On Friday I sauntered over to the Common for my first experience of Wimbledon BookFest. As an avid sports and tennis fan, it was my pleasure to not only be in the audience to hear Judy Murray being interviewed by John Inverdale about her latest book – Knowing the Score – but to pose a few questions of my own to Judy before she took to the stage.
I decided not to tell her that Andy is one of my sporting heroes and that I’m also a big fan of Jamie; no doubt she hears that a lot! Instead I served up a poser regarding how to get more 30+ men to take up tennis, when it suddenly dawns on them that they’re not as fit as they used to be (a common occurrence for males of this age). Many choose the gym, cycling, running events or even golf as a means to keep the beer belly at bay.
Judy made a strong case for men to ignore these alternatives and head to the courts:
“People’s leisure time is less today and is pocketed into one hour slots, which helps things like running and the gym which can be done on your own. This has been a big challenge to sports and especially to tennis. But tennis can be a very social sport given you are playing it with somebody.”
Judy highlighted two modified versions of the game which may be appealing to those new to the sport: Padel tennis and touch tennis. “They are played on much smaller courts” Judy explained. “Meaning someone who thinks they are not fit enough to play on a full sized court can actually get started on a smaller court. Start to learn the skills, understand how to play, build the confidence in a smaller space and then branch out onto a real court.”
“With a sport like tennis, you can play it all your life. You can play it at all levels, it’s a great family sport. And of course it can be played outdoors – I’m a big believer in getting outdoors!”
Judy, who has been responsible for building the women’s side of the game, told me that there has been a significant increase in women aged 35 to 45 are now returning to tennis as a means to keep fit and because of the enjoyment tennis provides.
“They played through their school and university years, but they stop when they start working and have a family and then when the kids go off to school they start to take it up again.”
The conversation turned to doubles as a way to boost participation. This gent has just started playing more doubles and, while I don’t think Jamie Murray will be requesting to be my partner any time soon, I can vouch that the format provides a great workout via a sociable and, very often, good natured environment.
Judy would like to see its profile raised, which in turn could lead to more people giving it a go:
“It doesn’t get the coverage singles does in the media so people don’t see it as much. I’d like to see much more doubles on TV and a better distribution of the prize money across doubles and mixed doubles. There’s a huge crowd engagement with doubles. There’s an interest there [from the public] but it would be better if people could see it on TV more”.
Judy’s subsequent discussion with John Inverdale delighted the sold-out audience in the Baillie Gifford Big Tent. She offered advice to the many parents in attendance who have sporty children – drawing from her own experience with her prodigious sons and her achievements as a tennis coach.
She spoke openly about Andy’s decision to move abroad to pursue his tennis ambition, Jamie and Andy’s ongoing competitiveness, and her joy at watching the two of them compete together – in the doubles – in Glasgow in the Davis Cup in 2015.
I will certainly now be picking up a copy of her book – it seems a like a must-read for both tennis fans and parents of sporty children (and those who are both!).
The event was superbly staged and I’m looking forward to attending a couple more talks this week (watch this space for subsequent write-ups). Wimbledon BookFest Tickets are still available for some of the authors’ talks and interviews and as an extra incentive to attend, Wimbledon Brew is served at the bar!
Written by Matthew Carlton