Judy Murray “pleased” that Wimbledon now respects menstruation and calls for more safety for female players – an in-depth interview
DOHA – Menstruation has arrived at Wimbledon, and Judy Murray thinks it’s a reason to celebrate.
That tennis’s most traditional tournament is relaxing its strict rules for the benefit of women is, for an icon of girl power like Andy’s mother, a triumph and a good sign that the All England Tennis Club is moving with the times.
“It was many years ago that perhaps Wimbledon didn’t understand the trauma of women players playing during the period, fearing what might happen if you wear white. Thank goodness that’s changed,” said Judy Murray during an interview with CLAY in Doha.
Wimbledon will allow women tennis players to compete in dark shorts if they want to, a decision that comes after growing pressure to reduce concerns about the visibility of blood on menstruating players’ white clothing.
As is well known, white is sacred at Wimbledon, a hallmark of this most traditional of tournaments. But tradition has its complex sides, in this case for the women forced to follow it to the letter.
Judy experiences her son’s matches with the same passion as always. She even seems like a fan. When the former world number one throws the balls into the crowd after one of his victories in Qatar, she shouts: “Yes Andy, throw the ball over here to win the iPhone! One of those yellow balls was exchanged for a new phone in the sponsors’ yard at the Qatari tournament.
– What stage of your son’s career do you remember most fondly?
-Too many good memories, really. Since he started on the tour in 2005 that was the year when he made the third round in Wimbledon, at just 18. Great summer winning a lot of challengers. He qualyfied for the US Open. He made his first tour final in Bangkok, he lost to Federer in the final. That year was such a surprise, after suddenly winning the US Open juniors, and with a difficult start on the tour. You gotta learn the level on male futures, you don’t know anybody on the circuit, he had a start of the season without many victories. I remember his coach, Pato Alvarez, saying to him “You just have to learn the level. You will learn it very quickly”, and suddenly he did. Suddenly a year after in junior title in New York, he was 64 in the world.
– Such a long career you have witnessed in the very front row with ups and downs.
– When he got the hip injury, he was the number one in the world. He was playing the best tennis of his life. Really unlucky. It was in the French Open 2017 in the semi final against Wawrinka. That ended up with a few surgeries. Probably that cost him most of the next three years before the real comeback. He never stopped believing he could do it. He put himself through so much in terms of surgery, rehab, recovery, to get back on the tour with the level he wanted to play at. His resilience is really second to none. When I watch him this in week in Doha moving really well, playing spectacular I think in the behind the scenes. Everything he goes through on a daily basis to give himself a chance, at almost 36 to get back. He hasn’t lost the love for the game, the passion for the fight. He always says: “You have to learn to love the pain of the struggle, of the battle”. He has four children now. Is remarkable what he continues to achieve. He is an example to the younger players. Such a role model.
– He has won almost everything in tennis and he keeps fighting.
– Obviously, he loves the game, but what he loves about it is playing it. He loves the challenge, he is competitive in everything he does. The bigger the challenge the more he enjoys it. For me is great to be able to see him getting so much out of himself again after all the effort he has put in.
– In his lowest moments, did you imagine you were going to see your son coming back with this level?
– I think it was impossible to know. He needed a lot in order to try to build himself back up again. He had to allow his body to get use to having some metal in his hip. He had to learn how to look after his body to make it strong enough to be able to do what he wanted: run around a tennis court and compete. If you look at the matches that he played in the Australian Open, two five-hour matches within three days, he managed to do it. I think what he has been able to achieve will be a great example to other players who get injured, in terms of believing that if you do everything you possible can to give yourself a chance to get back, anything is possible.
– You still give him some mom advices?
– Only if he asks me. You know, he is 35 now, obviously he has a team around him, but you always need emotional support. I think it’s nice when family can come out and support him because we love him, not because we are employed to be there. And is always been like that. The bigger the event, a more stressful occasion where you need friends and family there. You will see that all of the top players at the Grand Slams have their family with them, because is a long hole, two weeks is a long time and you need some switch-off time. Is great to see him back and playing at this level again.
– As someone that know his rivals very well. Would you say Rafael Nadal will come back strong, or you see him close to an end?
– I’ve known Rafa since he was 11 years old. I first saw him in an under-12 event in France when he played against Jamie, my older son. I’ve known him all that time and I’ve just known him as an incredible competitor, incredible fighter. Loves the game. He is very similar to Andy, very focused about what he wants. Still have that desire to go out there and compete, but at the end of the day you are relying on your body to be able to perform. I don’t have knowledge of his body. I’m sure the desire would be there and if he wants to do it, I´m sure he will continue to perform in a high level. But as you get older, if your body doesn’t work, you don’t work.
– In which areas of tennis more women are required?
– I’ve been saying for many, many years. We need more women in the tennis workforce at all levels. When you look at the women’s tour, you find very few female coaches. Not only that, I think we need more female tournament directors, physios, fitness trainers, journalists, photographers. Tennis is probably the most gender equal sports in terms of prize money, endorsement, opportunities, media coverage, TV. And also fan base. Its pretty much 50-50 of men and women who actually watches tennis. But when you get to the top of the game the workforce is very much male dominant. More women around female players are needed: older women, more experienced to talk about physical, emotional, financial issues in confidence. I think women are far more likely to open up to other women and the tour would be much stronger if there were more women across the whole workforce.
– Does Emma Raducanu need a female coach guiding her?
– Not necessarily. I think she is a great young athlete, very smarthead. She loves tennis, she reads the game well. I think when you are young, the schedule might be pretty tough. It’s about ten and a half months of the year travelling. At the age of 20, if your whole team are guys and usually pretty much older guys, I think you miss out on the social side, where most of your friends are probably students, they are learning and partying. She is a great prospect and I think now that she is kind of setting around the 80 in the world I think that’s a good place to be at her age. Hopefully the spotlight is off her a little bit and she can develop in more peace and quiet, although media may have another ideas.
– At least she could try the idea of having female influence in her team.
Having friends around, and women in your team if you are female player I think can only be a good thing because women were once girls and therefore they understand all the physical and emotional changes that girls go through. The WTA Tour have some lifestyle managers, women who the players can go to speak to in confidence about certain things, which is great, but there’s no substitute from having your own person. When you have to invest so much in preparing your body physically for the demands of the tour every week, I think it’s useful to have a female trainer or a female physio who actually understands how women body works. And that’s not anything to do with Emma, that’s just girls in particular.
– Would you work with her?
– I wouldn’t go back to work on the tour with any player. I’ve made that very clear about five years ago, when I stopped being the Fed Cup captain. I been gone back on grassroots and so I spend a lot of time teaching people how to teach players effectively. I’m one of the global ambassadors of the WTA on their community engagement programme. The programme stopped because of the pandemic and its coming back in a few months so I’ll start doing that again. I have a very broad experience of all levels of tennis. How tour operates and what the demands, the life and business of tennis is like. Therefore, I’m quite in a good position to advice players, or coaches, or player parents. Coaches on tour have to be fully committed to the player, be 100% percent on the journey with them and I don’t have the energy.
– Took a while to Wimbledon to be more flexible in the dress code, but finally they will allow women to avoid white, which was sometimes a complication when they are on their period. How did you take that new?
– I was pleased to see that. In the past, pretty much all sports clothing was white. Little by little that has changed. Wimbledon is keeping up with the times answering a need. For many years, perhaps not understanding the trauma for players of playing during your period, being fearful of what might happen if you are wearing white clothing. So good it has changed now.
– As menstruation is a topic that does need more discussion in tennis, what other issues need to be part of the conversation more often?
– Issues around safeguarding in sport, ensuring that young players are in an environment that is safe for them. We need to make sure there’s good people around them, providing them health. During the Australian Open there was quite a lot of talk about the needs for the tours to try to find a way to ensure that all the coaches have the right qualifications to be there. Because is an individual sport is kind of open to players been able to work with whoever they want . I’d definitely be an advocate to find a way to make a more secure environment for players.