Christmas for Scotland came a month early this year and, having done so, decided to invite a few others. This nation, which until 10 years ago had barely picked up a racquet, awoke one morning last week to discover it was the proud owner of the No 1 tennis players in the world at both the singles and doubles versions of the sport.
And now the mother of both players is battling to seize the moment to establish Scotland as a great tennis power.
Andy Murray’s defeat of Novak Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals ensured that he would start 2017 as officially the best tennis player on the planet. Only a day earlier, his brother Jamie was confirmed as the world’s best doubles player when he partnered Bruno Soares to victory in the same tournament.
“It will be a huge disappointment if we don’t use Andy and Jamie’s success to grow our grassroots tennis participation,” Judy Murray said. “We need indoor facilities and we need them soon. They are absolutely critical to the future development of tennis in Scotland.”
The nation has basked in the reflected glory of Andy’s three grand slam victories, two Olympic golds and improbable Davis Cup triumph. But it is the family home town of Dunblane that is the focus of Judy’s ambition. If she prevails, the town will become the Scottish hub for tennis excellence. She wants Scotland to benefit from the legacy of her sons’ feats and is adamant she can help deliver it. If there are to be more Andys and Jamies, this woman – a world-class coach – will probably discover them.
She feels the country has a glorious, now-or-never opportunity to capitalise on her family’s success. She has been developing a plan for a world-class coaching facility near Dunblane and expects to hear soon if the Scottish government will give it the go-ahead.
Murray’s dream is focused on Park of Keir, a green-belt site south of Dunblane with fast transport links to most of Scotland’s main centres of population. As well as a multimillion-pound tennis academy, the site would also include a six-hole golf course, an all-weather football pitch and 19 luxury homes.
The proposed development was turned down by Stirling council a year ago after objections by what has been described as “a small group of organised objectors”. A public inquiry was held in September and a final decision by the government is overdue. Critics say the development would erode an important corridor of green between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. Comments on a Facebook page set up to oppose the plan suggest something more personal than protecting the green belt. They range from merely semi-literate to openly nasty. “I’m not a fan of any of them”; “Domineering mother methinks”; “He [Andy Murray] should keep well out of it.”
Murray believes she has met all local objections: the development takes up less than 15% of the site; it would be run as a not-for-profit charitable foundation; the landowner is supportive and will donate the profits from the sale of house plots to the cost of the academy.
“This is not about developing elite tennis players,” she said. “This is about reaching out to all ages and backgrounds and providing accessible and low-cost coaching. Obviously, the more people who play tennis, the better chance there is of finding another Andy Murray, but I want to get people playing and to gift Scotland a world-class coaching facility.”
The establishment of a training facility bearing the imprint of the Murray brothers and their mother, a former Scottish champion, could not come at a more appropriate time for Scotland. National statistics released in September revealed that more than a quarter of children are either overweight or obese.
Health inequality continues to disfigure the nation’s poorest communities. And it is to these neighbourhoods that Judy Murray takes her Tennis on the Road initiative, comprising one van and a small group of helpers. Travelling to remote or disadvantaged neighbourhoods, she helps train local coaches with a view to enabling as many young people as possible to take up the game.
Andy and Jamie are right behind her plan to build on their legacy and she also has the support of the former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has followed Andy’s career closely. He was in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2012 to see Murray winning the first of his grand slam titles.
He said: “Despite my obvious love of football, I am no less passionate about the new tennis and golf facilities at Park of Keir. Judy Murray has set out an amazing vision for facilities that will help young people be active and love tennis with all of the passion that she does.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is also a huge fan of what the Murrays have achieved. Ministerial advisers still recall a tense match en route to Andy’s first Wimbledon title in 2013 that held up a strategy meeting by almost three hours and had Sturgeon walking to the other end of the room at a critical moment.
Last night her spokesman said: “We would like to reach a place where we could help Judy Murray capitalise on the wonderful legacy of achievement of Andy and Jamie.”
Judy says that this has to be now and near Dunblane. “There’s no point in waiting until the boys retire: we have to do this in the next four years , while they are still at the top of their game. I have 25 years of coaching expertise and experience behind me and desperately want to pass that on from a centre of excellence in Dunblane, where it all began. I don’t think I could go through another four years developing this at another site.”
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