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Alix Ramsay Rants To The Tennis Suits In The U.K. | LTA That Could Be You? • Judy Murray Is The Queen Mother Of Tennis And Whose Listening?

Judy Murray (C-R), mother of Britain’s Andy Murray, and his brother Jamie Murray (C-L) attend the first round match between Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and Murray at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 14 January 2019. EPA-EFE/JULIAN SMITH



You would think, wouldn’t you, that any tennis association – particularly one that had been starved of success for generations – would fall on a home-grown grand slam champion, use their achievements to generate interest in the sport, would invest in facilities and programmes so that every young kid in the country has the chance to pick up a racket and play.


Well, if you were sensible you would think that. But as we all know, those who run tennis are seldom sensible. And then we have tennis in Britain which takes the idiocy to a whole new level. Ladies and Gentlemen, may we introduce Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association.


For 77 years they waited for a Wimbledon Champion to call their own. When he finally emerged, beating Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final, the country went crazy. By that point, Andy Murray was already the U.S. Open Champion and an Olympic GOLD  medallist. That he went on to win another Olympic GOLD, another Wimbledon title, lead Britain to Davis Cup victory in 2015 and then finish 2016 as the World No.1 – that was success beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.


At the same time, Andy’s brother was carving out an equally brilliant career on the doubles circuit: Australian and U.S. Open champion with Bruno Soares in 2016, individually ranked No.1 in the April of that year, ending the year with Soares as the No.1 ranked team, winning mixed doubles majors with Jelena Jankovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and twice with Martina Hingis.


British tennis had never had it so good. The fact that it was down to the God-given talent and eye-watering hard work of one family from a small town in Scotland was remarkable; the fact that it is still that family and nothing else propping up the tennis edifice in Britain is simply a disgrace.


Two decades ago, while Judy Murray was the national coach of Scotland, she had no facilities and almost nothing by way of a budget. But through imagination, hard work and sheer bloody-mindedness, Judy created a tennis culture in Scotland. Racing around the country in a van full of kids, she nurtured a generation of players including her two sons, Elena Baltacha, Colin Fleming and Jamie Baker and more. Some made it, some didn’t but Judy had found a way to give them all a chance.


Fast forward to today and Judy is still racing about in a van. This one is stuffed tight with equipment and she takes it to schools and clubs and sports centres with the aim of training any of the adults there how to teach tennis to kids. Getting kids playing is one part of the battle; finding someone to coach them is another entirely.


Andy Murray of Britain in action during his first round match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 14 January 2019. EPA-EFE/LUKAS COCH AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Andy Murray of Britain in action during his first round match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 14 January 2019. EPA-EFE/LUKAS COCH

About five years ago, as Andy was in his grand slam winning pomp and Jamie was homing in on the very top of the doubles tree, Judy realised that no one was doing anything to make the most of her boys’ achievements. There was no Murray legacy being created. And Judy, being Judy, thought that if no one else would do it, she had better get stuck in.


Her aim is to open a multi-sports centre in the Park of Keir (it’s on Dunblane’s doorstep) with a tennis centre at its heart. It will be a social centre for the area, there will be a golf academy as part of the set-up, plus 19 houses and a four or five star hotel and a café themed around the careers of Andy and Jamie with all their rackets, memorabilia, draw sheets, photos on display (Judy reckons that would be more fun for the kids than a straight forward Murray museum – she has thought this through). There will even be the chance to play virtual matches with Jamie and Andy. This will be a bricks and mortar, lasting legacy to the Murray brothers.


Set up as a charitable trust, any profit made by the complex as a whole would be ploughed back into the sports facilities with the hope that, in the future, any extra money made could be used to provide further tennis facilities in the surrounding area.


Finally, after years of hard graft, Judy has the business plan in place, the planning permission granted and the whole project is ready to roll. All she needs is a little investment – the current shortfall is £8million. Now, £8million sounds like a fortune to you and me but it is not much compared to the overall £37million cost of the venture and it is but a drop in the ocean compared to the money available for tennis in the UK.


“You’d have to say yeah there is money there, it just depends where the priorities are for the people who are allocating the money,” she said. “But I just think of what was achieved in Scotland against a backdrop of next to nothing – if you were a business, and there was an incredible area of productivity, you’d think you would invest in that area of productivity. Unfortunately it hasn’t been the case.


“It’s been enormously difficult, full of obstacles [to get this far]. Like with everything, I’ve just stuck at it. We are very close to it now. Tennis needs to be surrounded by other things, it needs to be part of a multi-sport thing because tennis on its own doesn’t survive unless it is very expensive and that is just not my thing at all, it is no interest to me.


“It will be the most incredible catalyst for showing how you can make your sport sustainable in the modern era because you make your money off all the leisure activities and any money made goes back into improving and repairing the facility.”


And £8million could get the centre off the ground. Just £8million could ensure that the culture of tennis continues in Scotland and in that environment, the chance of finding another Andy or Jamie is all the greater.


“If I can find support from the government and the LTA to build it debt-free, I still think there’s no reason why we can’t do this all over again,” Judy said. “I had no idea where we were going when I was starting out at the club, or even when I was national coach.


“For me it was just about creating opportunities. I would never have imagined that we would end up doing what we’re currently doing, not in a million years, but it is a great example of anything’s possible. It really is. And there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it again. But it shouldn’t be such a struggle. There should be something to show for what both Andy and Jamie achieved, no question about that.”


Government spending on sport has been cut back over recent years while the LTA, that monumentally wealthy organisation that has received the best part of £160million from the Wimbledon profits in the past four years, has pulled back from any investment in Judy’s project. All they have said that they would rather like it if Andy worked for them when he finally retires. Given the way the LTA has treated his mother, the chances of that happened are akin to my chances of winning the Miss Universe swimsuit contest.


And it is not as if Judy is expecting one investor to stump up every penny. With that ability to think outside the box to get something done, she is prepared to consider any financial interest provided she can ensure that her centre is secure now and in the future.


“I’d be happy to look at anything that allows me to build it debt free so it can be affordable and accessible to as many people as possible,” she said, “whether that’s sponsorship or crowdfunding or philanthropy, we’re just at the stage where we’re finalising the design, in the business plan. We’re just about there. But I’m hoping to build it debt free so I’m hoping there will be support from the LTA and from the government, and there will be some sponsors and philanthropists.”


If Judy gets the Murray Centre up and running, it will be a testament to her hard work and foresight and a fitting celebration of Andy and Jamie’s achievements.


And if the LTA do not put their hand in their very deep pockets to help, it will be a damned disgrace.

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