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Signs hugely promising both for Murray and Scottish tennis

As he prepared for last night's annual meeting, the Tennis Scotland chief executive made the remarkable discovery that, in terms of performance in 2012, the leading Scottish player who made least progress was one Andy Murray.

That, at least, was the punchline in David Marshall's account of a year in which Elena Baltacha entered the top 50 in the women's game, Colin Fleming reached the top 25 in men's doubles, Jason Barnett became the world No.1 in the over-35s and Gordon Reid reached a career high of world No.8 in wheelchair tennis, not to mention the successes of a string of highly promising juniors.

Not that Marshall was inclined to overplay Murray's "failure" to reclaim the world No.2 ranking he briefly held at the end of what has been the Dunblane player's breakthrough year after he followed his Olympic gold medal triumph with that first grand slam title win at the US Open.

All joking apart, the CEO is under no illusion about Murray's impact and the opportunity it presents. "Youngsters are taking part in events and saying 'This is the court he played on,' and a lot of them are winning trophies and seeing his name on them as someone who has won it before. Boy, does that do a lot for your confidence," said Marshall.

That, more than anything, is what makes Murray's success the outstanding individual contribution to what has been a stunning year for British sport.

Like most of the other Scots who have achieved major sporting success in recent times, he has been forced to leave his homeland to do so, but his achievements have come in a genuine world sport, one which is widely accessible and played extensively in every populated continent.

More to the point, it has happened in a sport where Scotland had no track record of success on the world stage, but he has now blazed a clear trail that others can aspire to follow.

He will not win the BBC Sports Personality award this weekend; not, in all probability, because of the admittedly admirable scale of the competition, but because he once dared to half-jokingly articulate the rivalry that most Scots naturally feel towards their big neighbour when saying he would support anyone playing against England at a World Cup.

That is for those who choose not to vote for him for the wrong reasons to worry about, but for Tennis Scotland the main task is to capitalise fully on everything that is positive about this magnificent sportsman and plan for succession.

"One of the things we were saying is we've not really been celebrating our successes enough," Marshall observed. "If Andy Murray was a footballer just now, he'd be top three or four in the world with the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Iniesta . . . "

He leaves the message unfinished but it is clearly understandable and the Murray factor has penetrated even this most obsessive of football-watching, if not so good at football-playing, nations.

"I think that is something that is there all the time," Marshall said of the effect on the public consciousness. "The anecdotal evidence we've got is that there is a huge latent demand out there and we've got an opportunity to try to get out to a wider audience just now, so we're working very hard on that.

"We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that tennis is open, accessible to all. We're doing work just now in, for example, Drumchapel and Knightswood and Queen's Park, as well as other areas like Dundee and Inverness, looking at making it easier to play tennis."

That is reflected in some striking figures contained in Tennis Scotland's annual report which was issued yesterday to coincide with the annual meeting.

It shows a 17% increase in British Tennis membership in Scotland over the past year, a 12% increase in the number of clubs achieving the governing body's "Clubmark" status and, perhaps most encouragingly of all, a 13.7% increase in the number of juniors regularly participating in competitive tennis. Marshall is also pleased to be able to report that more than half of Scotland's schools have offered tennis tuition in the past year. He is deeply conscious, however, that there has to be a strategic approach to development which means ensuring that as the numbers seeking to participate grow so, too, do the number of coaches available to help them and the number of decent facilities available for them to play on.

All of that requires collaboration with local authorities, while programmes are currently being co-ordinated by a three-strong team of development officers, one of whom has a beat which covers Stirling to Wick.

A four-year plan is being put in place, but for all that he anticipates double-figure percentage growth in the number of juniors playing competitively throughout a period which, barring injury, Murray will surely continue to be a dominant force in the world game.

Marshall says he cannot be more detailed yet about the organisation's aspirations until finalising future funding from the Lawn Tennis Association and sportscotland, with whom negotiations are under way.

An update is promised in January, but the signs for 2013 are already hugely encouraging for both Andy Murray and Scottish tennis

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