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New generation of tennis players hoping to serve up their own success story

Andy Murray's glory acts as inspiration

By David Kelly

Andy Murray's glorious success at Wimbledon on Sunday will have a generation of young British and Irish players dreaming of one day emulating him on Centre Court, including those competing in the summer events in Northern Ireland.

The popular Ballycastle tournament started yesterday with the event buzzing more than normal on the back of Murray's triumph over World No.1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets to become the first British man in 77 years to lift the golden trophy.

The odds are stacked heavily against anyone from Northern Ireland making it to the top 100 of professional players, never mind winning a Grand Slam, but there are a few across the age groups who are showing potential and daring to dream big dreams.

One young man seeking to live the dream is Peter Bothwell, the 17-year-old having moved to the Soto Academy in southern Spain 12 months ago. Since then he has seen his ranking move from the 900s to 627.

Dad Nigel is very pleased with the advice Peter has been given from those at Soto as well as how well he has developed on the court and younger brother Sam – also a top talent – will look to join him there next summer once he has finished his GCSE exams.

"Going to Spain gives them the chance to play on slow courts, the European red clay and to compete and train in a very competitive environment," explained Nigel, who watched with wife Louise as Murray made British sporting history.

"It also allows them to train six hours a day, doing tennis and physical work. It's similar to what Andy Murray did, but at a year older.

"What Andy Murray has achieved is phenomenal. Louise was ecstatic for Judy Murray having played doubles with her many years ago and also having played against her for Ireland against Scotland in the Four Nations. Judy's a very driven woman and you need the parents to be instrumental in developing a player's career."

Sam, who is helped by the Mary Peters Trust, is competing this week – along with brother Peter – at the ITF event in Edinburgh and then they will head to Newcastle and Dublin before competing at the Belfast City event at Windsor. Competing in such events is not only demanding physically, but financially as well for any parent.

Dad Nigel added: "It's much harder for a kid from Northern Ireland to make it than someone from Great Britain because their association, the LTA, is much richer and is able to give the players more support."

Further down the age spectrum is nine-year-old Bangor lad Johnny McCracken. The Ballyholme Primary School pupil is coached by Alex Watt – a former Irish junior champion – who believes that his young protege has a very bright future.

"Johnny started with me just before his sixth birthday and my feeling is that he is one of the most talented boys I've come across," said Watt.

"He has strength, speed and great hands and the most important thing for me is that he has the work ethic.

"He can be training in zero degrees or below and come off the court soaking in sweat. I don't see it in many other boys and when he works he tries to perfect everything I teach him, that's why his is one of the lessons that I most look forward to.

"I know that when I push him hard he will push even harder, he never complains that something is too hard, even when he is hitting with some of the older boys.

"He enjoys his rugby as well, but I know having watched Murray win Wimbledon he would love to follow in his footsteps. If someone from Scotland can make it then why not someone from Northern Ireland?"

Antrim Grammar student Ross McMaster has similar dreams and having only just taken up the sport less than three years ago, his coach Alexis Russell is delighted with how the 12-year-old as developed.

"Ross came along to us after his friend encouraged him to come and he just took off from there. He has a lot natural talent, but also he is willing to learn and to work at his game and I think his best attribute is the maturity he has about his game," said Alexis, who runs the ATT club in Ballymena with sister Kerri.

"He is able to see the bigger picture which we encourage – we aren't worried about results at this stage. There's ups and downs along the way and he knows that and of course he'd love to become a professional.

"I think Andy Murray has given hope to every kid. After all he has come from a small town, so why not someone from here?"

Belfast Telegraph


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