Article published on January 30, 2018.
As Judy Murray’s book has been selected for the shortlist of the ‘Autobiography of the Year’ category of the National Sports Book Awards, Jade Craddock gives us her take on this insightful book…
There are few sporting parents, I think, who are famous primarily because of their children, in the same way that Judy Murray is. Indeed, most people know her, I suspect, as Jamie and Andy’s mum, although some may know her for her stint on Strictly, but even then her ‘celebrity’ status was defined as that of tennis mom. It is fascinating really that an individual can be so reduced to an identity and role in a relationship to others, rather than in their own right, but that is, some may say, the price of both having successful children and being such an important and visible part of their journey – as any loving, proud parent would be – but also crucially the effect of the media, who have honed on in Judy Murray in a way that arguably they haven’t with the parents of other sports stars. Admittedly, Judy has made for a fascinating media study: a mother who is so present in her boys’ tennis lives and whose intent and earnest focus during their matches makes her appear to be a tough tiger mum. Yet, perhaps in her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing, and certainly in her autobiography, she is keen to distance herself from this pantomime-type role she’s been assigned and to show there’s more to her own story than her sons – though, of course, she remains immensely proud of their achievements – and there’s more to her than being the archetypal momager.
Some fans may know that Judy’s own associations with tennis began long before Jamie and Andy – growing up herself with tennis-loving parents. And Judy was in her own right a strong and successful tennis player as a young woman. Indeed, she explains how she turned down a prestigious US scholarship when she was on the cusp of really making a career in the sport and one can’t help but wonder how different this autobiography would have been had that not been the case. Instead Judy’s story moved away from tennis for a time and she became a mother. But far from the pushy parent image that has dogged her reputation, the autobiography suggests that Judy’s focus has always been on her children enjoying the fun and camaraderie of the sport. Her immense passion and almost clinical interest in the sport, most noticeably in the various coaching roles she has taken up, highlight the dichotomy between the personal and professional, though, that have underpinned her dual roles as mother and coach. And whilst I’m not sure the book will change everyone’s opinion on Judy Murray’s role in her sons’ tennis lives, one thing it does prove is how much, as a mother, she has invested and sacrificed to allow her sons to reach their potential and to fulfil their dreams. There is no way, despite their immense determination and ambition, that either Jamie or Andy would have got to where they are today if Judy wasn’t the woman she is.
Many parents put themselves out to give their children a chance to be involved in sport, but I can’t help but think that many other parents in a similar position to Judy would have given up at some point, as the financial, logistical and familial pressures all stacked up. And particularly eye-opening too is the portrait of life as a junior tennis star and the difficulties parents face in comparison to other sports, most noticeably football, where help and support is much more readily available. What is great is that Judy’s passion hasn’t stopped with her own offspring either, but the effort and time she has invested has been on behalf of a generation of children, both in her role as national coach and in her own endeavours with the various projects she has launched to give all children access and opportunities to be involved in tennis. She has done much too, to further the opportunities for women within the sport, despite the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated world particularly when she first started coaching, again proving that tennis is much more to her than simply her sons’ success.
Offset against all of Judy’s own stories as a coach are, of course, the stories of her sons’ rise to the top, and it’s really nice to get a mother’s perspective on some of the lesser known facts about Jamie and Andy’s careers, especially the lows and behind-the-scenes struggles that tend not to get talked about in the context of the successes. In many ways, this is just a story of a mother’s love and sacrifice for her sons, but it seems that the drive and ambition that have often led to so much negative coverage about Judy Murray are actually the fruits of a mother’s love and the foundations for her sons’ success. Judy is unapologetically ambitious and passionate about tennis, and without this British tennis may still have been waiting for its next big hope, rather than having two Wimbledon champions as well as multiple-Grand Slam winners and Olympic gold medallists in our lifetime. Judy Murray may be defined by her children’s careers, but their careers have unquestionably been defined by her.
Published 15th June 2017
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