pushy parent – they got ‘iron-fist Judy’ all wrong

Jamie Murray, photographed in PlayBrave kit at the Roehampton Club last month
Jamie Murray, photographed in PlayBrave kit at the Roehampton Club last month Credit: Christopher Pledger /Telegraph

This article has an estimated read time of six minutes 

There is a famous story about the Murray brothers, and it’s almost always told from Andy’s perspective. It was 1997 and, like almost every other weekend during their childhood, they and a dozen other junior tennis players were sitting in a minibus driven by their mother, Judy, travelling back to Dunblane from a tournament in England – this time Solihull.

Earlier in the day, Jamie, the older of the two by 15 months and, until that point, the better singles player, had been beaten by Andy in the under-12s final. It was a turning point, and on the journey home, Andy was reminding him of this in the persistent, gently tortuous manner a younger brother is born with. Eventually, Jamie lashed out, punching Andy’s hand with such force that Judy had to stop the bus, doctors were needed to drain the pus, and the nail was lost, only regrowing properly a few years ago.

So, I say to Jamie, when we meet 22 years on at a tennis club in south-west London, how do you remember it?

“I didn’t even hit him that hard!” he protests, suddenly 12 again. “He was obviously winding me up, I remember just losing it and turning around, but he had his hand on the seat rest. The other kids in the bus were all like: ‘Yeah, he deserved that.’ I didn’t think it’d cost him 10 years of having a nail...”

Andy and Jamie Murray celebrate a victory in the Davis Cup in Glasgow in 2015 Credit: Getty

We all know what happened next for the Murrays – including Judy. Sir Andy, as he is now known, continued his ascent in the singles game, reaching the third round of Wimbledon at just 18, before winning three Grand Slams and two Olympic golds, as well as becoming world no.1 in the most competitive era men’s tennis has ever seen.

Jamie, on the other hand, accepted his development in singles had stalled, so made the wise, early decision to focus on doubles. It paid dividends almost awkwardly early: in 2007, he became the first Briton to lift a Wimbledon trophy for 20 years when he and Jelena Janković won the Mixed Doubles. He went on to win five more Grand Slam titles, also became world No. 1, managed an OBE and, given doubles players only tend to peak in their early 30s, could still win a lot more.

As a collective – Judy also has an OBE, officially for services to tennis, women in sport and charity, but unofficially also for tolerating Anton du Beke for eight weeks on Strictly Come Dancing – they’re as close as Britain has to a sporting first family. People must feel as if they know everything about you, I say.

“Yeah, well, certainly Andy. He’s constantly been in people’s minds, his quest to get a Grand Slam, Wimbledon – the ‘will he ever do it?’ Probably a lot of people feel like they’ve been on that journey with him.”

What do people get wrong about them? “Probably my mum, actually,” he says, after a moment’s thought. “I think people thought she really ruled with an iron fist, and was a pushy parent, which is totally, totally wrong. She’d only be seen in the players’ box, cheering on, which is a stressful environment, but they built up this persona about her. She was sold as the driving force of it all, and did do an amazing job, but my dad [Willie, who divorced Judy when Jamie was 19, nine years after separating] would never have got headlines. He was just a normal dad with a regular full-time job, not a tennis person.”

The teenage Murray brothers with their mother, Judy Credit: Newsflash

Willie still lives in Dunblane, where Jamie visits three or four times a year. It’s a town the whole family are rightly proud to hail from, not least because their story has been integral to changing how people think of it. The boys were 10 and eight on March 13, 1996, when Thomas Hamilton walked into the local school sports hall and killed 18 people (16 children, a teacher and himself), as well as injuring 15 more children, on a rampage that remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history.

Given it’s a small town, the Murrays knew Hamilton, and even once attended the youth clubs he led. It’s assumed Hamilton walked past both of them on his way to the hall, too, as Jamie was in a Portakabin classroom nearby and Andy was in the main school building. Siblings of their friends were among the victims, and the teacher killed was once Jamie’s.

Today, he can’t recall a lot from the day, but isn’t sure “whether that’s because I blocked it out, or just because I was 10 years old. Our parents took us home and told us. The school didn’t tell us anything, which was fair enough at the time. It was a difficult thing to process as a child. 

“I don’t really like talking about it, out of respect for the families, but obviously for a long time that’s what Dunblane was known for. I would travel the world and people would ask where I’m from, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s where the shooting was…’ Now, though, it’s remembered in a much more positive light for what we’ve been able to do on a tennis court. We should always remember what happened, but I think it’s a good thing for the town.”

Jamie Murray with his mother Judy, father Willie, and wife Alejandra, after receiving his OBE in 2016 Credit: Getty

The boys don’t fight these days (“no, not since we were about 16 – it’s a lot more mellow”) but remain close. Jamie and his wife of eight years, Alejandra, see Andy, Kim and their two children regularly. Jamie lives in Wimbledon, close to Judy, while Andy’s slightly larger home is in Surrey. Sometimes, he and Andy will be out on the Tube together, which – given they’re two of our greatest tennis players, as well as deceptively lanky – attracts attention. Big brother mode kicks in.

“I just become so aware of my surroundings and who’s about, to protect him. Because you don’t know, do you? People are really nice, but there’ll be people out there who don’t like us, for whatever reason.”

I can’t imagine anyone disliking either of them, but especially Jamie. He’s incredibly laid back and friendly (well brought-up), and seems quite grateful to have escaped the pressure and scrutiny that comes with being a singles player. He met Alejandra, who is Colombian, through friends almost a decade ago. She’s now global marketing manager for a large tech company, and isn’t a tennis fan.

“It’s not that exciting for a wife or girlfriend on the tour. Ale has two degrees anyway, so she was like: ‘I’m not going to study all that time just to follow you around and wait in players lounges to watch you do your job.’”

So she doesn’t, and Jamie credits her honesty with saving his career. After achieving success so young, he found his form and motivation plateauing at the end of the noughties.

“It was her who helped me get serious about my tennis again, serious about life again. She was a huge support, and probably the reason for me achieving what I’ve been able to in the last few years. I don’t know if I’d have [been World No.1] if I hadn’t met her.”

Jamie Murray playing in a charity match at Wimbledon last month Credit: Getty

He’s now keen to promote the doubles game – an overlooked form of tennis, given it’s the one most amateurs play – with his own YouTube channel, on which he answers the questions we all have when we watch him play. What do the hand signals mean? Why are you high-fiving so much? Are you all secretly in love? Those sorts of things.

It’s a broadcast career of sorts, but he won’t be following his mother into Strictly. “No, no, my wife wouldn’t let me. She’s an amazing dancer, being South American, but she doesn’t like it when they do salsa or tango to pop music. She doesn’t think it’s pure.”

Instead, he’s got a few more years of tennis left (including Queen’s and Wimbledon this summer) plans to have a family, would like to invest his prize money smartly, and then, eventually, might be ready to play his brother for fun again. He looks menacing for a moment.

“Yeah, two 60-year-olds down the local park, battling it out...” Watch out for the remaining nails, Andy.

Jamie Murray is the new Global Ambassador for PlayBrave