WHEN Scottish tennis ace Jamie Murray made his trophy acceptance speech last month at the Australian Open after claiming the men’s doubles title with Bruno Soares, he had words of thanks for a particular person who hails from the Capital.
“I’ve got to thank my team,” said Murray. “All my success on the court is down to my coach Louis (Cayer). Then Alan MacDonald has been with me for a long time as well. I’ve not always given them a lot to cheer but thanks for sticking with me.”
It’s not well-publicised that a 36-year-old from Edinburgh has played a major part in the renaissance of the elder Murray sibling, but coach Alan MacDonald is a key part of Team Jamie as the Dunblane doubles specialist seeks to become the world No.1 in his discipline.
The truth is that MacDonald has been part of Jamie’s life for a number of years. The affable coach first came across Jamie and his brother Andy in the mid-nineties when they were children as MacDonald flew the flag as one of Scotland’s top juniors. He never made the transition to pro level, but he’s doing the next best thing as he helps guide Murray – currently No.2 in the doubles rankings – during the most fruitful years of his career.
Taking time out of his hectic schedule to speak to the Evening News, MacDonald said: “Basically, it all started on a full-time basis this time last year, although it was pretty short notice. I wasn’t really expecting it to turn into a full-time thing, but it gradually developed into that.”
And MacDonald is glad it has done so. He toured the world with Murray and found plenty of success last year, helping him reach two Grand Slam finals – Wimbledon and the US Open – along with the World Tour Finals at the o2 Arena with John Peers. The pair split after the year ended and Murray joined forces with Brazilian Soares and they’ve been an instant hit, winning Down Under.
MacDonald explains his job as assistant to Murray’s main coach, Canadian Louis Cayer. “My role is variable. Normally, Louis and I would watch the potential opposition as much as we can. If they’re playing a match, I won’t be doing much tennis because their warm-ups are quite short but, in between matches, we do a lot more specific stuff, something a bit more technical. It’s all about keeping a good feeling, talking about the match, stuff like that.
MacDonald has gone from accompanying Murray at Futures events at Barnstaple – when Jamie was playing singles – and Rimouski in northern Canada, to coaching at all the major events. “I don’t know if I’m quite at a ‘pinch yourself’ moment, but I always believed that Jamie could get to this level and this moment. It’s great to see him get there and do it, and I’d definitely say it’s a living-the-dream-type thing for me. You wouldn’t want to ever take it for granted, though.”
Does Alan enjoy it all? “Oh yeah, big time,” he explains. “It’s great fun. I get to do a lot of hitting and play myself. It’s funny actually, because Jamie, being a lefty, is asked to warm top singles players up before matches. But Jamie’s not that keen on hitting up and down the middle, so quite often some of the players ask if he can do it and he says, ‘no I can’t do it but my coach can as he’s a left-handed’, so I get to do quite a few good hits with people.”
And then, almost casually, he reveals: “For example, I got a hit with Novak Djokovic in Doha at the start of the year. It was amazing. He was super nice, and he was just warming up for his match so it wasn’t too bad. If you have to do a proper hit with someone like Rafa Nadal then it’s really tough as he tanks it from the start, but Djokovic just wanted a bit of rhythm and a few lefty serves.”
Not so long ago, MacDonald was playing in over 35-events and coaching kids in the Capital, but he says that he’s happy to trade hitting with tennis’ top stars to help the next generation of Scottish players when Murray’s career ends.
“I never really think about it as being something I would do if it wasn’t with Jamie,” he adds. “If you want to be a coach on the tour for a long time then you have to put yourself out there at bit and look for opportunities, become known. You have to get your foot in the door, which I guess I have done, but I’m not thinking, ‘right, after Jamie stops playing, I’m going to keep doing this’.
“I suspect that won’t be the case. I’d rather be back in Scotland trying to make a difference here and build on the Andy and Jamie effect. For me, it’s more about Scottish tennis. Because I’m doing it with someone like Jamie, a Scotsman, it’s all the more special. I’ve been involved in Scottish tennis as a player and a coach for such a long time.”
Next up for Murray and MacDonald is Dubai next week, followed by the States and then the European clay swing. There’s a good chance more trophies – perhaps even Slams – will come their way. There’s also no doubt we’ll see MacDonald back on Scottish soil, but for now, in his own words, he’ll continue to live the dream.