FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has vowed to work with Andy Murray and his mother Judy to explore plans for a national tennis academy in Scotland.
The US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist has urged authorities to help set up a world-class facility to allow new generations the best chance of becoming elite players, a plan which has long been championed by his mother, one of the most influential figures in the British game.
Mr Salmond revealed that he held a “positive discussion” with the Murrays during the 25-year-old’s homecoming celebrations in Dunblane on Sunday, stating that their ambition is one shared by the Scottish Government.
The plans for a national academy have also been welcomed by the sport’s governing body in Scotland, which said it is “right behind” Murray in his quest to establish a centre of excellence.
Speaking during his visit to Dunblane, Murray said: “One of the things that is missing is a focal point for tennis that a lot of the promising juniors can go to practise at and have the best coaching. I think it would be nice if we could have a quality national tennis centre.”
In a statement, Mr Salmond said: “We had a positive discussion yesterday about their idea for a tennis academy which is certainly in line with the Scottish Government’s ambition to improve young Scots participation in sport. We’ll be exploring this with the Murrays and their team over the next two months.”
Murray left Britain in order to develop his game when, at the age of 15, he embarked on a rigorous regime at Barcelona’s acclaimed Sánchez-Casal academy. While he trained as a child at Stirling’s Gannochy National Tennis Centre – which boasts six acrylic indoor courts and two outside clay courts – its facilities pale in comparison to the 22 courts on offer at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, south-west London.
Statistics from Tennis Scotland point to an encouraging future, with the number of regularly competing juniors increased from 1,062 to 2,881 between 2008 and 2011. But with annual funding of just £1.5m – £371,290 from sportscotland – the body must invest to encourage increased participation, as well as helping elite players.
A spokesman said: “Our main focus is on developing grassroots tennis – the bigger the base, the more numbers you hopefully have coming through at performance level. What Andy is saying and what we are saying is all part and parcel of the same jigsaw, we want what is best for tennis.”
A sportscotland spokesman said: “We have been in discussions for some time with the Scottish Government, Tennis Scotland, the Lawn Tennis Association, and the Murrays about capitalising on the upsurge of interest in the sport following Andy’s tremendous success.