This weekend, the Braehead Arena on the outskirts of Glasgow hosts its fourth consecutive Davis Cup tie when Great Britain take on Belgium. The final ball of February’s victory against the Slovak Republic had barely been hit when the Lawn Tennis Association announced that Davis Cup tennis would return north of the border once more.
It is a sign of the success which the LTA have experienced by holding the ties in Scotland and Edinburgh’s Leon Smith, the British captain, has raved about the contribution of the passionate crowd. Not only have they turned out in force, they have created a patriotic atmosphere which has spurred the home side to victory on each occasion since last July at the new unofficial home of British Davis Cup tennis.
Tennis has never been so popular in Scotland. The ‘Murray boom’ has created a remarkable wave of enthusiasm for the sport and there is now a real clamour to see professional tennis. So is it now time for Scotland to host a regular ATP World Tour event?
Andy Murray certainly seems to think so. Last year, the world No 4 reaffirmed his ambition to stage an ATP event in his home country, similar to what his friend Novak Djokovic has done with the Serbia Open in Belgrade, a tournament started in 2009 after the Djokovic family bought the rights from the old Dutch Open held in Amersfoort.
“There is a massive interest in tennis in Scotland and, of course, if you were bringing some of the big names, I think you’d get huge interest in watching that,” said Murray. “You could see the interest that there was when they brought the Davis Cup ties to Scotland. People do want to watch. It’s something that would be interesting and fun for me.”
There was indeed once a time when Scotland used to regularly host some of tennis’s top names. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl used to grace the courts of Craiglockhart, Edinburgh during the 1980s for the Scottish Grass Court Championships, a prestigious event – which dates back to 1873 – held during the month of June which gave the players crucial preparation ahead of Wimbledon.
Nowadays the tournament takes the form of a Futures event held on green clay at the start of May, with the top seed usually ranked no higher than the 200 mark. While it is admirable that the tournament still continues to this day, there is an element of sadness that this once-great event is now rather low-key.
But as the popularity of the Davis Cup matches at Braehead has shown, the demand is there to see top tennis players in Scotland once again. Last year, the crowd gave Murray – the home hero making his first appearance in his homeland for four and a half years – such a warm welcome that he was reduced to tears during his post-match on-court interview.
Even when Murray was absent from February’s encounter, there was still an impressive turnout for a tie in which the highest-ranked player was the world No 65, Slovakian Lukas Lacko. Although an ATP 250 event in Scotland would, at first, be unlikely to play host to Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, there would still be enough top names to whet the fans’ appetites.
And there would be plenty of home interest alongside Murray. Colin Fleming and Jamie Murray would likely appear in the doubles, Jamie Baker would surely be deemed worthy of a main draw wild card and there would be a case for giving promising 17-year-old junior Jonny O’Mara a place in qualifying.
There has never been a better time to bring ATP World Tour tennis to Scotland. And if Scotland’s top active sportsman was to be the driving force behind it, the likelihood is that it would be prove to be a massive success.