COLIN Fleming is attempting to put a value on having a fit and fully functioning Andy Murray back at the sharp end of world tennis. The personal part of the equation is simply how great it is to see his friend enjoying himself on a grass court after 11 months out laid low with a hip problem. But equally importantly, given his day job as Scotland’s national tennis coach, is the priceless example he continues to provide on a professional level which can hopefully rub off on the next generation of Scottish teenagers.
Having made a remarkable return to competitive play at the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club on Tuesday, albeit in a narrow three-set defeat to Nick Kyrgios, the 31-year-old yesterday confirmed he was sufficiently free of ill effects to take a wild card in next week’s traditional Wimbledon warm-up event at Eastbourne. While some Scottish teenagers work more closely with him than others – most notably 17-year-old Aidan McHugh, who is signed to the Scot’s 77 Sports Management Group – if anything can help keep the sport on an upward trajectory north of the border it is having Andy back in harness. While he still has a long road to travel on his recovery, why couldn’t he still have years left battling it out at the summit of the sport?
“It was so promising, the performance Andy put in against Kyrigos,” said Fleming, who was speaking at the Brodies Tennis Invitational event at the Gleneagles Hotel, where he was mixing it with the likes of Mark Philippoussis, Thomas Muster and Tim Henman. “I don’t think anyone expected that in his first match back.
“There was a bit of uncertainty about whether he would be 100%,” he added. “And then, even if he was 100%, could he control the ball like that? It just reminded us all of how unbelievably talented and gifted he is and it was just so much fun to watch. I’m really hopeful that he can get back to performing at the very top very soon.
“There is huge value across the board [from Andy being back]. Certainly on our participation side, the number of kids playing, that is all up. That is obviously very encouraging, while on the aspiring player side, having someone like that who you can relate to, is invaluable.
“I remember growing up in Linlithgow. We had some professional tennis players but no-one at the top of the game so you just think ‘no-one from Linlithgow can become a tennis player’. Then suddenly Andy and Jamie come through from a wee town in Dunblane and I come through from a wee four-court club. Suddenly everything is possible.”
While Murray, now only the World’s 156th best tennis player, has yet to confirm his status for SW19, this year’s Scottish assault on Wimbledon actually starts as early as Monday, with McHugh and Maia Lumsden earning wild cards for the men’s and singles qualifying respectively. McHugh, an Australian Open boys semi-finalist, earlier in the year, will also fancy his chances of a lengthy run in the boys’ singles, where he could be joined by wild cards such as Jacob Fearnley, Connor Thompson and Ewen Lumsden.
“It’s a big step up for Aidan,” said Fleming. “So it’s a great opportunity, a great experience, rather than going there and feeling he has to do something. At the same time, I’m not going to rule him out and say he can’t win matches. Because he can. I’ve hit with him quite a bit, he has great skills and good assets. If he pulls it together on the grass, he will be a tough player.
“Physically, he is ready to do it,” the national coach added. “I look at senior players alongside Aidan and, judging the forehands and backhands, there is no difference. He has the shots. It’s just that, over the years of playing, the experienced guys have learned how to be more effective with them. That is the gap he has to close and, hopefully, surpass. I’m confident he can do it. He’s working well with Toby Smith, has good support through the LTA. So he’s making progress. And, of course, he has Andy in his corner.”
Further good news for Fleming was the recent announcement that Tennis Scotland at the University of Stirling would host one of two LTA national academies from September 2019. “I could reel off players who have got to 15, 16 years of age and moved away, players who were doing well and felt they had to do that to try to get to the next stage,” he said. “So it will be good that they can stay in Scotland now and we will be excited to have the best players from Britain coming in there too. You look at all the success Scotland has had, I think we can become the real heartland of British tennis.”