My love match: The girl who tamed Andy Murray's temper and turned him into a winner
By Rebecca Hardy
and Emily Andrews
Last updated at 12:12 AM on 20th June 2009
With her long blonde hair, longer legs and over-sized sunglasses Andy Murray's girlfriend is the ultimate in court-side chic.
Credited with turning the petulant teenager into a potential Wimbledon champion, 21-year-old Kim Sears is regarded as an essential part of Team Murray.
Only three years ago she was a rather reserved A-level student at a minor public school.
'The perfect tennis girlfriend': Kim and Andy have been dating for three years
Now she has pride of place among the glittering group of TWAGs - Tennis Wives and Girlfriends.
'Kim has changed almost beyond recognition,' says a friend.
'At school she was seen as a bit of a goody-goody who got on with her work and was very reserved. She was very clever but she was quite shy and seemed very innocent.
'She was pretty but a jeans and jumper kind of girl - not the glamourpuss she is now.'
Miss Sears met Murray at the U.S. Open in September 2005 while she was still in the sixth form at the £8,000 a year Burgess Hill School for Girls in West Sussex.
Her father Nigel, the head coach of women's tennis in the UK, had taken his family out to America where they were introduced.
Their romance quickly developed but the demure Miss Sears managed to keep it under wraps.
Until, that is, her hot-headed boyfriend won his first ever tournament in San Jose, California, in spring 2006 and dashed through the crowd to give her a full kiss on the lips.
Growing up in the village of Barcombe, West Sussex, Miss Sears had led a sheltered life with her 53-year-old father, South African mother Leonore, 47, and younger brother Scott,18.
Murray is her first serious boyfriend and since gaining straight As in her A-levels she has put her fledgling acting career on hold to become an indispensable part of his inner circle, accompanying him to training and even acting as his chauffeur.
Encouraging Murray to present a softer, more human side, she has helped him curb his explosive temper.
In turn, Murray has said he feels more relaxed on court when she is watching.'Kim is the perfect tennis girlfriend,' said a source close to the Murray camp.
'She understands the life because of her father's job.'
Out and a pout: Kim Sears (right) posing in typical teenage style in 2006
Andrew Murray reveals his love for girlfriend Kim and how she has helped to turn the once surly Scot into a charmer and most importantly...a winner.
- Murray, who has been seeded third, will face world number 76 Robert Kendrick in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday. His prospects soared last night after it was revealed that world number one Rafael Nadal will not defend his singles crown because of a knee injury.
Andy Murray is slouched on a couch in a posh Paris hotel foyer in tracksuit bottoms and white fluffy slippers. The slippers are, well, unexpected. Murray, it turns out, is 'chilling'.
He's been training for the past four and a half hours – or doing 'the job' as he puts it. Now, it's his downtime, his off-the-court time, his R&R time. And, yes, Murray, the angry young man of tennis, likes to get comfy in the hotel's fluffy slippers.
'I wouldn't like to meet me on court because I am very aggressive,' he says. 'I get fiery when I'm playing, but that doesn't necessarily translate to what you do off the court. I'm not going to be laughing and giggling when I'm doing my job.
But away from the court I spend my time messing around, joking. Tennis is important to me, but it's not the most important thing. For me, my family and friends are more important. The job obviously matters, but what goes on off the court is bigger.'
Bigger than tennis? This, like the slippers, is unexpected. A few weeks ago, Murray was promoted to number three in the world rankings – the highest position ever held by a British player in the history of modern tennis.
Andrew Murray: 'For me, my family and friends are more important than tennis.'
Although he was eventually beaten in the quarter-final of the French Open, by Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, he was only the third British man to have progressed so far in this tournament, and he's playing the best tennis of his life.
Suddenly, the dream of a British victory at Wimbledon, his favoured surface, is alive again. It's six years since Murray, then ranked 350, first walked onto the Centre Court. He knows, when he returns there next week, commentators and tennis fans will be scrutinising his every stroke, willing him to succeed where Tim Henman couldn't.
Shouldn't he be tennis-mad, tennis-obsessed, droning on about spin, pace and drop shots? And hang on a minute, isn't this the non-user-friendly, surly Scot with the crazy curls and Eeyore-like gloom? Joking? Messing around? He tells me about a text he received from his mate Tim Henman. It turns out they text each other a lot.
'I'd won my 11th tournament and Tim won 11 in his whole career,' Murray explains. 'Then I got to number three, while his highest ranking was number four. He texted to say, "Well done, for achieving everything I did in my career by the age of 22." But he ended with, "But I won three doubles tournaments and you haven't won any."' Murray laughs. Yes, he actually laughs, a proper, head back, isn't-that-funny laugh.
But on the subject of Wimbledon, Murray is deadly serious. 'If I had to pick one tournament that meant the most to win, it would have to be Wimbeldon, just because it's at home. I think I'm in the best position I've ever been in going into Wimbledon. But you do need a bit of luck, too, to win a Grand Slam.
'I was 18 when I first played at Wimbledon, and I found all the attention very difficult. I was on centre court in the third round and there were ten or 11 million people watching on TV. Centre court was full. I was ranked around 350 in the world, and three weeks earlier I'd been playing in tournaments where a maximum of ten people had seen me play.
'Suddenly, I was getting judged on everything I did. It's like you're emotionally naked. The camera and the crowd are scrutinising every move and you're totally exposed. And it's not just about your tennis. It's the way you look, your hair, everything.
Victory: Andy Murray with the trophy he won at the Queen's Club pre-Wimbledon tournament. He was the first British player to win at the club in 73 years
People said, "He doesn't work hard enough" and I'd think, "None of you have seen me practise. The tennis comments might be true, but the rest of it can't be because you don't know me."
'You fight to keep your emotions under control, and to not do or say anything you shouldn't. You try to behave well and be polite. I'm a pretty emotional person, but I try to keep my feelings to myself, because you're being watched so closely.
Sometimes it all builds up and, if you're on tour and you're on your own, it kind of gets the better of you. You just feel flat and start to think about things that haven't been going that well, whether it's losing a match or something that's been going on at home.'
One of two brothers born in Dunblane, Scotland (Jamie, 15 months his senior, is a fellow tennis professional), Murray was just eight when Thomas Hamilton burst into the boys' primary school and shot dead 16 pupils and a teacher, before turning the gun on himself.
'It's a horrible thing to happen, and Dunblane, as a place is, I guess, defined by that. We didn't know at the time what was going on.
'We went into a classroom and sang hymns, and it wasn't until we saw our parents afterwards that we understood something bad had happened, because they were very shaken. They wouldn't let go of us, but you can't grasp the significance of it when you're only eight.'
Restless and sports mad, Murray found school tedious and repetitive. His competitiveness, he says, is part of his DNA – that and his relationship with his brother. 'Jamie was always bigger, stronger and better than me. I was always striving to reach his level.
As a kid, Andy had no ambition other than to play sport. Football was as much of a passion as tennis ' I loved the camaraderie of football,' he says. 'Tennis is hard because it's an individual sport.'
Both our parents were quite sporty, so we used to play sport all the time when we were growing up. I remember the first time I beat Jamie in a tournament. It was in the West Midlands and I loved it. Look...' He shows me a mangled fingernail on his left hand. 'We were on a minibus driving back to Scotland and I was winding him up about having beaten him.
I had my hand on the arm of the chair and he punched it. The next day, it was black and blue. The nail had started to go back into the skin. I had to have an injection and lost the nail.'
As a kid, he had no ambition other than to play sport. Football was as much of a passion as tennis. 'Choosing between the two was tough because I loved the camaraderie of football,' he says. 'Tennis is hard because it's an individual sport. With football I used to play with school friends, so it was more fun.'
He also liked to be on the move, travelling abroad to tennis tournaments, which he began to do little more than a year after those dreadful Dunblane killings. He says he was never homesick. In truth, home was not an easy place – Murray's parents separated when he was just 11. He adores them both. His mother, Judy, was a former Scottish ladies' tennis champion who coached him until he was ten, and his father, Willie, is a retail sales manager.
He says this early divorce is why he values so highly his relationship with his girlfriend of four years, Kim Sears. Kim, the daughter of Nigel Sears, the head of women's tennis in Britain, has been around tennis all of her life and her understanding of the pressures of the game is a huge support.
'I work better in a relationship. At the end of a day, especially if I've lost a match, I don't like talking about tennis, so it's nice to have someone to talk to about other stuff. As I have got older, having gone through my parents divorce, it has become important to me to work hard at having a successful relationship. I found the divorce difficult.
'I can still remember the evening my parents told us. We went bowling afterwards, which took our minds off it a little bit. But it's not a nice thing to hear, that one of your parents is moving away. Once you've got used to waking up in the morning and not having both of them there, it begins to get easier though. And, when you're playing tennis, it can focus your mind on other things. When I'm doing something positive and I'm away competing at tournaments, I'm not thinking about what's going on at home.
'That's why, now, even when everything in my life is good, I still enjoy being away because if I'm at home for a few weeks, I end up bickering and arguing with whoever. You know what it's like when you're around family for a long time at Christmas, there are always arguments.
'When parents are separated – although there might not be any jealousy between the families – you feel like you should see everyone in equal amounts just to make it fair. You don't want to upset anyone. Now, I hate confrontation. Off the court I don't normally get angry enough to shout. I just let things go and walk away.'
When Murray's not playing tennis he likes to play on his Nintendo DS, walk Maggie, the dog his girlfriend was given as a birthday present, and spend time with the friends he made while training in Barcelona as a 15-year-old. In short, he likes to switch off and, over the past 18 months, has changed his coaching set-up to enable himself to do just that.
Gone is the old system of player plus coach touring the world together. In its place is Team Murray – coach Miles Maclagan, fitness trainers Matt Little and Jez Green, and physiotherapist Murray Ireland, all of whom are young and fun. 'It's made a huge difference to my tennis,' he says.
'When I first toured as a senior, I was at that age when you need someone to tell you what to do and when to do it, but once you get to 20 or 21, you want to start making decisions for yourself – on and off court.
'Travelling with one person was too intense a relationship for me. You begin to hate each other. You spend all the time together and you're in a high-pressure environment, which takes its toll. Eventually you bicker about things that aren't important – you start arguing for the sake of arguing.
'So, I started travelling with these new guys. I haven't had any arguments with them in the past 18 months, because it's not the same environment and there isn't the same pressure,' says Murray smiling. 'Look,' he says. 'What I do is obviously important, but it's what goes on when I'm off the court that matters most. I've probably got 14 years of playing tennis, but friends and family are going to be there for the rest of my life.
'I love tennis and want to become a great tennis player. I want to be remembered for what I did on court. But I don't want to stop playing and then have nothing. I want to plan a future as well. I hope that, by the time I stop, I'll have a family, kids. I'm sure I'll stay involved in tennis in some way, but happiness is the most important thing.' And, this relaxed, likeable Murray, chilling in those slippers, does looks incredibly happy.