DCSIMG

Faultless young Scot who is all set to take on the tennis world

WHEN Andrew Murray was asked who was the best Scottish tennis player of all time, he could do little else but declare, "Me?" Cue laughter from the reporters who had gathered to quiz the winner of the junior US Open title, not because of any supposed presumption or arrogance on the part of the 17-year-old from Dunblane, but simply because they could not disagree with the young champion’s assertion that "there’s not really anybody that’s been very good".

Murray’s success at Flushing Meadow on Sunday ensured he would, once more, be asked about his thoughts on having survived the Dunblane massacre. As an eight-year-old, he hid in the headmaster’s office as Thomas Hamilton brought terror to the school, shooting dead 16 children and a teacher.

"I try not to think about it too much, but it is in the back of your mind when there’s all of this going on," he said, referring to the recent school tragedy in Beslan, Russia. "I just feel like I’m so lucky being able to play in these tournaments. I feel bad that this is still going on in the world."

His experiences that day in Dunblane bathe the story of his subsequent success in a golden light, ensuring that his is the kind of triumph-from-tragedy tale the media finds irresistible.

It may be a long way from Dunblane to the world’s greatest tennis courts, but if Murray has his way, he will soon be just as much at home at Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Flushing Meadow as he was growing up in Stirlingshire.

He hopes to emulate the success of Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash and Andy Roddick - all of whom won the boys’ tournament at Flushing Meadow before going on to win Grand Slam titles on the senior circuit.

In a sport in which many British players often appear too content to settle for second best, Murray’s refusal to set his sights on anything less than a place among the world’s elite is as encouraging as it is refreshing.

"I hate losing," he said. "I don’t play any tournaments to come second best."

Murray missed out on playing during much of the first half of this year due to a knee injury, but he was runner-up to the world number one, Gael Monfils, at the LTA Junior Championships at Roehampton earlier this summer and, on the basis of past form, was seeded third in New York.

Just as importantly, he has returned from injury to win two professional "futures" events in Spain and Italy within the past six weeks. Those wins, his mother and former coach Judy said, were more important than the US Open title, which he took by beating Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the final. "They show that he is capable, aged 17, of achieving on the senior tour and have given him a world ranking of 412," she said.

Adversity has, Murray believes, made him a better, stronger player. "I think when I was out injured, it made me mentally stronger because before, everything had been given to me, everything was really easy. But, after that, obviously it was really difficult to come back from an injury."

Unlike many British players in the past, Murray has chosen to base himself abroad, preferring to build a game suited to the European clay and American hard courts rather than the grass of Wimbledon.

Based at the same Barcelona academy used by Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 19-year old Russian who won the senior US Open title on Saturday, his decision to move to Europe has been vindicated.

Murray is blessed, according to his mother, with "very quick hands and quick wrists that allow him to control the ball and change its direction at the last minute". Just as importantly, she said, Murray is "very tactically astute. From a young age he’s been able to understand how to beat people".

Like every other aspiring star, Murray admits he has little time left for a social life but trusts that success as a professional will justify the sacrifices he must make as a teenager.

Indeed, Max Clifford, the public relations expert, suggested yesterday that Murray could earn millions of pounds in sponsorships and endorsements if his success continued.

His potential on the world stage first became apparent when he won a title, aged 12, at the prestigious Orange Bowl World Championships in Florida. That ensured he would be fast-tracked by the Lawn Tennis Association’s development programme and he made his debut aged 15 at junior Wimbledon. Most significantly, he won a senior "futures" tournament in Glasgow last year, giving him the confidence to believe he could challenge and beat players on the senior circuit.

His mother, who was the Scottish national coach, remains the biggest influence on his career. "I think without her, Scottish tennis would be still as bad as it was before," he said. Nonetheless, he is relieved that she can now view his matches with a maternal, rather than a coaching, concern. "I like her to come here as a mum and not my coach, because it just puts on too much pressure," he said. Murray, who says the comparisons easily and inevitably made between his success and that of Tim Henman are "great fun", recognises that he is far from the finished article. "Obviously, I’m just at the bottom of the ladder and I need to try to work my way up. I think I can do it," he said.

The next indication of his progress - and potential - comes in two weeks as he tries to convince the British Davis Cup captain, Jeremy Bates, that he deserves to be in the squad for the forthcoming match against Austria.

As the moment, the biggest danger Murray may face is that of expectations rising too high, too quickly. "There is always that possibility," said his mother. "We’ve been flabbergasted this morning in terms of the media interest."

Back in Dunblane, Murray’s grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine, said their grandson’s success had echoes of his mother’s tennis career.

"We had the same scenario 30 years ago with Judith. She was winning everything tennis wise - she was the Scottish champion at every age level," Mr Erskine said.

"She was a great player and she might have achieved the same level but she got homesick. She was on the international circuit for five weeks but came home from a tournament at the age of 18, flung her bags on the floor and said ‘that’s it, I am going to university’."

 
 
 

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