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Devoted Judy flying flag for Britain's girls

By Paul Newman

Published 16/01/2016

Bright future: Judy Murray is predicting big things from British women in tennis
Bright future: Judy Murray is predicting big things from British women in tennis
Heather Watson and Andy Murray

It was once written that the ills of British tennis could be laid firmly at the door of Judy Murray. If she had had more than two children, the writer argued, Britain might not have had to rely so heavily on her sons Andy and Jamie.

The contribution to the British game of the 56-year-old from Bridge of Allan has grown with every year - and has not been restricted to the exploits of her offspring, whose latest feats were to play the key roles as Britain won the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years.

She has worked tirelessly to bring more children into the sport, while her work as Britain's Fed Cup captain has generated a strong esprit de corps among the country's best female players.

Now, with the Australian Open starting on Monday, Murray has added another string to her bow. Following Heather Watson's split with her coach, Diego Veronelli, the 23-year-old from Guernsey asked Murray to work with her through the Australian swing until she brings in a permanent replacement.

Watson said last week that it would be "awesome" to have Murray as her full-time coach.

She admitted, however, that was unlikely due to the Scot's many commitments.

The two weeks Watson and Murray have had together so far have been encouraging. Watson played three matches against higher-ranked opponents at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week, winning two and narrowly losing the third.

Although the World No.55 will slip down the rankings after failing to defend her title successfully in Hobart this week, there were still reasons for optimism.

Watson again won two matches against higher-ranked rivals before losing to Johanna Larsson in a quarter-final that started after midnight, the Briton having completed a marathon victory over Monica Niculescu earlier in the day.

Murray has been impressed by Watson, who despite suffering many early losses in 2015 also showed what she was capable of with her triumph in Hobart, a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a fine grass-court campaign which culminated in her narrow third-round defeat to Serena Williams at Wimbledon.

"I've just come in to try to help her as much as I can until she finds another coach," Murray said. "I'm trying to help her get a little bit more out of herself, but I think the main thing is to make her feel good about herself, to believe in herself.

"I think there's a lot more to be had out of Heather. I've always believed that and I hope this might be the year. I definitely sense her taking more responsibility for herself. These things all come with maturity.

"There's no question that Heather is capable of playing at a much higher level than what her current ranking is. It's all about consistency of performance - and consistency of performance is always linked to consistency of approach, which goes down to your focus, day in and day out.

"Over the years we've seen some great performances from Heather. She has to find ways to produce that on a more regular basis. Then her ranking will go higher a lot more quickly.

"But she has a great engine in her, she defends well, she absorbs well, and she's learning to attack much better. I think she just has to trust herself to be more aggressive more often."

While Murray believes that Watson should be aiming at a place in the World's top 20, she thinks finding the right coach should be her immediate goal.

"She should take her time," Murray said. "This is a crucial one for her; she shouldn't jump into something. But I think she knows that."

Murray will spend as much time as possible with Watson in Melbourne but as captain she also has a duty to the other members of Britain's Fed Cup squad, Johanna Konta and the doubles pair Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith. Britain play in Group One of the Europe/Africa Zone in Israel the week after the Australian Open.

Given Laura Robson's continuing injury problems, Murray has been delighted by the upturn in Konta's form, the British No.1 having climbed more than 100 places in the World rankings last year.

"Between June and October Jo made a real breakthrough," Murray said. "The performances that she turned in at the US Open in particular really signalled that she has the potential to live at probably No.20 to 30 in the game."

Murray believes the calm approach of Konta's Spanish coach, Esteban Carril, has been key to her success.

"I think she used to really struggle with managing anxiety at key points in matches, or managing anxiety when something was expected of her, for example when she was playing somebody she was expected to beat," Murray said.

"The challenge for her this year will be being in a situation where something is expected of her again. She'll find herself seeded in some of the tour events, which she never has been before.

"And therefore she will be somebody people are looking to beat, whereas before she would be one of the pack. There was arguably much less pressure then and everything to gain."

Katie Swan, who at 16 is Britain's most promising junior, will join the British squad in Israel with a view to gaining experience.

"Katie's on a nice steady path," Murray said. "What I like about her is that she's very calm, she's very smart, she listens well. When you talk to her about tennis she really lives and breathes it."

Robson will also be with the British squad, by which time Murray hopes the former Wimbledon junior champion will have returned to competition at a low-level tournament in the United States following her latest lay-off with the wrist problems that have dogged her for the last two years.

"I believe Laura had a pretty good off-season in America," Murray said. "The most important thing for her is that she does what is right for her body. She's always loved the Fed Cup and she's a great team member and a great supporter."

One player Murray cannot turn to is Naomi Broady because of her family's long-time dispute with the Lawn Tennis Association.

"I try every year to persuade her to play, but it's a difficult situation and unfortunately she's not available for selection," Murray said.

Broady, who lost disappointingly in the first round of qualifying for the Australian Open to Alizé Lim of France, reached a career-high No.112 in the World rankings following her run to the quarter-finals last week in Auckland, where Ana Ivanovic was among her victims.

Murray admires the way Broady has come through, despite struggling to make ends meet on tour, and believes that at 25 she can still make significant progress.

"Naomi has the potential to be the John Isner of the women's circuit," Murray said. "She plays a different type of tennis to most of the other girls, so she's difficult to play against because they don't know what to expect.

"She has a huge serve, likes to come forward and has a single-handed backhand, which is quite an unorthodox shot so it's difficult for opponents to know where she's going to hit it."

As for the future, Murray hopes Britain's Fed Cup squad, like their Davis Cup counterparts, might eventually rely on a product of Dunblane, where her two sons grew up. She says 15-year-old Ali Collins, who is now trained by Emilio Sanchez in Florida, has "big potential".

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