Jamie Murray: 'People say Andy should lighten up... and I should be more nasty'
The Brian Viner Interview: Scot opens up on being a big brother, getting married and the surprisingly cut-throat world of professional doubles
Friday 17 June 2011
Jamie Murray is used to standing in the shadows while the spotlight's glare falls upon his more feted, more talented sibling, as it will so powerfully these next few days. "I'll always be Andy's brother regardless of how good or bad my career goes from here," he says with the merry laugh of a man who appears to harbour not even the slightest complex that he earns his living from a game at which he is second best even in his own family.
Anyway, he's heading in the right direction through the rankings again, after something of a slump. And he's the one with the Grand Slam pedigree, having so entertainingly won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon four years ago, with the engaging Jelena Jankovic. Does he wind up his ambitious younger brother, three times a Grand Slam singles runner-up, with a reminder that it is Murray J, not yet Murray A, on the honours board at the All-England Club? Another laugh. "No, I don't think that gets under his skin too much."
The brothers paired up, briefly and unsuccessfully, for the men's doubles at Queen's Club last week. Andy, happily, then went on to find his finest grass-court singles form, his thrilling victory in Monday's rain-delayed final kindling familiar expectations that this might be The Year. Well under the nation's radar, meanwhile, the older Murray is also preparing for Wimbledon, where he will play men's doubles with the Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, and hopes to contest the mixed with Nadia Petrova, with whom he reached the semi-finals of the French Open earlier this month.
Mixed doubles is largely confined to the Grand Slam events, which is frustrating for a man whose game it suits so well. "I wish I could play it every week," he says. He does not subscribe to the theory that the way to prosper in mixed doubles is for the man to go for everything. "Some of the girls will tell you that, but no, it makes a huge difference if you're playing with a girl who can hold her own, who can basically match you from the baseline. I'd say most of the guys play at about the same level, but there's a big gap in class between the top girls and the lower-ranked girls. Last year at Wimbledon I played [with Britain's Laura Robson] against [Vera] Zvonereva [and Andre Sa], and she made it so difficult for me. I think I play mixed doubles very well, but I'm lucky to have played with Jankovic, then Liezel Huber, who was No 1 in doubles for three or four years, and Petrova."
Whoever his partner is at Wimbledon, and however they fare, there will be no feverish "love match" speculation, as there was, relentlessly but inaccurately, about him and Jankovic. For the first time, Murray will set out for the All-England Club from the marital home, also in Wimbledon, which he shares with his Colombian wife of less than eight months, Alejandra. They met in a bar on the King's Road in west London, and she, appealingly, had no idea who he was, indeed scarcely knew her serve from her smash.
"It's nice that she likes you for who you are, not for the fact that you play tennis or whatever else goes with that," says Murray, in his occasional, slightly disconcerting style of referring to himself in the second-person singular. "She's been through a lot in her life, she really understands the world, and she is such a positive influence on me. She finished her MBA in November and since then she's travelled with me, which has laid a nice foundation for our marriage, and has a lot to do with me playing better. I want to be the best person I can be for her, and it's much more satisfying trying to do that than only thinking about yourself. It's the best thing that ever happened to me, that's for sure."
As an endorsement of marriage, and particularly marriage against the strange backdrop of professional tennis, this takes some beating. And I am encouraged by Murray's candour and eloquence to bring up the Dunblane massacre, a subject which in interviews with his brother has become pretty much taboo. I understand why, but Jamie was also at Dunblane Primary School that dreadful day in March 1996 when Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and a teacher, and, 10 years old at the time, might be expected to have keener and perhaps more traumatic memories.
"Not really," he says, equably. "It's weird, because I didn't understand the global scale of what happened. I knew the teacher [Gwen Mayor], who'd been my teacher in Primary One and was a really nice lady. But I didn't see anything on the day. Andy did. And I heard stuff. But ... it was hard to comprehend. Obviously, it's a terrible thing for the town to be tainted with that, but I'm glad, as I'm sure a lot of other people are, that it's got something else to be known for now, with Andy being from there ... and me."
Were it not for Andy, I suppose Dunblane would take even more pride in Jamie's accomplishments. But, of course, for sunniness of personality, it is Andy who is eclipsed. We saw that in 2007, when Jamie and Jelena, fleetingly Britain's favourite if disappointingly platonic couple, triumphed so smilingly. Could it be, though, that both brothers in their different ways are hampered by their on-court temperaments, one too cheerful and the other too grumpy?
"Yeah, possibly," says Murray. "A few people would say that he should lighten up and I should be more nasty. I know there are guys out there who come and shake your hand and ask how your life is, and the next day they're hitting smashes through your chest. Kevin [Ullyett, his coach] keeps telling me, 'You've got to realise these guys are taking money from you, frickin' do what you have to do'."
Nobody needs to tell Andy to get angrier on court, but does it irritate him, perhaps even arouse his big-brotherly protective instincts, when folk complain that the younger Murray is a misery? After all, he knows better than anyone the private Andy, by all accounts a witty and fun-loving fellow. "Yeah, but that's the image he gives off. I'm not going to tell you he's the happiest guy in the world when he's playing. He's not. And he doesn't try to hide it. Off the court he's fine, he's not like that at all, but at the end of the day you only make changes if you want to, if they come from inside."
I suppose when John McEnroe, of all people, suggests that Andy should be less overwrought on court, it might be time to make those changes. But then singles is by definition more intense than doubles, which is doubtless partly why the brothers have specialised in the way they have. "I didn't make a conscious effort to play solely doubles until 2006," says Murray. "It was a no-brainer. I was ranked between 800 and 900 in singles, but 60 in doubles, and I thought, 'This is what I want to do, playing the best players in the world, not scraping the odd match on the Futures tour'."
His first regular partner was the American Eric Butorac, and together they enjoyed considerable success, before Butorac was unceremoniously dumped. The recollection still makes Murray wince. "I got some bad advice, other players telling you they wanted to play with you, then going back on their word. I was young and I got swayed by that, not realising what I had with Eric, and not really understanding the doubles tour, where people get screwed all the time. Everyone wants to find the best partner they can. At the end of the day it's business. It's pretty cut-throat. But yeah, that's a decent-sized regret for me. In the same situation now I wouldn't have done it. But it happened and that's it."
To compound his regret, Murray then found a more illustrious partner in Max Mirnyi, and yet the pairing never took off. He is still looking for a regular partner. In the meantime, it helps to have the world No 1 on speed-dial, not least because tournaments that might otherwise be closed to him are only too delighted to admit Murray A/Murray J.
"Yeah, I'm very fortunate that I can sometimes play with Andy. We've still got to win the matches [as they did to capture the Valencia Open title last November], but it's a good chance to make [ranking] points."
Who assumes seniority on court: the doubles specialist, or the singles star? "It depends. A bit of both. There's not a whole lot of tactics, just me pushing him to play with good energy and enjoy it, not to get so stressed, because he wants to win really bad for me. For him it's not the end of the world if he loses but he wants to do well for me. But if he enjoys it, I know he'll play better."
This brings us inexorably back to Andy's singles career, and his chances of winning Wimbledon. Does Murray really believe that the same equation – enjoying it more, and therefore playing better – might help him to give the nation what it so yearns for?
"I don't know. It's different for all of them. Roger [Federer] looks like he's out for a Sunday stroll, never looks rushed or worried, but Rafa [Nadal] has to be so zoned in the minute he steps on court. It's finding what makes you tick." Has it, though, in his view, been Andy's temperament that has let him down in each of those three Grand Slam finals? "Erm... I wouldn't want to go into that. There's obviously something he needs to improve on, because he's never performed his best. He obviously needs to figure out why and adjust. There are no guarantees. You can play well and still lose at that level. But to get to the final and not perform well, that must be more disappointing."
Murray doesn't mind talking about his brother in critical or negative terms, and was notably outspoken when Andy abruptly withdrew from a Davis Cup tie in Argentina in 2008. "It was one of those things," he says now. "The problem is that our chances are always based on whether he's playing or not. That whole thing was handled badly." There follows what might be interpreted as another slight dig when I ask about the influence of his mother Judy, so visible whenever Andy plays, on his own tennis career. "She's always there if I ask for advice, but she's not got that much to do with my career, to be honest. She knows I'm in good hands, with Kevin and before that Louis Cayer. I don't need my mum there all the time."
Dig or not, the pair are manifestly close, and fiercely, enduringly competitive with each other. "I used to play quite a bit of golf. I got down to [a handicap of] three when I was 16 or 17, but Andy didn't have the patience for it. He used to get mad. Now, he plays pretty well. And during Wimbledon we get free golf at Royal Wimbledon, so at this time of year he really gets into it." It is ironic, I venture, that while Murraymania gets everyone else in the land talking tennis, it gets Andy on to the golf course. "Yeah, he really loves the competition," says Jamie, unnecessarily.
Jamie Murray uses the Dunlop Biomimetic 500 Tour racket. For more information go to: www.dunlopsport.com
Sibling rivalry: Andy Murray v Jamie Murray
Andy Murray/Jamie Murray
24 Age 25
London, England Lives Dunblane, Scotland
17 (singles) Titles 5 (doubles)
4 (singles), 82 (doubles) Ranking 46 (doubles)
£10m Career prize-money £0.3m
2005 Turned pro 2004
Right-handed Plays Left-handed
6'3" (190cm) Height 6'3" (190cm)
2 (singles) Highest rank 27 (doubles)
Dani Vallverdu Coach Louis Cayer
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