Dunblane produces its second Wimbledon sensation

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WHEN Andy Murray progressed through two early rounds at Wimbledon, much was understandably made of the Dunblane youngster's sudden breakthrough. The statistics tumbled out as fast as an Andy Roddick serve: he was the first native Scottish male since Colin Baxter, in 1959, to win a singles match; and the first Scot since Winnie Shaw, in 1976, to make any progress at all in the singles competition.

But Murray was not, as many would have assumed, the first 18-year old tennis player from Dunblane to make an impact at Wimbledon.

Norma Seacy holds that honour. She was, by all accounts, an immensely gifted player, who in 1947 claimed the British junior singles title at Wimbledon, and in the same year added the junior doubles title with another Scot, Isobel Vallance.

Originally from Edinburgh, Seacy and her family were evacuated to Dunblane in 1942. She attended McLaren High School in Callendar, playing tennis at the lawn courts there and the blaze courts in Dunblane.

A school friend and fellow player was Anne Gulland. "In Dunblane the courts were closed during the war," recalls Gulland, "but when they re-opened Norma was able to start playing again - her family's house was just 100 yards from the courts.

"Her family were all good tennis players - her brother Eric and sister Doris, too. But Norma was very good indeed; she had a very good serve. When the courts re-opened it was an exciting time and they were always very busy." Andy Murray's grandfather, Roy Erskine, who grew up in nearby Bridge of Allan, remembers Seacy well. "She was on the scene throughout the 1950s and she made a name for herself when she played in Edinburgh," says Erskine. "But it's fascinating to learn that she played at Dunblane as well - I had no idea."

Another fellow player was Brenda Carmichael. "She played for two clubs in Edinburgh - Murrayfield and Waverley, where I played with her in the 1950s and 1960s," says Carmichael. "She was still a very good player but she never really went on from her junior success."

Though she went on to claim numerous Scottish titles, including the women's singles in 1959 and a long sequence of doubles titles, Carmichael suggests that Seacy didn't live up to her promise as a junior.

After her success at Wimbledon, and with Seacy having won the Scottish junior title in 1946, 1947 and 1948, the Scottish LTA asked the LTA for assistance with its juniors and Seacy was one of the first to receive help. She was taken under the wing of Dan Maskell, who ran the junior competitions at the All England Club before becoming the BBC's "voice of tennis." Seacy, coached by Maskell, played regularly in the top English tournaments.

"She got a lot of coaching which didn't really do her a lot of good," suggests Carmichael. "She was a complete natural but she played everything off the 'wrong' foot. So they tried to coach her, to 'correct' her. But that curbed her natural ability; it took an edge off her. She lost that instinctive verve. But she was still a wonderful player."

Later on in her career, Seacy came up against Joyce Bennett, then Joyce Hume, who went on to partner Winnie Shaw at Wimbledon. "Norma was one of the people in Scotland who you looked up to if you were an up-and-coming player of my generation," says Bennett. "She was feisty, a typical Scottish player; a very good player."

Seacy, who died in 1985 after a long illness, was also a squash international, representing Scotland eight times.

Now 58 years after her success at Wimbledon, via the courts at Dunblane where Andy Murray first played the game, there have been scenes similar to those remembered by her old school friend, Anne Gulland, in the town. Murray's grandfather, Roy Erskine, reports that the same Dunblane courts have been "jam packed with youngsters" for the last two weeks.

"It makes me feel very proud," says Erskine. "It's been wonderful. It was quite a common scene in those days. I remember having to wait to play on the courts because they were so busy. That was the scenario then, when Norma would have been playing and it's been wonderful to see similar scenes since Andy's success."

Gulland confirms that Erskine's memory is spot-on. "It was exciting when the courts re-opened after the war," she says. "Tennis was very popular, particularly among girls. We always spent a lot of time on the courts at Dunblane in the summer. And I remember that Norma, who was very slight and very pretty, was by far the best player."