Judy Murray talks to Alex Salmond: “When Andy lost the Wimbledon final, I knew how he was hurting”

Alex Salmond talks to Judy Murray about sporting success, how she became a prolific tweeter – and what she would say in her maiden speech to the Scottish parliament.

As well as being one of the world’s best-known mothers, Judy Murray is a tennis coach, a businesswoman, an entrepreneur and a serial tweeter. At Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, Alex Salmond asked her what her next move would be and if she would ever consider becoming a member of the Scottish Parliament.

Alex Salmond Do you know the connection between Wimbledon and Charlotte Square?

Judy Murray No – is it something to do with a person?

AS Yes, Harold Mahony was born over at 21 Charlotte Square. When Jamie won the mixed doubles in 2007, there was an article asking which other Scots had won Wimbledon. I didn’t know. There were quite a few junior Wimbledon champions who were Scots, but only one won the men’s singles at Wimbledon: Harold Mahony. He was quite a character. A playboy – not like Andy.

JM More like Jamie. [Laughs] I was reading something the other day about the Davis Cup. Suddenly the Times was saying it had been 79 years since Great Britain beat the USA in the Davis Cup. I said to myself, “I thought I was never going to have to read this ‘going back for 80 years’ business again.”

AS Which gets us on to Wimbledon and the final. So, everybody was on the edge of their seat and the game seemed to go on for ever. Were you looking?

JM Yeah, I was looking. I was looking the whole way through it. I was sitting three rows back from the front of the box . . .

AS Why was that?

JM The player box at Wimbledon, unlike at any of the other Grand Slams, is shared between the two players’ supporting groups. There are two rows of six and then an aisle, and you have 18 seats each. So on one side of the divide you have 12 seats, then another six among the opposition.

If you are the higher seed, which Andy had been all the way through to the final, you can get these two rows of six separated from everybody else. But when it came to the final, Djokovic was the higher seed, so he had 12 seats along a row and six behind it. We had to move.

AS So you lost your seats?

JM We lost our seats! And you get quite superstitious about where you sit. There’s nothing worse than sitting there with the opposition breathing down your neck. I understand it’s just sport, but I hate it. I removed myself and went and sat a row back, beside Leon Smith, who was Andy’s childhood coach.

He is like my third son and usually brings good sweets – which is very important.

AS Did he pass you a pan drop [a Scottish sweet]?

JM No, chocolate-covered toffees, because then I don’t speak. There was a time when I was getting a lot of people having a go at me . . .

AS Because you are very passionate.

JM I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m not making any apologies for it. I was getting slammed by quite a lot of people, including some significant former players, and I thought maybe I ought to be careful how I behave. [I remembered] things like the BBC picturing you in slow motion clapping and stopped wearing sleeveless tops: I started thinking more about how people were seeing me.

There were periods of Andy’s career when he was getting a very bad press, and I was always trying to remind him that the people writing these things don’t know you as a person. They don’t know anything about us. They’re making assumptions based on how you behave on the court, where you are very passionate and very serious about what you do.

Of course you want to try to master it. When you are very young and you’re thrust into the public eye, it’s not an easy thing to do. It comes with maturity and experience. But I think when I was getting everything chucked at me I was trying to remember my own words – that the people who write these things don’t know me. They make their own assumptions.

AS To be fair, I think that other journalists, particularly women, have challenged that recently. There’s also the question of success. I mean, it’s easy to get on people’s backs when they’re not winning.

JM I think there were a number of things he said in jest that suddenly became front-page news. It’s something that has haunted him for years, sadly.

AS It does strike me that there is something – and maybe it’s just the way of the world, maybe it’s not confined to Scotland or the UK or London media. Did Djokovic get done over by the Serbian press?

JM No. Our press is huge. We’ve got about 13 daily papers, 13 Sunday papers and all sorts of broadcast channels and radio stations. There’s just so much media in our country. Since Tim [Henman] and Greg [Rusedski] retired, the spotlight has been on Andy.

It would help a lot if there were more players competing at the top end of the game to share that spotlight. We’ve got the two girls, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, starting to do well on the women’s side, and Dan Evans came through at the US Open [in 2013], but Andy was in the spotlight from a very young age and he’s had to learn to handle that.

AS I never do an interview after I make a major speech because your adrenalin levels are all over the place. Tennis players have got no choice, and it’s gone beyond just getting the trophy and doing an interview later – now it’s an immediate interview. I think it’s incredible that people can do this. When you’ve just lost the biggest game of your life and the interviewer says, “Would you like to tell us all about it?”, what can you say?

What was tougher for you – watching Andy being interviewed after losing to Roger Federer [in the Wimbledon men’s final in 2012], or when Andy was about to win?

JM Losing the Wimbledon final. When he started to speak I thought, “Oh no, poor thing,” because I knew how much it meant to him. It was very hard to watch. I knew how much he was hurting and I just thought, “Oh, you’re baring your soul in front of all those people . . .”

AS Let’s wind forward to his Wimbledon victory. Did you know Andy was going to come back to hug you?

JM No. The thing is, there was no chance I would get out of my seat and run down to him. I was just so delighted that he’d won, and I was watching it all happen. Then he started to climb down and everybody started shouting at him: “What about your mum?” and he turned round. The thing in my mind was, “He’s standing on that really flimsy canvas roof . . .”

AS Scottish swimming has achieved great success – out of any proportion to the number of swimmers or the facilities in Scotland – and tennis, thanks to your family’s efforts, has achieved significant success, too. Could you do a job with a few football teams in Scotland, do you think?

JM Football is a huge part of our sporting culture. I think what I do best is understanding skill development in children. I’d like it if we could teach them at a young age in the way we do with tennis. Walter Smith [the former Rangers and Scotland manager] recently said we have to start investing in the under-12s. I’ve been saying that about tennis for years. That’s what we need to do: put our best people with the best youngsters, because if you learn to love the game at a young age you have much more potential to develop skills quickly. I think we’ve shown in Scotland that we can do skill development; we just don’t have enough coaches.

AS Scotland’s greatest sports­people just now – Sir Chris Hoy; Andy; our most recent major golf champion, Catri­ona Matthew – all share a common trait. They are constantly searching for improvement, even when they are very good. I played golf with Catriona recently, and her coach said he’d put 20 yards on her drive in the last year. She was already a major champion, but to compete in America she had to drive longer. Chris Hoy, unfortunately, is not getting to the Commonwealth Games [this summer in Glasgow] – at some point the muscles have to give out – but he re-won the Olympic titles [in 2012] at a fairly advanced age for a cyclist. Andy is a double major champion, but still looking to improve his game. All that requires work. You couldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

JM I think that underlies it all: loving the game. But I also think those characteristics are usually fostered by your environment, whether that’s the family environment, or the sporting environment. When I was working with young players, it didn’t matter to me what level they were at. It was always: “What’s the next stage for you?” And that would be the same all the way through Jamie and Andy’s careers, because we didn’t know what we were getting into. When they became very good under-12s, I had to go and look at the best under-14s, asking: “What are they going to have to do to compete at that level in two years’ time?”

AS You know the idea of ClubGolf – the Scottish initiative to put a golf club in the hand of every nine-year-old in the country? At what age should youngsters get a tennis racket in their hand?

JM Mini tennis, which uses abbreviated bats, badminton courts and sponge balls, can start when you are five or six. Kids need to get used to manipulating a piece of equipment and being able to throw and catch and chase a ball before you can actually play tennis. If you were doing that as a nationwide tennis initiative, I would say seven to eight would be right.

AS Can you tell just by looking at them whether a youngster has talent?

JM I think that at a very young age you can tell which kids move well naturally and are well co-ordinated. If you put them in the right environment, you can see whether they’re competitive or not as well. But identifying the talent is one thing; nurturing it is something quite different. It gets to the serious stage when you’re 16 or 17, when the stress is less on the parent providing the opportunity and it’s up to the player: do they actually want to be a full-time tennis player? When you’re playing in the juniors, there’s no prize money, there’s no nothing. Suddenly, you’re 17 or 18 and you have to win to make money. There are very few players outside the top 100 who actually make money, because you’re bearing all the expenses yourself.

AS There are many other sports, but maybe they don’t work as hard?

JM Well, if you look at something like football, there are hundreds of thousands of people who make a living out of football, but it’s a team sport, and the difference between an individual and a team sport is that you get signed up by a club and the club provides the training and coaching.

AS The super income is a new phenomenon – a television phenomenon. It’s only very recent, but now you can get pretty average players, certainly in the [English] Premiership, who earn extraordinary salaries.

JM With football, you don’t have any outgoings, because the club absorbs them. So whether you’re on £600 a week or £600,000 a week, it’s yours. With tennis, you have to pay out for everything yourself: your coaching team, all the related costs of having them travel with you, and for the most part you are not playing at home. Apart from the grass season you’re on the road all the time. Your expenses are huge and you only make money depending on whether you win or not . . .

AS So it’s a bit like golf, in that sense.

JM It’s very like golf – but golf’s prize money is much bigger.

AS And you’ve got a reasonable amount of time at the top in golf: 20 years, maybe 25 years. You can’t have that much time at the top in tennis.

JM It’s a much more physical sport, and a combat sport, you know, so that’s why you get domination, as with Federer, Nadal, Djo­kovic and Andy – but Federer and Nadal in particular. I think this is the strongest ever era in men’s tennis, because they all push each other. That’s why the standard is so high.

AS You were handing out tea with Rafa’s uncle Toni at Wimbledon, weren’t you?

JM Yeah. Toni has been Rafa’s coach since he was a little boy.

AS Have you known him for a long time?

JM Andy and Jamie grew up with Rafa and Novak. They were all on the under-12 circuit and the under-14 circuit together, so, for me, these guys are part of the furniture. I’ve known Toni for years, and we did a fun thing where we were handing out coffees to the people who had been queuing all night.

AS I was going to ask you about your tweeting. You have become a mass tweeter. When did you start?

JM Probably a couple of years ago now. I just think it’s a fun way of engaging with people who are tennis fans. And it’s totally up to you how you use your Twitter.

AS It’s direct.

JM It’s direct, yeah, and you can reply to people that you don’t know. It’s up to you how you use it, and I tend to follow either people who give me information about tennis, or people who I think are funny. Plus, people from totally different walks of life who I either admire or am interested in, to see what they’re up to. So I follow, for example, Nicola Sturgeon.

AS I have the most amazing job trying to keep my number of followers above Nicola’s. I have to kind of mass-email everybody I can think of . . . You tweeted recently that you were going to play golf with me.

JM I know –

AS And I was on the first tee of the golf course bereft.

JM The thing is I don’t play golf. I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t play golf.

AS That’s not entirely true, because I saw you at a practice facility on television a couple of nights later hitting a few balls.

JM I did. But you didn’t see the first two that I hit. I nearly killed two photographers. It was awful.

AS Were you aiming at them?

JM No, no, honestly. I went for a lesson – my brother’s a golf pro. I said, “Look, I’m going to play in this thing. Will you give me a wee lesson?” I went up to the driving range at Gleneagles on the practice mats and nearly beheaded the little kid beside me. I’m really dangerous. I have enormous respect for strong Scottish women such as Catriona Matthew . . . that she does what she does with two little kids. And her husband caddies for her. I love all that. I think: “There’s a family. They made it work.”

AS She won the Open at Royal Lytham within three months of giving birth, which is one of the great sporting achievements in history, in my estimation. I like to make sure I mention that when people talk about sport, because it doesn’t get the publicity . . . So – you are passionate about women in Scotland, about sport, tennis, participation, youngsters achieving their potential. What else? What about the hotel you’ve bought just outside Dunblane?

JM We completed the purchase of the hotel in February 2013. The next three months or so were all about getting the hotel management group in: architects, surveyors, contractors. The work started at the beginning of June and it’s due to open at the beginning of April. It’s been a fascinating project. For me, it’s lovely to be learning something new that has nothing to do with tennis.

AS And there’s no trace of this in the family – hospitality?

JM No, absolutely none. Jamie was married there almost three years ago now and the hotel closed quite soon after that. It was always the place in the Dunblane area where you would go for a special occasion. My mum and dad also had their silver wedding there, their golden wedding there. My twin nieces were christened there. It was just a beautiful old hotel in gorgeous surroundings.

Not long after Jamie had been married, the agent in charge of selling it dropped his card in to my brother’s shop on Dunblane High Street and asked: “Could you pass this on to your sister, just in case the family is interested? The Cromlix is going on the market in the next few months.” So my brother passed it on to me and I gave Andy a call and I said: “Oh, you know Cromlix is going on the market? The guy who is selling it has dropped his card in just in case.” He said, “I’d like to buy that. Go and find out about it and have a look.”

It hadn’t had much investment for about 20 or so years and it needed a lot of work. Obviously, you are not going to live in a house like that. It is too big and the running costs would be enormous. The family had had it for 500 or 600 years. When we showed that we had an interest in it they were delighted, because it is going to somebody local who will restore it to its former glory and it can be a kind of jewel in the crown of the area again.

AS How do you juggle all the things you are doing? My big sister and brother-in-law bought a hotel in the Edinburgh area. I remember going to see them one night a few years back. Andrew was getting a beer barrel out of the cellar. He said, “I was a Buchan fairmer for 25 years and I never knew what hard work was until I bought this hotel.”

JM You find the right people for the right roles. I haven’t had to do all that much. You just need to have a broad understanding of what is going on and keep an eye on the outgoings. Andy has renamed all the rooms after significant Scottish people, past and present, so he has a Ferguson [Alex], a Connery, a Burns and a Hoy.

AS Oh, I’ll tell Sean . . .

JM I told Alex when I saw him at Wimbledon: “By the way, Andy has called one of the rooms in his hotel after you.” He said: “Has he now?” And I said: “Yeah, it’s the wine cellar.” When it was announced that we’d bought it, the media called it “Double Faulty Towers”.

AS Let’s say you were an MSP. Let’s say you were making your maiden speech as a newly elected member of the Scottish Parliament. What would you say?

JM I think women in sport and getting kids more physically active at a young age, through primary schools and through targeting parents, would be key.

I was at a launch at the US Tennis Association during the US Open; it was part of National Childhood Obesity Month. They had a number of people talking about how physical inactivity had killed 5.2 million people – that’s more than smoking. Eighty per cent of children worldwide don’t get what is supposed to be the quota of physical activity required to make them healthy.

The USTA is trying to get more kids into tennis by making it more fun, more accessible. And now they were targeting the parents, because the parents will take the kids to play, and then you get more parents involved.

Alex Salmond and Judy Murray portraits: Armando Ferraro for the New Statesman