You’ve heard of tennis’s grand slam, but what about the Daddy Slam? Having kids is fast turning into as good a guarantee of major silverware as having a former superstar as a coach. At least in the men’s game –and the good news for Andy Murray as he prepares for the Australian Open is that the patter of tiny feet is just weeks away.
His wife Kim is due to give birth to their first child in the second week of February, and while there is a chance that if the baby arrives early Murray won’t compete. But thereafter, fatherhood is likely to energise him. That has certainly been the case with three of Murray’s rivals – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka – who have all played some of the best tennis of their careers after becoming fathers.
Djokovic’s dominance since the birth of his son Stefan in late 2014, with the Serbian winning three Grand Slam titles last season, has been such that he has advised his challengers – half in jest, half seriously – that his challengers should become dads if they want to play their best tennis.
With Wawrinka, who has one child, defeating Djokovic in last year’s French Open final, it was the year of the collective Daddy Slam. And with Federer, a father of four, playing for the Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2015, three of the four Grand Slam finals were contested by two dads, with the exception being the Australian Open where Murray was the runner-up. And soon he, too, will be among the breeders on tour.
Of course, there are bound to be challenges for Murray. Former world number one Pete Sampras says: “It’s obviously hard enough to be looking after kids at home but when you’re travelling with them, that’s going to take even more time and energy, even if you have help with nannies.”
But gone is the time when tennis players used to believe that it wasn’t possible to combine a successful tennis career with being a father. From next month, Rafael Nadal will be the only big-name player who isn’t a father.
Djokovic told RT last summer that being a father has enabled him to become a better tennis player: “Knowing that you’re giving up your love and your time to your baby, your child, that gives you freshness in the mind. Being a father actually gives me more energy than it takes away.”
Murray himself has said that he will welcome having something else to think about other than his tennis: “It’s obviously going to be life-changing when the baby comes out and I’m excited about that. People have asked me, ‘Do you think it could be a distraction?’ It might be a distraction but a good distraction. It’s actually not all that good to be just concentrating on tennis and your training all the time. It’s important to be able to take a step back from it and, when you finish on the practice court, be able to just go away and be with your friends and your family.”
Roger Federer’s [below] apparent command of parenthood on the road prompted Djokovic to turn to him for advice. Perhaps, if the opportunity presents itself in Australia, Murray can have a similar conversation with them both.
He will certainly be turning to his coach Amelie Mauresmo, whose return from maternity leave should be doubly useful. The Frenchwoman’s primary task, now she is back at work as Murray’s coach, will be to guide him to what would be his first Grand Slam since winning the 2013 Wimbledon title. The second, which will be in an unofficial capacity, will be to pass on any parenting advice after she gave birth to her first child, a son called Aaron, last August.
Kim Clijsters, one of a small group of women to have won a Grand Slam after becoming a mother, told me that parenthood allowed her to keep some perspective: “There were times when I would be upset about losing a match and my daughter would come over and within a minute I would be laughing because she was being silly. It would make me realise: ‘Who cares about the match?'”
Never again, you suspect, will Murray despair after his Grand Slam defeats.
Coverage of the Australian Open begins on Sunday at midnight on Eurosport 1 and 2