ANDY Murray, Scotland's rising tennis star, was booed by spectators at the Heineken Open in Auckland yesterday after saying he and his opponent had both "played like women".
The teenager, who last year defeated Tim Henman, and is considered to be a prospective Wimbledon champion, was taken aback by the crowd's response to his courtside comments after his first round victory against Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark.
In a nation which has 50,000 more women than men, a female Prime Minister, and was enlightened enough to give women the vote back in 1893, audiences do not take kindly to any suggestion of female inferiority, especially from a visiting Scotsman.
Spectators booed loudly as soon as Murray, 18, told an on-court reporter "we were both playing like women" when describing the game's first set in which there were seven breaks of serve.
Clearly rattled by the crowd's response, the young player from Dunblane went on to stress that he was referring back to comments made by the Russian player, Svetlana Kuznetsova, after a game last week. He said: "I was watching a Hopman Cup match on TV from here and Kuznetsova said it after there were nine breaks in the first set, so that's why I said it," explained Murray.
Murray won the two-set match 7-5, 6-2 against the Danish player who is 14 years his senior, and goes through to the second round.
Since his professional debut at Wimbledon in 2005, Murray has lifted his world ranking from 414 to 62 and hopes to break into the world's top 20 in 2006. The frosty reception he received in New Zealand is in contrast to the jubilation and rapture he enjoyed at Wimbledon last summer where "Henman Hill" - the grassy bank where spectators sit - was renamed "Murray Field" in his honour.
His comments, though deemed inappropriate by the New Zealand crowd, were considered to be grounded in fact. Last night James Dolan, the senior communications manager of the Women's Tennis Association said that Murray's comments were "not a big deal" and that, traditionally, there were more breaks of serve in women's tennis than in men's on account of the power with which men serve.
He said: "Andy Murray is a huge talent in Scotland and will be in Britain and on the international scene. I think people need to cut him some slack and lighten up. He's a young guy."
In the annals of tennis Murray's comments were exceptionally mild in comparison to other players. At Wimbledon in 1991 Richard Krajicek, a Dutch player, was quoted as saying: "I may have exaggerated a bit when I said that 80 per cent of the top 100 women are fat pigs. What I meant to say was 75 per cent of the top 100 women are fat pigs." Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian player, famously described men's tennis as "the real game".
Last night Helen Donohoe, the research and policy manager of the Women's Sports Foundation, described Murray's comments as "daft and unnecessary".
She said: "It's a shame that he used the term 'played like women' dismissively. I wonder which woman he thought he played like? If it's Serena Williams then it's in his dreams. There is no more to say other than to say he's a young lad and we just hope he grows up soon."