Andy Murray: Big brother is watching

Britain's best hopes at this year's Wimbledon rest with Andy Murray. But, according to his mum, the real tennis talent in the family was his older brother, Jamie. So what went wrong? Adrian Turpin uncovers a tale of broken promise and fierce sibling rivalry
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wimbledon 2005. A lanky tennis player in a Fred Perry shirt strides though a car park at the All England Club. This teenage Scot is not due on court today and, given his youth and relative lack of achievement in his sport, he might expect an afternoon of anonymous spectating. But on this balmy afternoon - in a nation that has gone temporarily barmy for tennis - he cannot slip through the crowd unnoticed.

"Murray!" roars a pink-faced man in a baseball cap. "Go for it, Andy," cries a woman in a short skirt. There is even a misguided cry of "Ing-er-lund".

Had he been present, Britain's great white tennis hope, Andy Murray, might have found such fervour a bit disorientating. But for his brother Jamie - the mistaken target of Murraymania - it was doubly bewildering. "I just didn't know what to do," he says, looking back. "Anyway, I'm much too handsome to be confused with him."

Jamie, who is older than his brother by 15 months, tells this story with good grace. Yet the joke fails to disguise the fact that he has one of the least enviable positions in sport: attempting to forge a tennis career in his more famous brother's shadow.

Britain has always had its share of sporting siblings: the Comptons, Bedsers, Underwoods, Nevilles, Ferdinands, to name but a few. Rarely, however, has the disparity in profile been as obvious as with the Murrays. While Andy's best ATP singles ranking is 43rd, Jamie's is a more humble 834th. One is becoming accustomed to playing in Grand Slam events; the (omega) other barely scrapes a living playing on the distinctly unglamorous Futures and Challenger circuits.

"Those kinds of events are a million miles from Wimbledon," says Eleanor Preston, a long-time tennis journalist and co-author, with Rob Robertson, of Andy Murray's recent biography, called The Story So Far. " With a lot of Futures events, you're lucky if you get an umpire. Most of the time, you're calling your own line. Players will often sleep two or three to a room. If you lose your first-round tie, you can't pay your hotel room. It's bloody tough. Everyone is talented but everyone is dying to get out of it." In the same week that Andy won his first ATP tour title in San Jose, California, Jamie was slugging it out in Sheffield.

The money tells its own story, too: Andy's career winnings so far are already £218,460, while his older sibling Jamie's are just £4,583. At this year's Wimbledon, while "the nation's hopes rest on Andy" (copyright all BBC commentators), Jamie and his doubles partner Colin Fleming are, at the time of writing, hoping for a wildcard entry to the tournament.

Does Jamie mind playing second fiddle to his brother? "No, I'm very proud of what Andy has done," he says. "I'm so far behind him in the rankings I've never found his success added pressure."

Doesn't he ever feel even a tiny bit of envy? "I'd be lying," he admits, "if I said there weren't moments when I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if it were me?'"

It's not such a preposterous thought. The brothers shared the same upbringing and - although Jamie is left-handed, unlike Andy - the same tennis genes: their mother, Judy, was a former Scottish champion and for 10 years a Scottish national coach. Until the age of 13, Jamie was ranked in the top five for his age in the world. For him, anything must have seemed possible. So why did their fortunes divide? Had things worked out a little differently, could it have been Jamie in his brother's expensively endorsed shoes? The answers to these questions reveal a lot: about Andy Murray and his motivation, about the pressures of making it in tennis, but also about the tiny, often invisible line that divides the good from the very good in sport.

On the day we talk in early June, Jamie is at the Roehampton Club in west London. He and Colin Fleming have been training with the former Canadian Davis Cup captain, Louis Cayer. This preparation, they hope, will be the start of a path that leads them, via a tournament in Surbiton, to this year's Wimbledon.

Andy, meanwhile, has not been having it all his own way of late. A couple of days before, he crashed out in the first round of the French Open, laid low by a back injury during his match against Gael Monfils. With number two son out of competition, Judy Murray has come to London to be nearer son number one.

It is impossible to write about Jamie or Andy's careers without starting with Judy. Straight-talking (journalists love her for it), slightly steely ("I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of her," says one of the juniors she used to coach), and incapable of concealing her love for her sons, there is a touch of Sharon Osbourne about her. Balancing her children's careers is not only a logistical juggling act but also, one suspects, an emotional one. When the two boys were juniors, she once said, "the thing I most hated was when they played against each other. I always wanted Jamie to win, which must have been tough for Andy."

What she has never done, it seems, is push her children to succeed whether they like it or not. "They've always been a very sensible family - there's a great sense of perspective," says one tennis writer who knows the Murrays well.

"Mum was never one of those crazy tennis parents," Jamie confirms. "I've seen a lot of them, particularly when I've gone abroad, but she just wasn't like that. She was always coaching [at the Dunblane sports club in Perthshire], and we'd go along, so it was inevitable we'd get interested."

Jamie was four years old when he first picked up a racket; Andy was three. They learnt not by playing mini-tennis but by hitting balloons and sponge balls around the house. But even allowing for age, it soon became clear that Jamie was the better natural player. According to Preston and Robertson's biography, "Judy had to spend a lot of time throwing balls to Andy to improve his coordination. Jamie was a much more natural player."

"Jamie became the type of singles player who had an incredible variety of shots," recalls Ellinore Lightbody, the current Scotland coach and a former doubles partner of Judy Murray. "He had a lot of flair and a very aggressive game. In a way he was too talented because when he came to play a shot he had too many decision to make. Some of the players who had fewer options perhaps found it easier."

But one area in which Andy always seemed to have the upper hand was ambition. At the age of five he demanded to play in a proper match in a proper competition; at eight he made his debut in the Dunblane Sports Club third team, playing alongside fiftysomething architect John Clark (better known for building the Skye Bridge). According to Judy, Andy told his partner that he was standing too close to the net: "You should stand back a bit as you might get lobbed if I decide to serve and volley."

Jamie never practised much with his brother, he claims, "because we argued too much, but up until the age of 13 or 14 we played against each other".

Andy tells a slightly different story: "Jamie is just over a year older than me and that has been absolutely critical for me. Right from the moment we started playing tennis, we had this incredible rivalry. There was a court about two minutes from our home in Dunblane and we would play there regularly. He beat me every time. Then he would brag about it all week, which used to drive me crazy. He was bigger and stronger than me, but I just worked and worked and pushed myself. All the time my dream was to beat him, and that has just made me more competitive."

An older junior player from the early days remembers them well: "Andy especially tended to aspire to become Jamie. But Jamie was older and he'd grown up more quickly, so he was one step ahead. They were quite similar in their will to win. Jamie seems to have become more relaxed now, but on court they were both temperamental." Off court, too, in Andy's case: "He was known to tip up the Monopoly or draughts boards if things weren't going his way," says Judy.

When the brothers travelled to tournaments, gregarious Jamie cushioned his more introverted brother. "It would have been interesting to have seen how [Andy] would have managed without Jamie," says Leon Smith, who has coached both brothers, "because he might have had to become a lot more extrovert. Jamie was the one who chatted up the girls for both of them." Perhaps it left Andy more time to concentrate on his ground strokes.

Today, Jamie shrugs off the shock of being overtaken (or, as it may look to some, sized up and slowly mown down) by his little brother. "I've had quite a lot of time to adapt to it," he says. Like Morrissey, you suspect, he can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible.

In a pre-Wimbledon interview in the Sunday Times, Andy gave a graphic account of the day that he defeated Jamie for the first time. "The first time I ever beat him was in the final of an under-10 tournament in Solihull... My mum had taken a group of Scottish players down and we were on our way back that night in a minibus when I started teasing my brother that I had beaten him. We were sitting opposite each other and I had my arm on the arm-rest when he'd had enough. He shouted at me and pounded my hand with his fist. An hour later my finger was blue and purple. I woke up next morning and the nail was growing into my skin. I had to get an injection from the doctor, but my nail never recovered."

A violent reaction, but one has some sympathy for Jamie. The pre- and early-teen Andy sounds like an older brother's nightmare. Aged nine, the younger Murray played his first overseas tournament in Rouen, losing in three sets in the semi-final to one Gael Monfils. When Jamie eventually beat the French player in the final, two sets to love, Andy declared that it was because he had tired him out.

And so the upstaging continued. In 1998, Jamie reached the final of the Under-12 Orange Bowl in Florida - one of the most prestigious junior events in the world - only to lose in the tie-break. The next year Andy won it. (Even in 2004, when Jamie played his first junior Grand Slam event in Paris, it was only because Andy had withdrawn injured.) (omega)

As Andy's star rose, Jamie's fell. This see-saw effect may have been coincidence. "You have to remember," Lightbody says, "that being successful at tennis at the age of 12 or 13 is just putting yourself on the starting blocks. A lot of junior players think they're going to make it in the seniors but that's rare."

It's hard to imagine, though, that Jamie's confidence was boosted by Andy racing up behind him. His nadir came in 1996, when he went to study at a Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) academy in Cambridge. Where the off-court problems finished and the on-court problems started is hard to say. "I was 12 years old at the time," Jamie recalls. "It was a boarding school and I was homesick from the word go. I found it difficult because I'd been a lot, lot better than everybody else at that age. And now I didn't feel that they were getting way better, but that it was me getting a lot worse. I started to get down about it."

A small storm erupted last autumn after Andy claimed that Jamie's spell at the LTA had "ruined" his brother for a couple of years, an accusation that the LTA - understandably embarrassed that it might have strangled one of Britain's brightest tennis talents - has denied. Jamie is more diplomatic.

"The LTA has been very good to me," he says. "When people say things like the LTA ruined me, it isn't true." Yet he was clearly unhappy with some of the coaching he received, in particular the way that the staff tried to remodel his forehand. "It became a horrendous shot, so much so that I'd try to avoid having to hit it. It's still my weakness, although in doubles it's not so crucial. I went back home after a few months. And after that I wasn't playing tennis or stuff because I'd had a bad experience. I lost my appetite for a while. But I'm not bitter about anything like that. It happened. It's done."

If Jamie harbours more regrets, he's keeping them hidden, but he doesn't seem the kind of person to pick at an old wound. And his passion for tennis did finally return. A few years ago, the brothers reached the finals of the US Open Juniors doubles together, and in November they played together for Scotland against England in the Aberdeen Cup. "We had a pretty good time - at least I did," Jamie says. They don't see so much of each other these days, for obvious reasons, he adds. When they do, they compete - but only over PlayStation and golf.

Jealousy doesn't seem to be part of Jamie's nature. Instead, he seems protective of his little brother. Would Jamie tell an umpire that he was "fucking useless", as Andy did during the Davis Cup? "I'd try to avoid it actually. He didn't choose the best time to do it but he was a bit unlucky. You see footballers say things like that all the time and nobody blinks."

Only when it comes to Andy's single-mindedness does he allow himself a little fraternal dig: "He'll try to give me a few tips. I'm happy for him to do that but it wouldn't be reciprocated. He'd struggle to listen."

Nice guys finish last, the old saying goes, and there is a theory that genial Jamie is simply not cut-throat enough to reach the very top of his sport. In the past, even he has subscribed to it: "Andy hates to lose," he once said. "I need to develop that a bit."

But don't write him off just yet. With a world doubles ranking in the 200s, Murray and Fleming's ambition to force their way into the ATP tour, the top level of the sport, is realistic.

"Jamie is still very young," says Eleanor Preston, "because Andy is such a prodigy that's easy to forget. If you look at him in isolation, he's a very talented player. You've also got to remember that he's a serve-volleyer, whereas Andy plays from the baseline. Those players always take longer to develop."

Ellinore Lightbody agrees: "At this level the margins are so small, and both the Murrays have still got a lot of physical growing to do. Jamie is concentrating on his doubles but he could still be a very good singles player. It won't take a lot."

Could he win Wimbledon one year? A bookmaker would offer very long odds, although stranger things have happened in tennis, where growth spurts and burn-outs can play havoc with young players. One thing is certain. If Andy Murray goes on to fulfil his potential and lift a Grand Slam trophy, Jamie will have every right to say: "He couldn't have done it without me."

Relative success More lower-ranking siblings

Marcus Vick

The younger sibling of American football superstar quarterback Michael is more famous for the driving, drug and gun offences he committed as a college player. As a result he was overlooked by NFL teams in this year's draft.

Chris Flintoff

At Andrew Flintoff's youth club, it was his big brother who hit the record score of 213. Chris chose university over a pro career, but now plays for Lancaster and has represented England at chess.

Lynsay Coulthard

David recently says his younger sister was "naturally a better driver" than him, and this is backed up by their childhood racing instructor. But, lacking his dedication, university took Lynsay away from the sport.

Brent Gretzky

The younger sibling of Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne, Brent has never escaped his brother's shadow. Branded "The Not-As-Great One", he played for Motor City Mechanics last season in the minor United Hockey League.

Mira and Krishna Singh

Top golfer Vijay Singh has two golfing brothers who have both represented Fiji in the sport. Vijay admits Krishna had a "better swing" as a youth, but lacked the cool head that has become Vijay's trademark.

Wayne Lineker

In the eyes of his father, Wayne had "so much skill - a lot more than Gary", but never matched his brother's success. He built up a popular chain of sports bars before recently being jailed for money smuggling.

Christina Thorpe

Swimming phenomenon Ian "Thorpedo" Thorpe was actually led into the sport by his older sister. A top swimmer herself, Christina harboured Olympic dreams before her career was cut short by a shoulder injury.

Graham Rooney

Far from Manchester United's Theatre of Dreams, Wayne Rooney's 18-year-old brother currently turns out for Liverpool and District side Lobster, having recently transferred from local rivals Oyster. Andy Sharman

Comments