Tennis’ Royal Family

considers what will happen to British tennis when the Super Murray-o brothers fade into retirement

Speaking to the Daily Mail ahead of his team’s Davis Cup semi-final victory over Australia, Andy Murray insisted that the British side is “not about one individual.”

He added, “There are nine or ten players here who all have their part to play and everyone, I’m expecting, is going to perform well.”

His teammates took his expecation as instruction, performing exceptionally over the weekend. Dan Evans showed flashes of the maverick quality that saw Leon Smith turn to him in the absence of a fit Kyle Edmund and a firing James Ward.

Jamie Murray showed that he is every inch his brother’s equal when it comes to doubles tennis, in an outstanding match against the experienced Australian pair of Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt.

It was three hours and 56 minutes that not only reminded people how entertaining the doubles format can be but, crucially, reminded British tennis how much it is going to miss the Murray family when their pseudo-marriage comes to an end.

Show me a family who have done more for their sport than the Murrays. Andy’s consistent success in the major championships – he has reached at least the quarter-finals in 14 of the last 15 tournaments in which he has played and has given people a reason to watch tournaments with a genuine hope of seeing a compatriot succeed.

Jamie has elevated the status of the doubles game, winning Wimbledon in 2007 and recently striking a highly promising partnership with Australian John Peers which has already yielded two Grand Slam finals.

To believe that the family’s influence ends on the court would be to do them a disservice, with Judy Murray’s off court influence particularly hard to ignore. Currently, she has a role as captain of the Fed Cup team and was previously Head Coach of Scotland.

Despite having no staff and a negligible budget, she identified twenty players – including her two sons – from which two Grand Slam winners, four Davis Cup players, a Commonwealth gold medallist, an Olympic Gold medallist and Fed Cup player emerged.

Given the scale of this family’s influence, it is worrying that there appears to be no-one who can pick up the proverbial racquet once the Murrays fade into a well-earned retirement.

British tennis’ governing body seems to offer little help. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has only recently regained funding witheld from them by Sport England in 2012 thanks to a refocusing on participation rather than elite development.

Signs of impact from this change in approach appear scarce.Even the success of Andy Murray at the US Open and Wimbledon could not arrest the slide in participation numbers. From 2008 to 2012,  almost 70,000 people stopped playing tennis weekly.

Where else is the spark for a surge in participation going to be found, if not in the field of elite competition? Realistically, Andy Murray has four years left competing at the top of his game, given the physical demand his style of tennis puts on his body. The influence he has on the public and the exposure that his success gives the sport can only be relied on for those four years.

So what about the future? Is there anyone to paper over the cracks in the absence of the current British number one?

Barring a rapid ascension into the elite from a junior, Britain’s best hopes for success lie in Kyle Edmund and Laura Robson. The former is yet to realise the potential that his two junior Grand Slam doubles titles promised and Robson’s career is threatening to be defined by injuries rather than talent.

Britain’s dependence on the family from Dunblane looks set to be, with the exception of the extraordinary, terminal. It is not a stretch to say that the drop in participation has been offset by people inspired by the exploits of the Murrays. Without their influence, the statistics could look even worse.

Whether the LTA’s new initiatives improve the state of British tennis or not, they are indebted to the Murrays for giving them the chance. Without the exposure and positive press that the family generates all year round for an otherwise seasonal sport, the LTA would have been left counting their pennies after a funding cut when investment has never been more important.

Leave a comment