By Krystle Nicole Russin
The day after St. Patrick’s Day, television host, tennis commentator, former professional player and now actor Murphy Jensen says though kissing him is fine, he isn’t of Irish stock.
“My first name is Murphy and that’s as far as it goes,” he clarifies on a sunny Santa Monica afternoon.
Living a “life of guitars, surfboards and paying bills,” he says, “I need to get out and apply some sunscreen. I have the best tan of my life. I live quite the uneventful life. I was wearing green socks on the tennis court. I have a temporary tattoo of a shamrock on my forehead.”
Yesterday was no ordinary day on the tennis court. After stringing his racquets and a quick trip to the car wash, Jensen had a tennis date with Australian pro Renee Stubbs, “who was cruising through town. I ate lunch, went to get a massage, got my nails done, went to yoga. In yoga, I was trying to do a handstand against the wall and broke my toe. It’s big and blue as we speak.” He points it out.
As any regular Tennis Channel viewer can attest – Jensen’s “Murphy’s Guide” is in heavy rotation on the network – breaking a toe in a crazy yoga move isn’t out of character. If anything, on television, Jensen is rarely serious. On one end, sports coverage has the likes of Bob Costas. The other side has Jensen walking through Australia obnoxiously dressed as Crocodile Dundee. “Some of it’s written. Usually the best moments are in between – at a fish market, trying some bad food or at a nice hotel. I wing it,” he says.
“Tennis is the greatest game in the world. It’s not about winning everyday. It’s about playing when you’re not playing so well and still having fun!” he says excitedly.
Jensen, one half of the French Open-winning Jensen-Jensen doubles team, started playing tennis because there wasn’t much else to do in the upper Midwest.“My dad was the high school tennis coach. We had a court in my backyard. I grew up playing against the wall. Tennis just took me places. I grew up in a small town in Michigan.” The more he won junior level tournaments, the more he could venture through the rest of the country.
“Playing tennis with my brother was a dream come true, not only for myself but my family. Prior to playing with Luke, I played doubles with Andre Agassi and a few other guys. Winning the French Open with my brother was the greatest,” Jensen says.
Everything was looking up until one afternoon, the outdoorsman noticed the weather seemed perfect for fishing. Trouble is, that was the day Jensen was scheduled for a Wimbledon mixed doubles match. Oops. The small mistake soon made sports pages around the tennis world.
“Strange things happen in the world of professional tennis. You never know if you’re going to be playing when the fishing is great. I decided to go. Instead of playing, I went fishing. Mixed doubles isn’t the least important thing but not the most important. It was definitely not good to misread the match time. Brenda, my partner, had to play Steffi Graf in singles. People made it a bigger deal than it was,” Murphy says.
No, if you were wondering, his brother didn’t strangle him with the fishing rod when he returned to the States, although unhappy tennis officials did fine him $1,000. As for how the Jensen brothers’ relationship is doing now, “Today, I get to see him excel coaching college tennis at Syracuse and on ESPN, while I focus on building a career in Hollywood,” says Jensen, resting in his kitchen.
He pauses to mention he might receive a phone call. If and when that happens, the caller will hear Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” in place of a ring – he loves claiming to go “bananas!” About everything, though his phone plays what he calls the song’s “PG-13 rated version.”
A perfect ending to a great doubles career: coaching, more tennis, acting… Hold it. A tennis player acting? Huh? “I moved to LA ten years ago. Waiting for my brother to heal from a couple knee surgeries, I decided to take some acting classes. I was single and figured that’s where a lot of cute girls would be.” Well, Jensen got one part of it right: the acting experience. A single man, he has yet to conquer the “cute girls” aspect.
What happened next was no surprise. Jensen was soon discovered for the role of a lifetime as a Deal or No Deal suitcase girl. Actually, no. He was hired behind the scenes on a film set. “I was first asked to help out for the movie Wimbledon to be a technical advisor. The next thing you know, I auditioned for the role of the German guy and landed the role of the Russian guy. It was an experience I never thought I’d be in. The next thing you know, I’ve got a trailer. It’s wild and crazy.”
His next turning point was a role nobody saw. “I worked on a movie called Tennis Anyone? and I ended up dying in the movie. To make matters worse, I was cut out of the entire movie because I wasn’t able to do a follow up scene. I think I committed suicide on the way to a tennis match.”
These days, Jensen auditions for more TV and film roles and works on producing, writing and editing. “I’m working on a documentary. I’m also writing a movie script, a tennis comedy, and I’m also writing and pitching new TV show ideas. If I’m not the fit, I would like to find someone who would be. It’s fun. I try to find creativity no matter what I’m doing. The most important thing in life is to stay moisturized with creativity, even in a sunny town. I have crow’s feet.”
He sees himself more likely to wind up in a Super Jensen Bros. videogame than become a leading man. “I don’t plan on being the next Tom Cruise. That doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to me. Then again, he might have a blast.”
Acting lead to the then-newly created Tennis Channel asking him to host a program. Originally a one time special about Paris, “Murphy’s Guide” was an utter accident. Part fate and part ambition, “I didn’t want to just commentate tennis. I wanted to do something useful. I said, ‘If I can do a good job in Paris, can I do it the next month in London?’ I knew how to sell something, how to have fun and how to make people laugh. My greatest asset isn’t that I’m some polished TV host, more that I’m not afraid to be myself.”
The rest was history. Jensen traveled from Russia to New York taping episodes well-loved by adults and children alike. A comedy sports/travel show about tennis that isn’t actually about tennis, sort of the way Seinfeld was “a show about nothing,” many tennis followers today know Jensen not for his Grand Slam appearances but his program. Jensen also does courtside interviews, a rare moment when he is serious and scripted. For the most part.
“If I’m interviewing Roger Federer, it’s a different animal. That go any way. I try not to take things too seriously. I will have a list of questions prepared about forehands and backhands, and Roger could be talking rock ‘n’ roll.”
Interviewing himself is out of the question. “I think talking to one’s self is overrated. I did that a lot. I saw someone about it, a doctor, and I think we’ve got that under control. I hear voices in my head. That’s OK.”
Still keeping up with tennis, Jensen heard great reviews from the recent Haiti relief fundraiser featuring players like the legendary Roger Federer. “That was great! They raised so much for the cause. Through the game and little yellow tennis balls, they can raise money for good stuff.”
More so, because Indian Wells and this time of year hold a special place in his heart, it meant something. “I think Indian Wells is one of the most beautiful tournaments in the world. I go down every year to take in the sun and fun, and it’s a wonderful place.”
Jensen says he takes things slowly. Broken toe? No problem. “I was never worried about that because I don’t wear high heels. Last I checked, guys typically don’t wear high heels.” He prefers Vans shoes to stiletto platforms most days, anyway.
The rest of the afternoon will happen as it will. “For me, it is only Thursday and that’s what I’m gonna do today. The fun of my life comes throughout the day. I never know what’s gonna happen next. I’m bobbin’ and weavin’, shakin’ and bakin.’ Life is pretty short. Why not procrastinate?”
He wants to eat spicy foods, the food trend he is feeling right now. “Thai food is really good. That’s hot as the sun. I’ve found myself on the floor having a heart attack. It’s so hot.”
“I’m working on a way to go to the moon. I’m raising the funds for a first class ticket to the moon. I think it’d be pretty cool to put a tennis net on the moon. I’ve never been one to make goals. In 2010, my goal is to have a goal. I’m halfway home.”
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