I’m back in the luxury five star Quinta Do Lago resort in the Algarve, Portugal, to meet up with Judy Murray who is there running kids tennis camps in partnership with The Campus, Europe’s premier sport and wellness resort.
The Campus is a somewhat unique project. Their aim being to create a sport and wellness facility that caters to the top athletes in all sports, but also offers the facilities to the public. In essence you can train and be coached by the very best celebrity athletes in football, tennis, padel, cycling and golf. These opportunities are aimed at all ages, from the youngest kids to the oldest sportsmen looking to improve.
Everyone dreams of training with those that have achieved the greatest accolades in their chosen field, well here you can. Rio Ferdinand holds coaching classes, as well as Judy Murray for tennis, Paul McGinley for golf, Mark Rohan for cycling and even the Team GB triathletes train here too. The Campus was chosen as a pre-season training base by the British Triathlon Elite Team in 2018 and not just for the weather.
Murray has been coaching for over 30 years and of course her two sons Andy and Jaime started under her tutelage, both going on to become world number ones in singles and doubles respectively, winning a combined eight grand slams. That’s a pretty impressive track record, yet Murray is still ambitious to bring the game to a wider audience. Murray is supported by Kris Soutar who is an LTA level 5 Master Performance Coach and has coached for 26 years. Soutar heads up Judy Murray’s Tennis on the Road programme where they travel all over Scotland to improve tennis teaching. They target disadvantaged areas like Inverurie, Greenock and the east end of Glasgow to give more children the opportunity to play tennis, keep fit and join in activities that might otherwise be difficult for them to access.
Judy Murray has partnered with Quinta Do Lago to bring these skills to residents of the Algarve and guests in the resort. Alongside the tennis courts and Bike Shed, The Campus officially launched their new facilities in October, consisting of a high performance gym, state of the art aquatic, recovery, rehabilitation and wellness centre, all designed to please professional athletes and available to all. You are very likely to be rubbing shoulders with professional footballers and rugby players from top international teams, so you can train surrounded by the best. There is a gorgeous heated outdoor Pool, two plunge pools with a steam room and sauna, plus two large gymnasiums on the ground and upper floor, so you can amble happily between them trying different levels of equipment. You are supported by numerous gym coaches who will help you use the equipment properly and I even managed to get in a quick kick boxing lesson between the spinning and the yoga classes.
The Campus now boasts a new hybrid Desso GrassMaster® —the number one stadium pitch in the world. This pitch can copy the statistics from any ground in three days to replicate the exact conditions so athletes can practice in the same environment. They can even alter the grass length and ground tension. It does not get much more high tech than that. There is also a new modern sports bar and restaurant next door, Bovinos Steakhouse, where you can recover in style with a well needed cocktail or health juice, along with your steak.
I spoke to Judy Murray about her life long passion for tennis, she won 64 titles in Scotland and internationally herself, before coaching her two sons with such renowned success. Her love of the game is undiminished and she is determined to bring it to more people who may not normally have access to facilities. She has just returned from coaching in Singapore, Austria and China and is still brimming with energy and enthusiasm.
Her modern approach is to get children playing a series of simple games together that are easy and entertaining, designed to improve your tennis in a myriad of ways. More importantly Murray is concentrating primarily on workforce development, a fancy way of saying they are taking all the experience and techniques they have evolved over the years and passing these on to teachers, coaches and all those who help children develop better skills. Along with providing them with support materials that even less trained staff can use to educate others
My tennis lesson with Judy Murray was an absolute delight. She is charming, witty and brilliant, still incredibly passionate about teaching and making sport more accessible. Murray has also brought the latest teaching techniques from other disciplines and introduced them into the sport. She wants to avoid traditional teaching that relies on repetition of basic moves and disrupt that by making lessons more entertaining and social. Also as she says, by teaching children as a group, they get to interact with their peers rather than playing with an adult coach, which helps learning and brings teaching costs down.
“Normal practices depend on one to one coaching that is expensive and time consuming. It also means that a child is taught by an adult without the usual social interaction with other children that they enjoy most. Here they can learn tennis with kids of their own age and have fun.”
Murray and Soutar showed off their skills by showing me and a few other middle aged journalists some tennis tips, with some clever and engaging games. They certainly got us jumping around, bouncing the ball back and forth over lines and hoops, inculcating the basic tennis movements, whilst we all had a thoroughly good time. Murray knows from years of experience that kids do not respond well to being told how to hold a racket and repeating basic strokes till boredom kills off any love they have of the game. But get them playing new and innovative challenges that develop their skills and they want to keep doing it. Zé Pereira Lopes, the tennis director at The Campus was on hand too helping out, a very talented chap who is skilled at improving your game, whatever your level. Judy Murray is extremely encouraging to all, engaging us with frequent jokes and “bon mots”.
After the tennis I caught up with Mark Rohan at The Bike Shed. Rohan has won six Para-cycling World Cup gold medals, yes it seems a little greedy, but he balances this by being extremely approachable and friendly. I was hoping to catch a cycle ride with this Irish legend, but time did not allow, so I’m going to have to go back for that one. Though he did let me hold one of his gold medals, which is the nearest I’ll get to being a sports champion! He knows a lot of fascinating cycle routes in the Algarve, around The Campus in Quinta Do Lago in the Rio Formosa nature reserve and up in the mountains, where he says you’ll only see a couple of cars on a 30 mile jaunt. The bikes available in the shed are absolutely top notch and kept in the best condition I have ever seen, perfect for amateurs and serious cyclists alike. The Campus also offer a 6 days/5 nights West Coast Raid, where you’ll cycle along the south coast of Portugal, exploring the Natural Park of Arrábida, travelling along the Atlantic coast line, finally passing through Alentejo’s coastal villages. The landscapes just around Quinta Do Lago are magnificent with the sea on one side, the golf course and the nature reserve on the other, and plenty of wild fowl such as the superb Glossy Ibis.
The Campus is looking to provide the best sports facilities in Europe in a place that get 300 days of sunshine a year, surrounded by a natural beauty reserve in the Algarve. Additionally offering the biggest talents in football, golf, tennis and cycling to coach and mentor a new generation of sportsmen and women. Creating a hub for professional athletes and amateurs alike who want to benefit from the this vast array of talent on offer. You can take football with Rio Ferdinand, tennis with Judy Murray, golf with Brian Evans (father of rugby players Max and Thom) and cycling with Marc Rohan. Each of these would be an impressive boast at a dinner party, together it makes for a fantasy coaching team that is quite unique. The opportunity to have Judy Murray coach your kids in tennis is terrific and she is passing on her many techniques to Ze and the other tennis coaches who are already formidable teachers in their own right.