Doubles or Nothing : Tennis' Jensen Brothers Stick Together as Partners on Court or When Facing Questions About Murphy's Disappearance From Wimbledon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Murphy Jensen spots the hyper-hip sports sunglasses in the store window at the Beverly Center. Got to get them. Before Luke Jensen, his older brother and doubles partner, can catch up with him, Murphy is already paying out three figures for the sunglasses, which is interesting, because the Jensens are paid by the manufacturer to wear them and are provided a limitless stream of the product.

Murphy must buy them because he'll be in Los Angeles for one hot and sunny day and he left his latest pair on some plane or in some hotel.

The salesman hands him the receipt.

Never before having paid for the sunglasses, Murphy examines the bill, then asks:

"Hey, how much are these in real life?"

JENSENS . . . MEET THE JENSENS

Life is getting more real for Murphy Jensen every day. Real demanding. He and his brother are even busier, taking their brand of rock 'n' roll tennis around the globe. Real boring. Murphy has been getting the message that it's time to take his sport as seriously as his fun.

Real expensive. The latest bill he has examined was for $1,000--a fine for failing to appear for his mixed doubles match with partner Brenda Schultz-McCarthy at Wimbledon on July 4. Fined . . . and defaulted from the world's biggest tennis tournament.

Left standing at the net, Schultz-McCarthy said she had no idea where her partner was but noted that the two previous matches on the court had gone extremely fast. She speculated that maybe Murphy expected their match to start later and offered the universal excuse: He was caught in traffic.

Asked if she was angry that her partner's irresponsibility had defaulted her out of Wimbledon, Schultz-McCarthy shrugged and said, "That's Murph."

Jensen made the situation worse by not simply being late, but failing to show at all, dropping out of sight, and having trouble contacting his family for a day. Fearing foul play, his mother reported her son missing with authorities.

Minus any information from Jensen or his family, wild rumors spread. In a Wimbledon already brimming with controversy, Jensen's default was met with relish by England's hyperactive tabloids.

When Jensen, 26, finally emerged a few days later, the family didn't offer much in the way of an explanation, except to say he had wanted to spend time in the country.

Turns out Murphy Jensen had gone fishing.

Since then, the family has been fielding questions about the incident but has only now gone into detail about the strange three days. The Jensens were in town this week and finally filled in the blanks of a puzzling and often bizarre story.

MURPHY'S VERSION

"I went to practice, then I went back to the house [at Wimbledon]. At 12 o'clock, I thought I had three hours. People aren't educated as to how the schedule is made. That's part of the story that hasn't come out. You aren't given a time--you are told you're the third match on.

"I went into London to change some [plane] tickets. I wasn't even in a hurry to get back. I'm thinking I'm playing at 3 or 4 o'clock. I took a cab back and I was on a bridge coming back [across the Thames]. I had my rackets and all my gear with me, I was going to go straight to the courts. I heard on the radio that I've been defaulted. This was about 1 or 1:30.

"It was hard for me to take. The day before, when Brenda and I won our match, I was saying how great it was. I couldn't go back to the house. I called my sister [in Atlanta] and told her to get in touch with the house.

"Why didn't I go back? I wasn't worried about getting into trouble. It had nothing to do with it. I was out of the championships. I wanted to get out of town, I wanted to get a few days to myself. If everything you live your life around suddenly falls from the scene. . . . I'm not thinking to call Wimbledon to say I'm all right. I wanted to be by myself. It was misjudgment. I was late for work. I take full responsibility for my tardiness.

"I told the cab driver to turn around and we went to the airport. I bought all new clothes and some fishing gear. I took a plane that night to Aberdeen, Scotland. I went to a small fishing village. I checked into the hotel under the name of Mr. Murphy.

"The next morning, I read the papers and I couldn't believe it. What they were writing in the paper was unreal. I still couldn't get through to the house so I called my sister again. We decided I should go back to Atlanta. London was definitely not going to give me a fair shake.

"But I couldn't get out until the next day. I had to move hotels because [the media] found me. I registered as Mr. Fancy Pants."

(Luke Jensen interrupts and says: "This is the first time I'm hearing this.")

"That night, the hotel security guy came up to me and said, 'Some people are looking for you.' He said, 'The best thing you can do is sleep, and I'll keep an eye on your door.' They brought food to me in the room. He kept [the media] in the lobby that night. In the back, they had people on rooftops. Photographers. I had to try to get out of there.

"The next day, the hotel manager told the press that there would be a news conference. He said, 'Murphy will come down and give a statement.' So [the media] were in the front and they got me out the back of the hotel, into a pizza truck. The son drove the truck, and we went a bit down the road and met the father, who drove a Bentley. We cruised to the Glasgow airport. Everyone thought we'd go to the Aberdeen airport. From there I went to Chicago, then to Atlanta.

"When it first happened, I thought it was kind of fun. I thought I could play a game with these people [reporters and photographers]. Then I found I was trapped. My brother and I are renowned for being accessible. I felt like a criminal. That didn't feel very good. How this turned out, it could jeopardize my career. My career is my family's career."

LUKE'S VERSION

"I'm watching Brenda's match. She finished at 12:45 and I go from Court 3 to Orangi Park [the practice site]. When I get there, there's no Murphy.

"I asked around, the locker-room attendants, officials. No one had seen him. I waited around until 2 o'clock. At 2:15, 2:20, he wasn't there. I had to go take care of some business and do something into town.

"I came back to the house--this was about 5:30--I asked: 'How did Murphy do?' My mom's face kind of dropped. She said, 'He never showed up.'

"I said, 'No kidding.' We give him such a hard time. At the French Open, on exhibition day the Sunday before it starts, he was scheduled to play. He didn't show up and I filled in for him.

"He's done it before, gone off, and we had always found him before through credit card receipts.

"About a year ago, we were in Los Angeles. We were going to make the Asia swing--Sydney, Tokyo. We were at the airport. Murphy and I are at the ticket counter and Murphy is looking at the Alaskan Air desk. He said: 'I'm going to Alaska.' I said: 'What?'

"The next thing, he's at the desk saying: 'I want to go to Anchorage.'

"There's like five different types of salmon. He went fishing.

"We had an exhibition in five days, and he said, 'I'll see you in Hong Kong.'

"Meanwhile, I'm back in Atlanta. Tennis magazine calls and says, 'We want to put you on our cover.' I'm like, well, we don't know where Murphy is, but I'm here. They say, 'No, we want the Jensens. Not you.'

"Anyway, we trace Murphy from L.A. to Anchorage, where he bought a moose in a bar."

(Murphy interrupts: "I saw a stuffed moose in a bar and I bought it.")

"Then we traced him to Utah, at Sundance--he wanted to meet Robert Redford. We found him in Aspen.

"Anyway, back at the house in Wimbledon, the phone is ringing off the hook. The German press, the Japanese press. The TV people doing the 7 o'clock news on the front lawn. You've got 60 people in the bushes peering through the windows.

"We had to unhook the phone. I never really was afraid for Murphy, but it bothered me that he had his plane ticket. This guy will follow anybody. Finally, we find out that he's gone to Scotland. Gone fishing."

THE RUMORS

--He impregnated a young woman who worked at the player transportation desk. Luke: "I mean, the tabloid guys called us and said, 'We have the girl, she's telling all, do you want to give your side?' "

--He ran off with Mary Pierce. Murphy: "Mary called me and told me a few days ago that we had eloped."

--He was despondent and committed suicide. Murphy: "Please."

--It was a publicity stunt. Luke: "I couldn't believe guys like [Bjorn] Borg and [Ilie] Nastase said that before they knew what had happened."

FEED THE MONSTER

The Jensens are a phenomenon in tennis because they are different, not because they win. They know this. The brothers won the men's doubles in the 1993 French Open and nothing since then. As a doubles team, they are ranked No. 16 in the world. As singles players, Luke is No. 291, Murphy is No. 1,236. Clearly, they are better as a team than singly.

This is the problem. Because they aren't famous for their work on the court, they have relentlessly carved out a niche off the court. They do clinics, they work with kids, they sign autographs, they travel anywhere to promote the game. In this effort to reach out to fans and children, the Jensens are unique in tennis.

They agree to more outside events than any other players on the tour and end up with more time commitments than most top 10 players. The hype machine they have created is voracious and must be fed. It's hard work, in addition to playing tennis, and the life is wearing thin.

Murphy said he frequently has urges to get away, to turn off the noise. Asked if he thought his dropout at Wimbledon was a reaction to the too-hectic life he has helped create, Murphy said yes.

"Maybe I need to be able to say when I need to take time off, when I need to get away," Murphy says. "Maybe I also need to take a little more responsibility about my profession."

Luke shoots Murphy a you-bet-your-butt look.

"Guess so," Murphy Jensen says, laughing softly.

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