HE IS Scotland's tenacious and outspoken tennis star whose shotmaking captured the nation's imagination and had television viewers on the edge of their seats.
Andy Murray followed two pulsating victories and a narrow defeat at Wimbledon, with qualification for the US Open, where he made it to the third round, although his tantrums off court and a vomiting fit on court have attracted almost as much media attention as his burgeoning talent.
Murraymania shows no sign of weakening. On the back of his successes at SW19 and Flushing Meadows, Scottish tennis officials will attempt to capitalise on the Dunblane player's success closer to home with a major push into Scottish primary schools later this month.
Children as young as five are to be encouraged to start playing Ariel mini-tennis. The game sees pairs of children lined up on opposite sides of a net with one throwing the ball and the other hitting it. With smaller courts, nets, and rackets as well as slower balls, youngsters develop their ability and compete through red, orange and green stages before, finally, playing full tennis as soon as they are strong enough.
Matt Hulbert, the director of Tennis Scotland, said: "There has been a fantastic level of interest in the game since the summer and we can only put that down to Andy Murray. The level of media attention that he is generating has got huge numbers of kids wanting to play tennis and schools have been coming to us asking how they can get their pupils started in the game. Ariel tennis is the answer because to build a champion you need to get them playing early and the smaller game helps because you can get children active when they are as young as five."
Tennis Scotland, which organises training courses for teachers, believes the mini-tennis format, if promoted aggressively through the active schools network in state primaries, will also help make the game more mainstream after years of Scottish tennis competitions being dominated by private schools.
Hulbert said: "Scottish children have never really had a role model like Andy before and a few years ago we would probably have found it difficult to cope. But with mini-tennis the whole class can be involved at the same time and no one has to be left standing about. Schools who don't have their own courts can use the gym hall or the car park. They don't need much space."
Brochures are being sent out to more than 300 schools in Scotland this month to encourage them to buy an Ariel tennis set. Tennis Scotland has struck a deal with industry manufacturers Zsig Sports to buy the kits at a 25% discount. One 320 set has enough rackets and equipment to get 20 children playing tennis. If schools affiliate with the governing body they are also eligible for grants to buy equipment.
The smaller version of the game, which started off in private tennis clubs, improves co-ordination and movement as well as racket and ball skills. As the kit can be easily assembled indoors in gym halls, it is being used to make tennis an all-year round game rather than a summer sport, typically played by youngsters only a few weeks after the Wimbledon boom.
Sport leaders at Scottish councils have welcomed Tennis Scotland's move which will see local authorities encouraged to take up a cut-price offer to buy the mini-tennis sets with government "active schools" money set aside for extra sporting activities.
Sally Tait, an assistant active schools manager with Glasgow City Council, predicted that local authorities would jump at the chance of cheaper tennis kit.
She said: "I have nine applications on my desk from primary schools who want to spend their entire sports equipment budget on tennis this year. It's definitely down to the Andy Murray effect rubbing off on young children. He's someone to look up to. As long as we can work with Tennis Scotland to give children coaching as well as the equipment mini-tennis sounds like a good idea to get kids active."
Ryan Hargreaves, a tennis coach who works with primary four and primary five children in Edinburgh, where 45 primary schools have already had tennis "taster sessions", said more equipment would give youngsters greater access to the game.
He said: "There has been huge interest from kids since Wimbledon. When I ask them who their favourite player is they don't say Andy Roddick or Roger Federer anymore: they say Andy Murray because he's Scottish and they've seen him playing on TV. But at the moment we go into some schools and they still have poor plastic rackets that have been lying around for years so we provide all the kit and carry it from school to school. If there was mini-tennis equipment in primaries they could play more and not have to rely on coaches."
John Purcell, a tennis development officer at the Westburn tennis centre in Aberdeen, admitted that more help to promote tennis in schools was needed because, north of Stirling, there are only four proper indoor courts in Scotland. He said: "We are very busy and we struggle to cope with the demand. We are running 20 classes a week but there have to be better links between schools and clubs."