Dunblane: The tennis club that forged Andy Murray

Andy Murray learned to play tennis at Dunblane Sports Club (Andy Buchanan)
Andy Murray learned to play tennis at Dunblane Sports Club (Andy Buchanan)

In a quiet corner of the peaceful town of Dunblane in central Scotland stands the unassuming tennis club that launched Andy Murray on the path to Wimbledon glory.

Photos of the British star, preparing for his final appearance at the All England Club, are on display in a corner of the humble clubhouse at Dunblane Sports Club and his name is etched on various trophies.

Andy's brother Jamie, a doubles specialist, also features and his mother, Judy, is on the honours board along with his grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine.

The monuments to Murray in the town itself are low key -- there is a gold post box in recognition of his Olympic singles triumph in 2012 next to a wooden bench to mark his first Wimbledon title the following year.

It is in keeping with the unflashy character of a man who went toe to toe with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in arguably the greatest-ever era in men's tennis, winning three Grand Slams.

But as he prepares for his final Wimbledon, where he is a two-time champion, those at the club cannot speak highly enough of their most famous export.

"He's just a film star here, everyone loves him," head coach Mark Walker told AFP. "Whenever he comes here it's always so busy. And all the places are full and they follow him everywhere.

"There was an example where he came once to our summer camp -- he was obviously visiting granny up the road there.

"And he just came down and wandered down and then came on the court and just said 'I'm here to hit with all the kids'. And he made sure to hit with all the kids."

- Dunblane links -

Murray, 37, left Dunblane, a town of about 9,000 residents, as a teenager to further his career in Spain but has never cut ties with his home town, which is about 65 kilometres from Edinburgh.

He was married in Dunblane Cathedral and owns a hotel just up the road. His grandparents still live a stone's throw from the tennis club.

"The family have been involved for 50 years -- there's been a connection with this club, which is really nice," said Sandy Fleming, one of the coaches at the club.

The club, which has four artificial clay courts and two mini-courts, has around 500 members, half of whom are youngsters.

One of the more recent players off the production line is Ali Collins, who played doubles at Wimbledon last year.

"You walk up here and you don't think this is a place of champions," admits Fleming.

Membership secretary Emma Morson says Murray's success has changed the narrative about Dunblane, which made global headlines in 1996 when a gunman killed 16 children and a teacher at the school attended by Murray and his brother.

"Before, Dunblane was only ever known for one thing and it wasn't a positive so to have such a massively positive thing to represent is amazing," she said.

Morson's 12-year-old son, Alex, who shares the same initials as Murray, wants to follow in his "icon's" footsteps.

"They (Andy and Jamie) come down quite regularly," he said. "They come down and they play with all the kids and everyone surrounds Andy, everyone knows him, even little ones."

Alex says he will miss Murray when he hangs up his racquet, with the Scot targeting the Paris Olympics -- and a third singles gold -- as his final act.

"When you go to watch Grand Slams you won't have that excitement of knowing you are going to watch someone who grew up and played where you are playing right now," he said.

"That will probably be the worst part of it."

- Murray legacy -

Fleming agrees that the departure of the former world number one will leave a big hole.

"After he won the Olympics (in 2012) he did a tour of Dunblane," he said. "It was chucking it down but thousands of people came. He must have taken about five hours to walk up the high street in Dunblane and then after that came up here.

"We're really, really proud of him here. He's left some legacy. If you go and talk to any of the kids here, they know when he's playing, who he's played, when he won.

"He's somebody who's coming to the end of his career but he's still really current. I'm absolutely gutted because it just seems that he's been around forever."

Murray, who has been plagued with injuries in recent years, last week had an operation on a spinal cyst, putting his participation in Wimbledon, beginning on Monday, in severe doubt.

But he is in the draw -- due to face Czech player Tomas Machac in the first round -- and is set to team up with brother Jamie, a two-time Grand Slam men's doubles winner, in the doubles.

Members of his former club in Dunblane will be watching closely, hoping and praying he can do them proud for one final time.