On a Wednesday morning, with the rain falling steadily, the old blaes tennis courts at Brodie Park were awash with people and optimism.
The majority were there to see Andy Murray, who was making his first public appearance since losing to Rafael Nadal in the semi-final stage of Wimbledon last Friday.
He seemed humbled when so many eager faces pressed towards him, pushing out pens and oversized tennis balls to be autographed. For a time, Judy Murray even lost sight of her son in the crush of people.
He was visiting the courts with the rest of Britain’s Davis Cup team - including his brother, Jamie - to publicise the refurbishment of the courts, a £160,000 development that begins today and is funded by the Lawn Tennis Association in an initiative championed by Judy Murray as part of a bid to raise participation in the sport while the Davis Cup tie with Luxembourg is being held in nearby Braehead Arena this weekend.
Some mothers later complained that their children had been unable to get close to the world No4, particularly since local politicians were also present in numbers, but the sheer scale of the turnout took organisers by surprise.
The LTA expected around 50 to 100 people to turn up, and instead three times that amount filled the courts, so that planned practice sessions and coaching tips with the Davis Cup squad had to be cancelled. Instead, the players all patiently posed for photographs and signed as many autographs as they could.
“It was amazing, I haven’t really experienced anything like that before, away from Wimbledon,” Andy Murray said. “I don’t get the chance to come back [to Scotland] much, but everyone’s been so supportive and upbeat, and that’s refreshing.”
The new all-weather surface will house four full-sized courts and two mini courts, which will be open free of charge to the public. For Judy Murray, who campaigns for tennis to be made more accessible, the turnout and the enthusiasm among the children, many of whom stayed behind afterwards to keep playing, was significant.
“It’s a great sign,” she said. “Because the Davis Cup is here, we found out that there are no public courts in Paisley for people to play in. Scotland is in a great place for growing the game because of the profile of some of the players.
More and more kids want to try it, but it has to be affordable and fun. So it’s about the people who run the facility, who motivate the kids to keep coming back. Andy’s been in the top five for four or five years now, we mustn’t miss this opportunity.”
Judy Murray intends to return to the courts in August, to make sure that the facilities are being complemented by free coaching lessons and drop-in sessions. The classes will be run by Tennis Scotland, the Scottish section of the LTA, with the hope that visits to local schools will also generate interest in the game.
“The location means that the whole community can use it, it’s not a club, so you don’t have to be a member, said Mike Cohen, tennis development manager for Tennis Scotland. “We want to have more sites like these, parks, community areas, were people can turn up and play but also find a coaching structure.”