Just about every time Fiona Bennie picks up the mail at the Dunblane Sports Club she’s reminded of Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon.
Ever since the lanky Scot’s straight-sets victory over Novak Djokovic last month, congratulatory cards, letters and packages been pouring in to the club where Mr. Murray first learned to hit a tennis ball as a five-year-old. “People send us all kinds of weird and wonderful things,” said Ms. Bennie a physical education teacher who is a volunteer tennis coach and club manager. She has received a cheeseboard with Mr. Murray’s named carved into it, a homemade compact disc titled Murray’s March to Wimbledon, and more than a few unmentionables. “They send us their pants,” Ms. Bennie said in a hushed tone, slightly blushing. “Their underwear.”
The flow of mail, and underpants, could pick up this week as Mr. Murray resumes play for the first time since Wimbledon at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
The Murray-Djokovic rivalry has become the best in tennis and they come into Montreal as the top seeds, setting up a possible rematch of their Wimbledon final and a prelude to the U.S. Open, which Mr. Murray won last year.
For Britons, and especially Scots, Mr. Murray has become far more than a sports hero. The impact of his Wimbledon victory, the first by a British man in 77 years, is still reverberating across the country. Summer tennis camps are jammed and there has been a 33-per-cent increase in people signing up to play through a website run by the Lawn Tennis Association, Britain’s governing body for the sport.
The economy has been given a boost as well, with some economists crediting the “feel-good” factor of Mr. Murray’s win with helping boost consumer spending by as much as $400-million. And there has been political fallout as Scottish nationalists seized on Mr. Murray’s victory to push their campaign for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum on sovereignty.
Nowhere has the impact of Mr. Murray’s success been more profound than in Dunblane. This tight-knit community of 9,000 people, about 70 kilometres from Edinburgh, has become a kind of mecca for tennis fans.
Walk into almost any shop on the short High Street and there’s a poster of Mr. Murray in the window or a sign saying “Well done, Andy.” Take a stroll over to the old mail box, painted gold in honour of Mr. Murray’s win at the 2012 Olympics, and there’s a lineup of tourists taking pictures. Visit the museum next to the town’s 700-year-old cathedral and there’s a large glass booth in homage to Mr. Murray, filled with some of his T-shirts, Olympic gear, ticket stubs, books, photographs and tennis balls.
“We had 105 people in here the day after Andy won Wimbledon,” museum volunteer Marjorie McLeod said proudly. “Normally we get about 30.” Want an Andy Murray fridge magnet? she offered. Just £2.50, about $4, and selling out so fast the museum can barely keep up with demand.
There are new restaurants in town and tour buses stopping by, and an old hotel on High Street is being refurbished. Even Mr. Murray is getting in on the town’s mini economic boom. He has bought the nearby Cromlix House estate, which had been in disrepair for years, and is turning it into a 15-room, 5-star hotel at a cost of more than $5-million.
And just wait until Mr. Murray actually comes for a visit. He lives in London these days, but the last time he showed up in Dunblane, nearly 15,000 people lined the streets.
“It’s all good and exciting,” said Andy Macholla, who runs Andy’s barbershop, a tiny two-chair operation just off High Street.
For him and others, Mr. Murray’s success has done something even more important; it has helped overshadow the town’s other, darker, claim to fame: the 1996 killing of 16 children and one teacher at the local primary school by a gunman who shot himself. Mr. Murray was a student at the school that day and like many in Dunblane, he has been reluctant to talk about it. Whenever there is a school shooting somewhere, locals cringe and worry, knowing the media will once again drag up that horrible day. But now the town is known for Andy Murray and that “has lifted a big black cloud off of Dunblane,” said Mr. Macholla, whose daughter was also a student at the school when the shooting occurred.
It’s here at the Dunblane Sports Club that the Murray name resonates most. The club is steeped in Murray family lore stretching back long before Andy picked up a racket. His grandmother won the club ladies championship four times, his grandfather took the men’s title twice and his mother is a two-time ladies champion in squash.
The grandparents, Shirley and Roy Erskine, still help out at the club, selling hot dogs during tournaments and offering friendly tips to youngsters. Mr. Murray’s mother, Judy, a former tennis pro, helps out too, lending her name to an annual competition and offering free lessons for the winners. She also heads an organization called Set4Sport, which develops recreational activities for children.
At first glance the club, just a few hundred metres from where Mr. Murray grew up, seems an unlikely place to spawn such a successful tennis clan. There are just four outdoor courts, a makeshift clubhouse and a couple of squash courts. The tennis courts, covered in artificial turf, are open year-round and players face the constant vagaries of Scottish weather; wind, rain and snow as late as April some years.
Nonetheless, the setting was somehow ideal for Mr. Murray, now 26, and his brother Jamie, who is a year older. The two ranked 57th in doubles. The pair became so good as children, under the tutelage of their mother, that they thrashed much older players, prompting calls to ban them from adult competitions.
Not everything went smoothly. Judy and her husband, William, split when the boys were young, driven apart largely by Judy’s unrelenting tennis schedule. The separation traumatized Andy, who also suffered from knee problems as a child that sometimes plague him today.
But Mr. Murray’s tennis continued to improve and he left for Spain at 15 for the prestigious Sanchez-Casal tennis academy. He played only sporadically at Dunblane afterward as his career flourished elsewhere, but his legacy continues to grow. The club has 250 youth members, up from about 25 a few years ago, and overall membership is pushing 500.
To find the true measure of Mr. Murray’s impact, just ask 8-year-old Joshua Lewis as he bats around a tennis ball with his mother and two sisters on a showery Friday morning. The ardent soccer fanatic is now a tennis fan, too. “I want to be him,” Joshua said as his sisters, Anna, 10, and Ellie, 4, nodded in agreement and added that they want to be like Mr. Murray, too.
Asked if Mr. Murray can win in Montreal and again in New York at the U.S. Open, Joshua didn’t hesitate: “Easily.”