Tennis: Women's tennis needs more personalities to market it, says Judy Murray

Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray's mother Judy applauding him during Wimbledon this year. She feels that there are not many recognisable women players beyond the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray's mother Judy applauding him during Wimbledon this year. She feels that there are not many recognisable women players beyond the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova.PHOTO: REUTERS

More personalities needed to market women's tennis, says Judy Murray

Women's tennis has made great strides in the last four decades but Judy Murray noted that the women's game still has a gap to fill in terms of marketability.

The former captain of the British Fed Cup team and mother of former men's world No. 1 Andy Murray said in a phone interview from Gloucestershire yesterday: "For the men's game, it's been an enormous strength to have the Big Four (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray).

"I think the women's side has had it through the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) and Maria Sharapova. When they aren't there, there are a number of players who are similar in level and capable of winning Grand Slams.

"But most of those figures are nowhere as recognisable as Serena, Venus and Maria.

"The public will identify with either enormous success or with personalities. More needs to be done to create personalities to fill that gap.

"You have to be recognisable - just as the men's side."

IT'S PERFORMANCE THAT COUNTS

When Andy took on Amelie, there was a huge amount of interest. His choice of coach was determined by someone who has the right experience, right skill set and, of course, personality fit. It had nothing to do with gender.

JUDY MURRAY, on her son Andy hiring Amelie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014.

With the movie Battle Of The Sexes - based on the historic 1973 match which saw then women's world No. 1 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs, a former top-ranked male player - set to be released in Singapore next month, it is a timely reminder of the progress women's tennis has made in the last 40 years.

All four Grand Slams now offer equal prize money for both genders, and women's matches are given prime-time slots.

Murray, Britain's Fed Cup captain from 2011-2016, noted: "We are fortunate in that tennis is one of the sports which is equal in gender balance. We're fortunate to have equal prize money, and women's tennis is shown on the TV a lot.

"To compare women's tennis to men's tennis is like comparing apples and oranges. (The gender equality issue) is a thing of the past."

Murray will be in Singapore later this month as a community ambassador for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. The Scot will join Lindsay Davenport as a keynote speaker for the WTA Finals Tennis Coaches Conference on Oct 23.

Turning her attention to Singapore, she noted that it was important to not just build the facilities in order to encourage more people to take up tennis, but to also have the necessary framework to continue to support their passion.

Murray is also noted for starting a grassroots programme called Miss-Hits, to encourage girls aged from five to eight to pick up tennis in their local communities in Britain. She explained: "You need enough people to deliver the game, whether that is elementary coaching, improved coaching, performance coaching or running competitions, administrating the game or developing a workforce.

"The facilities are one thing but the people who activate the play and encourage and motivate become like pied pipers for your sport and make it fun and engaging."

While Murray is keen to get more girls playing, she is also keen to ensure that women are more engaged at all levels of the sport.

She said: "When I became the Fed Cup captain... there were hardly any female coaches on the road."

In 2014, her son hired retired French two-time Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach. It raised eyebrows because few female coaches are in charge of elite players, much less a top male player coming under the tutelage of a female coach.

Months later, former stars Martina Navratilova and Davenport joined the fray, coaching Agnieszka Radwanska and Madison Keys respectively.

Murray, 58, noted: "When Andy took on Amelie, there was a huge amount of interest. His choice of coach was determined by someone who has the right experience, right skill set and, of course, personality fit. It had nothing to do with gender.

"It led to a number of the top WTA players taking on former players to help them. This helped to raise the profile of female coaching.

"I was very proud of Andy doing that, and speaking up about it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Visibility factor required'. Print Edition | Subscribe