Murphy Jensen by Max
The inaugural season of the Washington Kastles, DC’s very own World TeamTennis team, was wildly successful, selling 94% of their seats and all of their boxes, an amazing feat by any standards. In response to this great demand, their second season proves to be even bigger and better. The Kastles Stadium (currently under construction) will again be located in the heart of downtown on the corner of 11th & H Streets NW, will be expanded to nearly 3,000 seats, and will also host an additional “marquee player game” as well as the WTT Championship Finals. The icing on the cake however is the addition of their new head coach, ex pro and TV personality, Murphy Jensen.
I had a chance to sit down with Jensen to discuss what he hopes to bring to the team this season. If you know anything about Murphy and his exuberant, gung ho personality, it may come as no surprise that interviewing him was like herding cats. Cats on a Red Bull diet. What I’d imagined to be a well executed, fifteen minute set of questions and answers, turned into an hour long chat with one of the most high energy individuals I’ve ever met. During our conversation we covered topics ranging from his excitement to be a part of the Kastles, his comedy travel show Murphy’s Guide, his advice on shaving your head, the first time he drove a Porsche, playing tennis with “41″, and of course what he loves about DC. Many of his responses were as if they came from a politician in that they were long-winded and never really answered my question, but in the end I left the Kastles office thinking to myself, “That is one awesome dude.”
It’s great to meet you, Murphy. When you came to the Kournikova match last year the crowd went wild when you were introduced. I know you’re going to bring a lot of added excitement to the Kastles this year. Tell us how you became the head coach.
Last year I was on assignment with the Tennis Channel for my show Open Access and my job was to cover Kournikova, and so we interviewed the Kastles team, we interviewed Kournikova one on one, and there I was meeting Mark Ein for the first time and it was their first season and I’d played 11 years of World TeamTennis everywhere from Kansas City, to Delaware, to Atlanta, to Hartford, and on and on and on. Mark got to see what I do and how the fans have reacted to it. I mean it’s obscene how if I show up at a tennis tournament you would think that I was Brad Pitt out there. Maybe not Brad Pitt, more like, you know, like David Letterman. I mean I’m really approachable. I’m the guy that’s in your living room, taking you around the world, living the dream, and I just love what I’ve been able to do, from being a player and crossing the bridge into television. So Mark and I formed a friendship, and I said, “If you need my help I’ll come back,” and we just got to talking. I told him I love what you do within the community, I love the way your team is run, I just loved what he was involved in. Most importantly, he ran this WTT franchise like nothing I’ve ever scene. We’re downtown! You can get off of work and grab a snack and see John McEnroe! Grab a snack and see Kournikova! And WTT is the only sport in the world where the men and the women compete on the same court. Can you imagine taking three WNBA players and two NBA guys, put a team together, you know it’d be out of control! That’d actually be a lot of fun to watch. But top to bottom, the Kastles run the type of show that I want to be a part of.
I attended most of the matches last season and they were a lot of fun. How do you hope to make the Kastles’ second season even better than its first?
Well we’ve talking about wrestling a grizzly bear. No we haven’t. But you know I’d really like to get a catapult out there and fire our mascot across the stadium into a huge net – that would be really cool. There are 700 more seats this year for starters. I’m going to do stuff like visiting the monuments, taking the team out there. If we have a day off where we get our community obligations met, let’s visit the city, you know, hit the night clubs one night, let’s maybe get out of town and take a road trip to wine country. To me that was something I felt I missed when I was playing on the tour which I see today. Everything I missed on the tour I get to see on my travel show. I’m in Paris visiting the catacombs and all these bones are everywhere, or I’m at the Body Exhibit in New York City during the US Open and there’s really gross things in formaldehyde, I mean those types of things relax a player. Our players have been playing since January and someone like Serena wants to come in here and enjoy herself, you know, maybe take in a baseball game. Do they have a baseball team here?
Yeah, the Nationals. You won’t have any trouble getting tickets.
Fantastic! But to answer your question, we’ve added another marquee night this year. Last year we had Serena and McEnroe and Kournikova. This year we’ve got Venus and Serena and McEnroe and Kournikova, so we’ve got one extra night were you can see an international tennis player up close and personal. We’re also hosting the WTT Advanta finals. The league saw what we did last year and we clearly have the best stadium so they asked us to host the finals. And we have bands playing in the parking lot! I invite all bands to come play, the battle of the bands. I’ll bring my band. I’m the singer and guitarist.
Do you think there’s any chance we could get the Obamas to come to a match?
You know I’m personal friends with the Obamas and they told me – no I’m kidding. You know what, I bet you they’ll be out there. Whatever match they choose to go to, Venus and Serena have carried the torch since Arthur Ashe and they’re doing so many great things for African Americans and I would imagine if I were in their shoes I would love to meet the Williams sisters or have them over to the big white house down the street. That would be a dream come true for me because the hope that he gives this country right now is huge. And this is his community so I’m going to leave him tickets every night at will call. And one for John Riggins and one for John Elway.
If Scott “Boom Boom” Oudsema were to be placed on the IR, what tennis player would you love to sub in for him?
Anybody? In tennis history? In their prime? If I could pick anyone in the history of the game? Alive or dead? Hmmmm. Well, for WTT, I think Jimmy Connors would be brutal for the format. Or Roger Federer. I’m a huge Federer guy. Massive. It’s a tossup between Roger Federer and Rod Laver, the big lefty. Both of those guys are probably the best that have ever played. That’s an interesting question.
What’s it like as a player to play in a WTT match versus an ATP match?
Well the travel schedule is brutal. And the format is tough. You have to be good to go from the gate and if you’re a slow starter – not so good, you know those guys who sort of just waffle it around as opposed to someone who’s just jacked up on Red Bull, foaming at the mouth, that’s the person I want on my team. Someone who’s high fiving. You can win on enthusiasm if you’ve got the right attitude because for five games, you know Angela Haynes can beat Serena Williams in a set to five. These games are not an exhibition. I mean honest to God, it stinks to lose. You don’t want to be that team that’s 0-7 looking for a victory. It’s not about the dough, it’s really about pride and it stinks to lose.
Is it distracting to play in WTT with the crowd yelling and hot cheerleaders standing right next to you or are you in the zone?
It’s very distracting. You know if you’ve got an emcee that’s on the mike that’s just in your ear and you miss the first serve on a no add scoring point, I’ve been known to serve at the emcee. Yeah you totally hear the crowd. I don’t think it’s good to get personal but I also think it’s OK to root and get into their grill right before they serve so that they know that they’re playing on the road against the Washington Kastles. There’s more intensity, point for point, minute for minute, I mean you’ll see Serena as intense if not more than when she’s playing at Wimbledon.
If Kastles fans had to choose one marquee player to come see this season, is the obvious choice Anna Kournikova?
Oh no! You know you can’t miss Serena. You cannot miss Serena. She’ll be in the Hall of Fame. You can’t miss Venus, she’ll be in the Hall of Fame. How great is it that we’ve got McEnroe, who is in the Hall of Fame, who is sure to go nuts and you know it’s really funny but it’s not an act. When he gets on the court he goes into ‘McEnroe World’. When I played him in Hong Kong once he hit me in the head with the ball and threw his racket at me and I was like, “This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.” He’s so competitive. When you have a number one like John McEnroe, or John Elway, or Michael Jordan, they hate to lose more than anyone on the planet. McEnroe just shows how he hates to lose, while Roger Federer will be in tears. It’s like someone died in his family when he loses. Those guys are a rare breed.
You’ve lived an interesting life to say the least. Would you say you’re more comfortable on the court or in front of a TV camera?
Have you ever seen my outtakes? Within one show, Closed Access, which is like everything that goes wrong on the show, there’s a point where I have a hundred mistakes in a row and they’re hilarious. I’ll say, “Welcome to Roland Garros and the French Open!” and I’ll be standing in front of a Wimbledon sign. I mean how do I make that screw up? I’ve had to learn this thing. I look at it just like the game of tennis and I’m in the junior ranks and maybe lucky enough to be nationally ranked, but I’m a student of the game and it’s very difficult. I think that’s why I dig it so much, you know, learning these paragraph long standups is not easy if you know what I’m talking about. The tennis court is like home to me. I did it for so many years. I still get goosebumps when I walk on the courts at Wimbledon. If I want to feel self assured of something I go out and hit some tennis balls or I get on a court. The world could be coming to an end but on a court I’m good to go. It’s my happy place. But television though, that’s my deal, I truly love it and I truly love making people laugh and smile. It’s unbelievable how a show, if you haven’t seen Murphy’s Guide, can be so silly, where I’m fighting Godzilla in Tokyo or I’m dressed as Mozart in Vienna. It’s a sophisticated Johnny Knoxville kind of travel show where we’re out there having fun and the response from it has been unbelievable! Five times a day I hear, “I love your show, man!” I’m like, “You gotta be kiddin’ me!” I’ve got a second chance. I think it’s been more fun than my tennis life only because I was young and really didn’t get where I was. My brother got it (also a pro tennis player). He knew it was the cat’s meow being a professional athlete and all that. It wasn’t until after tennis that I realized how amazing that road had been as a player. When I got into TV I wasn’t going to miss a beat whether it turned out well and I only got to host one show and that was it. I don’t bring an ego to my job today whether it’s as a coach or as an ambassador or a TV guy. If you need me to carry the camera, I’ll carry the camera. I really don’t care. If I’m flying coach to India, not the coolest thing to do, but I’ll do it, not a problem.
Which was a better moment? Winning the doubles title at the French Open, acting in a movie with Kirsten Dunst, or being named the head coach of the Washington Kastles?
These are great questions! Well sitting in the office of the Washington Kastles and talking to you with a lot of people listening, I have to say being coach of the Washington Kastles. You know what? I won’t be able to answer that question accurately until after the season. I just did this event in Charleston, South Carolina, the Family Circle Cup and then I got to go to Shreveport and help these people raise some money, and I care more about having a good time and having some memories. There was this kid in Charleston, his name is Clifford and he’s really, really sick with lung cancer. So I got to meet Clifford, hang with Clifford, take him to a match, and he’s not doing too well and he wanted everyone’s autograph and I asked him for his autograph because he had to go into chemo the next day. Seven years old. I’ll never forget that guy. I mean that kid’s like the bravest kid I’ve ever seen. So whatever happens this season I want it to be unforgettable like that.
I read somewhere that Andre Agassi once gave you some tips on shaving your head. Do you have anything you could share with our readers who are thinking about shaving their head?
Oh I got some tips. I’ve gotten some tips from Agassi. He said I’d be better with the ladies. First it was go to a 2, don’t just shave it to the skin the first time out. No, first it was a 4, so I had that Officer and a Gentleman look, then it was a 2 and then he said, “Dude you gotta shave the whole thing.” So I went home and just dry shaved it and cut my head up and I’m bleeding the death and he said, “No, no, no. You can’t do that. Fix that up and get back to me.” It’s been a process over the years, you know all the razors that are out there? There’s the Mach 3, the Mach 2, the Mach 4, and batteries and shaving creams. Probably the best tip I ever got was from James Blake. He said Skintimate or whatever it’s called. It’s ladies shaving cream, smells a little fruity, but he said, “Think about it. With women shaving their legs, you don’t think they’re going to make the better product for women?” As opposed to like Old Spice shaving cream. For my head? It’s pretty dry up there you know, you gotta lube it up. Lather the dome. You gotta really lather that dome. Yeah, dry shaving it is not the move. The best thing to get is some Keihl’s lotion or some vitamin E oil and it’ll just fall off your head. And it’s really good for your skin. I just came from my dermatologist and he says I’ve got a face of an 18 year old.
What are some of your favorite things to do in DC?
I used to go to this billiards hall which was underground. It might not even be there anymore. It was a cigar bar and a billiards hall. I love hanging in Georgetown at all of the cafes on M street. One in particular is, I can’t remember the name, but it’s a French place. I like any French place. But that cigar bar was cool. I don’t even smoke cigars but I liked how it smelled on my clothes. I felt rich. I drove a Porsche for the first time in DC in 1984 or ’85, and I just wrecked this guy’s gear system I’m pretty sure. He goes, “Can you drive a stick?” and I’m like, “Yes I can.” I couldn’t drive a stick and I totally wanted to drive that Porsche. Oh, and there are some great tennis clubs, there’s great tennis in this town. When I was in high school I would fly up in this guy’s private plane to play tennis with 41 (George H. W. Bush) at the White House. And I’d practice either at Bullis Academy or the park right there at the Legg Mason. All the great players had their legal work done right here in DC. There’s been so much tennis that has come through here that the people are really tennis educated. Even if they’ve never played tennis before, they know tennis. You know I love that Mexican restaurant on the corner. Rosa Mexicano. They have the best guacamole in town.
What do you love about DC?
The international vibe. My last win on the ATP tour was here at the Legg Mason. So I got to leave DC a winner – winner, winner, chicken dinner. And it was like 550 degrees, and word around campus was that if you could win in DC you could win anywhere, you could win the US Open. I have great memories when 41 was vice president to Reagen. I was invited here to play tennis with him at the White House when I was 14 and 15. And then when we won here at the Legg Mason I was playing here at the White House every day during the Clinton administration with Rubin who was the treasury secretary I think. You know, you don’t get that in Los Angeles. If I’m not surfing, or doing yoga, or acting, I’m out of the loop. But here I can relate to a lot of people because they’re from all over the world.
You and I have a lot in common. We’re both 6’4″, we’re both bald, and we both love tennis. You have your own TV show, I write for a blog. It’s like we were separated at birth. Do you think I could fill in for you as coach or host of Murphy’s Guide sometime?
Well if I have a heart attack, I think that would be a good starting place. I do have a heart condition, and whether I make it or not will be based on the stress level I have during the season. You know we’d have to shave your head and give you the pink uniform and you’ll run out there, throw on some sunglasses and see who figures it out. That would be a lot of fun. We could have a Murphy Jensen contest. We’d get like a thousand people shaving their heads.
Hey man, it was great meeting you-
Alright, Max! Mad Max! Get out there man and I’ll put you close to the action!
The WTT season begins on July 2 and runs through the WTT Championship Finals on July 26 here in DC. The Kastles season kicks off with a two-match road trip against the Newport Beach Breakers and the Sacramento Capitals on July 2 and 3. The Kastles’ home opener is July 7 against Venus Williams’ Freedoms, followed the next night by a match against Kournikova’s Aces. For their full schedule and to purchase tickets visit www.washingtonkastles.com.