IT IS a simple game that has provided hours of entertainment in gardens across the country.
Now swingball has been credited by the mother of tennis star Andy Murray with setting him on the road to stardom.
Judy Murray told an audience at a special event in Edinburgh that she would regularly be beaten at Swingball by four-year-old Andy in the 1980s – while she herself was playing professional tennis.
And she believes the skills he picked up as a young boy in the garden were the building blocks of a career that has led him to three Grand Slam finals.
Andy himself told the audience at the National Museum of Scotland that a move away from Scotland as a teenager was the best decision of his career.
Britain’s No 1 player said the “superb” facilities and different “work ethic” in tennis clubs had transformed his game as a 15-year-old.
Andy also credited his brother Jamie with helping to shape his early career – despite their sibling rivalry occasionally getting out of hand.
Murray used the talk, which also featured Jamie, to question the quality of training facilities, standards of coaching and pressure put on young players in Britain.
But he said it would be “special” to represent Britain at the London Olympics this summer – saying he was considering playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
The one-off event was held to help raise the profile of Mrs Murray’s new Set4Sport initative, which her two sons have thrown their weight behind. It has seen special roadshows take place across the UK over the last six months to try to persuade more youngsters to develop an interest in sport.
Mrs Murray, a veteran tennis coach herself, will be back at the museum on Saturday to host a special six-hour event of games and activities.
She told the audience that her sons constantly played sports and games as youngsters, adding: “We would find anything that was lying around the house. We would use pieces of rope to play a game that you imagined having to jump over a shark- infested river.
“The boys were always playing mini-rugby, cricket and golf. We had a swingball in the garden. Andy really liked that and would even beat me when he was just four.
“He is a great returner of the ball now and I do often wonder if it was down to those games of swingball.”
Andy said Britain was lagging well behind the standard of coaching and facilities in France and Spain, and credited his move to Barcelona with changing his life.
“I was actually more into football, as it was a game that you could play with your friends, but I wasn’t very good at it.
“I had to make a big decision when I was 14 or 15, as I didn’t really want to sit in a classroom.
“The whole work ethic was different out there. I went from training an hour and a half every day to doing five hours a day. I wanted to stay out there longer and longer.
“A lot of it was boring and you did the same things over and over, but it was the best decision I ever made to go out there.
“The clubs are unbelievable over there, but is also a specific way of coaching that we don’t have here.
“There is also too much pressure put on young players when they should be enjoying themselves. We did not have that as youngsters.”
Just 350 tickets were available to see Andy in the flesh in a rare public event, just days after he failed in his bid to reach a fourth Grand Slam final.
However, he told his followers last night that he still had what it takes to win a major tournament and emulate the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I’m going to win one,” the world No 4 said. “I’m not saying I’m going to win six. But if I can get a few, I can be remembered in the same breath as those guys.”
The event was the first in a series of RBS-backed talks on “Scottish innovation” to be held at the museum, with other topics later this year to include the arts, business and science.
The hundreds of free tickets for the event, the most high-profile to be held in the museum’s grand new-look Grand Gallery since its unveiling last summer, were snapped up within minutes last month.
The talk with the Murrays is the second in a series of after-hours events at the museum which are being staged under a lucrative sponsorship deal with the bank, which also backs the world No 1.