ANDY Murray last night called on Scottish tennis to shake off its "upper class image" and for more public courts to be built to encourage more youngsters to play the game.
The youngster's comments came last night after he led Scotland to victory over England in the Aberdeen Cup, a tournament between the best tennis players from both countries.
In an unexpected outburst, the 19-year-old from Dunblane, who also criticised the tournament he had just played in, called on Scotland's private tennis clubs to open their gates and allow young members to play when they wanted to.
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Murray was critical of ticket prices at the Aberdeen Cup, GBP35 for adults and GBP17.50 for children, which he felt made watching the competition too expensive for the average family.
Everybody had expected his after-match press conference to be about his victory in the tournament that, before its start, he described as a relaxing way to end his season.
However, after partnering his brother, Jamie, to victory over Greg Rusedski and James Auckland, which won the tournament for Scotland, he launched into an attack on the event.
His criticism of the Aberdeen Cup proved to be a huge embarrassment to tournament organisers, including the city council which had assumed he would positively promote the event after they had successfully brought a major tennis event to north-east Scotland.
The world No.17 started by criticising the court surface, which, he claimed, was far too fast to allow decent rallies.
"I would have liked to have played on a slower court which would have allowed better rallies, " said Murray. "When the court is as fast as that it's so hard to return and there were not many break points or change in momentum.
"The court surface is also dangerous to play on. It is slippery and the line judges are pretty close to the back of the court. When I went back for a lob I stood on the Aberdeen Cup sign and it is on a slope and I could have twisted my ankle. It was a bit of a scare. I slipped twice yesterday and once today."
Murray said he realised that it was difficult to promote a tennis event in Scotland, but felt the ticket prices would have put many people off.
"To take kids from Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is a three-hour drive, will cost GBP150 with petrol and food which makes it an expensive night, " said Murray.
"Saturday was a late finish and Sunday evening, with another late finish, maybe puts people off bringing their kids if they have school the next day.
"The most important thing is to encourage the kids to come back and they need to bring ticket prices down. If they bring the prices down for kids it will be easier for adults to bring the kids along.
"Tennis is always classed as a sort of upper-class sport but it should not be like that all. It should be for everybody but ticket prices like this aren't going to get that many kids playing tennis. It is very expensive to come to an exhibition match."
He was also adamant that Scottish tennis should be more accessible to youngsters and drew on his own experience to make the point.
"We need more public courts, " said Murray. "I know that when I was younger the private tennis courts next to my house on a Saturday morning were empty. Nobody was playing and there were padlocks on them. These are the sorts of things we have to change to get youngsters playing the game and that is what I want to happen." A spokesman for the WSM, the organisers of the Aberdeen Cup responded: "This is a very expensive event to put on. Players do not come cheap nor does the venue and ticket prices are set accordingly."
However, a Tennis Scotland spokesman agreed with Murray's sentiments about making tennis more accessible for youngsters.
"We would agree with what he has said on that point, " said a spokesman. "Equally, as the organisers have said, this event is not something that can be thrown together at the last minute but requires a lot of planning. The important thing is to ensure the event continues."
The Herald understands that Murray, in keeping with the other top players taking part, received substantial appearance money. Nobody would comment on whether ticket prices would have lowered had Murray and the rest of the players taken a cut in appearance fees.
Attendances at this year's Aberdeen Cup were well down on last year and it is unlikely that the event will go ahead next year in its present form.
Murray's comments will not help, but the other problem the competition faces is the simple fact that Murray will have no decent English players to take on next year.
The tournament was billed as a Scotland versus England encounter showcasing the best players from each country.
With Rusedski expected to retire afterWimbledon and Tim Henman, who has never played the event, also likely to call it a day soon, there will be no decent Englishmen to make up their team next year.
Unless tournament organisers make it a Great Britain team against Europe match the tournament is likely to be quietly forgotten.
That Murray is now 17th in the world and has a growing bank balance may also suggest he could lose interest in the tournament, which would certainly hasten it being scrapped completely.
The fact that for the last two years' tournament organisers have managed to market a tennis tournament in the north-east on the back of the success of Murray shows his standing in the British game.
His comments on making tennis more accessible will be taken seriously and could spur organisations like Tennis Scotland into action. They have recently appointed David Marshall as their new chief executive and the Glaswegian is a pro-active man who wants to encourage people of all ages to play the sport.
DAY 2 RESULTS
Scotland names first A Murray & J Murray bt G Rusedski & J Auckland, 6-4, 3-6, 13-11 (Champions tie-break) C Steel & J McKie (Scot) bt J Chaudry & H James (Scot) 1-0 (3-1) J Murray & E Baltacha (Scot) bt J Auckland & K O'Brien 7-6(2), 6-4 A Murray (Scot) bt G Rusedski (Eng) 6-3, 6-4 Scotland bt England 6