Ten years after he first arrived in New York dreaming of glory, Andy Murray has this week returned to the city to focus with a less fanciful ambition – retaining his US Open title.
In 2003, Murray, joined by his brother Jamie and mother Judy, arrived in the Big Apple to compete for the first time in the junior version of the tournament. Twelve months later he returned to claim his breakthrough title. Those trips helped prepare him for last year’s epic US Open win and sowed the seeds for what occurred at 39 venues across Britain yesterday, on what was termed “Great British tennis weekend”.
The gates of tennis courts across the land were thrown open as children were encouraged to enjoy the game under no pressure and at no financial cost. They are the enthusiastic products of Murray’s legacy, although the Scot hasn’t finished inspiring future generations just yet. Still, his Wimbledon win in July, on the back of last year’s US Open triumph, has ignited an unparalleled level of interest.
“I never would have believed tennis could have been like this in Scotland,” said Judy Murray yesterday, as she observed the scores of children who were delighted to take up the opportunity to make use of the courts at Barrhead Community Tennis club in East Renfrewshire. “The buzz and everyone knowing what tennis is and who Andy is gives us such a massive opportunity to grow the sport. That’s why we need initiatives like free tennis in the park.”
Judy is desperate to see the sport take advantage of the spike in interest and issued an appeal to local authorities to let children play at all-weather tennis courts for free each and every day should they so desire – and not just on one-off occasions such as yesterday.
“It’s a great initiative to get the kids out,” she said. “It’s going on in 40 park sites across the country, so it’s basically just encouraging the councils to open up the courts free of charge so kids can come down and have a go.
“Courts are one thing – but affordability and accessibility is something else.
“Courts on their own don’t necessarily get the job done,” she continued. “You actually need to make sure there is some kind of organised activity going on from time to time.
“It would be my goal to have park courts free of charge the whole time – you don’t pay to go on the swings or feed the ducks. My argument would be they should be free and we’d open up tennis to an awful lot more people.
“It’s just another facility in the park – like if you have a basketball hoop you don’t charge kids to play on it.”
The Murray effect was certainly clear to see yesterday, ten years, one Olympic gold and two major titles after Andy’s maiden New York adventure.
“I’ve been going to the US Open for a number of years now,” explained Judy. “The first year we went was 2003 when Jamie and Andy were both in the juniors. Everything was very new to us.
“It’s easy to go to these things and be a bit like a kid in a sweet shop and think these are the things you dreamed about, but you have to remember you’re there to get a job done. But we had a group of kids from Scotland – Jamie Baker as well. We stayed out in Manhattan and got the bus in to Flushing Meadows.
“It’s important to take the kids to Times Square and the Empire State Building because it’s easy to travel the world as a professional sportsperson and get so caught up in what you’re doing that you don’t experience life in the city.”
Judy has few worries with regards to what has been interpreted as her son’s worrying dip in form, following early exits at both the Rogers Cup in Montreal and at the Cincinnati Open.
“You can’t win every week,” she pointed out. “He’d probably have preferred a couple of more matches going into the US Open but he went into Wimbledon with four matches under his belt after missing the French Open with injury.
“People might say it’s natural that there would be a drop after achieving the goal of winning Wimbledon. But I think it’s more likely to send Andy the other way. He’ll have loved it so much he’ll want to do more.”