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'Andy Murray has a team... our boys travel on their own and live out of a suitcase, but they wouldn't change it'

Like famous tennis mum Judy Murray, Louise Bothwell, from Hillsborough, has two big-hitting sons who are rising stars in the sport. She tells Stephanie Bell about the sacrifices she and her husband, Nigel, have made to help Peter and Sam court success in their highly competitive field - and why she just wouldn't have it any other way

Louise Bothwell
Louise Bothwell
Sam Bothwell
Peter Bothwell
Courting success: Peter and Sam in their early playing days
Tennis aces: Judy Murray with sons Andy and Jamie
The Bothwell family Louise, Nigel, Peter, Sam and Louise’s mother Eileen

With both her sons tipped to be among the next big stars of tennis, Louise Bothwell can relate only too well to the sacrifices revealed by Judy Murray in her recent autobiography.

Andy Murray's mum talked about being under "horrendous financial stress" while supporting Andy and brother Jamie's tennis dreams.

The parallels don't end there as, just like Judy Murray, Louise is a professional tennis coach with two sons who - thanks to her unstinting support - are now both professional players.

The 56-year-old and husband Nigel (64), who runs his own company, have invested a huge chunk of their lives and finances in helping support the careers of their talented sons, Peter (22) and Sam (20).

The boys have been pursuing professional tennis careers since primary school, and Louise and Nigel have been behind them all the way.

Their sons' ultimate dream is winning Wimbledon, the most coveted of the tennis grand slams.

"They are still working on their game and there is still room for improvement," says Louise.

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"Peter is 22, still improving and could be playing his best by 25. Sam is only 20 and could be at his best by 24.

"It is all based on ranking and it's really the top 100 who get into the main draw to qualify for Wimbledon.

"Peter would love to play at Wimbledon, just the whole history of it - it really is the ultimate goal."

Both boys are currently on the ATP World Tour and are preparing to compete in the AIG Irish Open Men's Futures tournament at Carrickmines next month.

Peter's ATP ranking has risen dramatically over the last few years.

He is currently up to 822 in the world's singles and 528 in the doubles.

Sam is also on the ascent, currently sitting at 1016 in the doubles and 1699 in the singles.

The boys pack in around 25 international tournaments every year to progress up the rankings.

Among the best in Ireland, Peter is currently number three in singles and second in doubles, while Sam is ranked seven in singles and fifth in doubles.

It is an intense lifestyle which their mum says leaves little time for anything other than their tennis as they both travel from one country to another to compete.

Their base is the Soto Tennis Academy in Spain, which is led by Daniel Kiernan, a former British number one doubles player.

The boys were still at primary school when it became apparent they had star talent at the sport.

They picked up the bug from Louise and her father, the late Sammy Tuff, who was a well-known tennis coach.

The family, who live in Hillsborough, are members of Downshire Tennis Club, where the boys were batting balls from when they could walk.

"They've always been sporty and were always interested in a ball," Louise days.

"We had a caravan in Ballycastle when they were very young. They used to throw stones into the water, and that helped with their serve.

"Children spend so much time on computers now, but when my boys were little, they just wanted to be outside playing whatever sport. My dad was a professional tennis coach and my mum, Eileen, played badminton and then took up tennis when they married.

"They would have had the boys on the court all the time, so it all started with mum and dad.

"They could see the boys had a real enjoyment of it and a passion for it, as well as good hand-eye coordination."

Peter was just going into primary seven and Sam into primary five when they were invited to join the elite National Tennis Centre in Dublin.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for the boys, who wanted nothing else, even at such a young age.

Louise gave up everything at home to stay in Dublin with them and not only looked after her own two sons but six other young stars in the making.

She explains: "It was a chance for them to play indoors every day.

"They had accommodation in Dublin City University, and I became the house mum and stayed there during the week to look after eight kids who were all in the academy from all over Ireland. I would look after them and cook for them.

"The boys went to a local primary school in Dublin, and Nigel would come down on a Friday and stay until Sunday, when he would go back home for work."

After two years at the academy, the boys joined Malahide Tennis Club in Dublin, where they were coached by tennis professionals Stephen and Michael Nugent.

In their teens they were competing in the tough Dublin Premier League against adults.

Louise, who had coached her sons up until then, gladly gave up the reins to Stephen and Mike Nugent and then took on the role of taxi driver, ferrying her sons to coaching sessions and matches in Dublin four or five times a week.

Peter went to Dromore High School in his mid-teens and then, on the advice of the Nugent brothers, his parents agreed to pay for him to train at the Soto Tennis Academy in southern Spain.

It meant self-studying, which he managed to do alongside his tennis coaching, gaining his GCSEs and studying to AS level.

It was a huge financial commitment, and Louise used her earnings as a tennis coach to cover the £20,000 costs of sending first Peter and then Sam to Soto, while Nigel tried to cover tournament costs.

Louise says: "It was tough for Peter when he first went out to Soto as a teenager, and people always ask me if I would do it again.

"Judy Murray said in her autobiography that you have to do what you think is right at the time.

"The boys are really committed and always were. It is what they have always wanted.

"Sam didn't get home from Dublin until midnight last night (Wednesday) and was up to catch a flight at 9am this morning for a tournament in Holland.

"Andy Murray has a team behind him who support him, and while our boys can't afford a team, they do have Mick and Steve Nugent and Malahide Tennis Club supporting them, and they have been wonderful.

"The boys travel by themselves, and it is a tough life. They live out of a suitcase, but they are both really resilient and Sam has started to string his own rackets to save money as nothing comes free in tennis."

It costs around £1,000 for the boys to take part in an international tournament. Any winnings are used to offset these costs, which are covered by the bank of mum and dad.

Louise and Nigel have sacrificed holidays, and Nigel has also put off retirement to support their sons.

But while the financial commitment is huge, they wouldn't have it any other way.

Louise says: "We have had to make financial sacrifices. Nigel would like to retire but is continuing to work on for a few years to support the boys.

"We don't want them to feel guilty because of what we've committed or sacrificed. It is our decision and we don't want them to worry about it, we just want them to focus on their game and not worry about money.

"We are very proud of them and what they have achieved.

"They are great role models for other kids. They talk to other children coming through the club in Dublin and play alongside them.

"The children can see how passionate they are and how hard they work. It is really lovely that they are able to do that.

"Peter is now trying to take part in some challengers and has his eyes on a £25,000 tournament next year. He knows that the bank of mum and dad will run out at some stage."

But, just like Judy Murray, she is a mum happy to do whatever it takes for her sons.

Louise is frequently asked if she feels the sacrifices have been worth it. As she watches her two sons' dedication to their game and their progress through the rankings, she has no doubt.

"If I had to do it over again I would," she says.

"When the boys are putting in the work and have a passion for it, it is worth it.

"After playing, I am sure they will both have careers doing something in tennis, as coaches or doing something else.

"At the moment they are totally dedicated, and we as parents are happy to support them."

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